Asked&Answered: Applying When You Have Less Than the Required Experience

Welcome to Asked&Answered, our monthly advice column in which Ellen Mehling, METRO's Career Services Consultant, answers reader questions. Have a pressing concern about your job (search)? Submit your question here.

Q: What are your thoughts on applying for positions for which you have very little direct experience? I am interested in a job in an academic library, but haven't yet gained experience working with college-level students. However, I do have quite a bit of experience in academic publishing and collection development. How would you recommend addressing this in cover letters and on resumes?

A: In general, if a position specifies a certain type and duration of experience, the employer usually is really seeking that, because they want someone who is not going to require training, who is already familiar with the work and its challenges, and who has already handled the types of situations that typically come up in doing that job.

puzzle.jpgWhen considering whether or not to apply for a job where you don’t meet 100% of the requirements, remember that the burden is on you to convince the reader of your resume and cover letter that you really can do this job. The more you have to struggle and streeeeeetch the truth to make your case, the less chance you'll have of getting the interview.

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and imagine how s/he would view what you have to offer as compared with the description of duties for that job. Is that experience that you are lacking likely to be a deal-breaker as far as being considered for that job? (Of course you don’t want to claim anything in any of your application materials that is not true. You may be thinking that this goes without saying, but many people go beyond stretching the truth to disregarding it, and claim experience and skills they just don’t have, thinking they can fake it and learn on the job – this is a very bad idea and likely to backfire).

So the two questions to ask yourself are “How crucial is the experience (or skill) that I am missing to the position?” and “How close am I to meeting that requirement, as well as the other requirements?”

For example, if you are applying to a position with the word “editor” in the title and you have no editing experience, it is probably not worth it for you to apply. Same goes if you’re looking at an instruction position and you’ve never taught even one class or workshop, or supervisor/manager positions when you’ve never supervised anyone.

If you have some experience but not quite the amount they are seeking, and you’re a very strong candidate in other respects (that’s important, so you have to be honest in your self-assessment here), then I would say go for it. If they are looking for someone with four to five years’ experience and you have three and otherwise have everything they are looking for, then apply. Address each of the requirements in the cover letter and edit the resume to include and emphasize what the reader is looking for and remove or de-emphasize other information. If the jobs you are interested in require significantly more experience than you have, or experience that you don’t have at all, then it is best to get the experience before applying.