Why You Should Apply to That Job You Think You Can't Get

Source: Getty Sources
Source: Getty Sources

The news: Job seekers, those dreaded extra years of experience listed as a requirement for job postings should not deter you from going for that dream position. Not only is it suppressing your ambitions, a recent study found that most of you think you can do the job perfectly well without the resume-padding.

The Harvard Business Review's Tara Sophia Mohr interviewed over 1,000 predominantly American men and women, mostly from the professional community. Over the course of her research, Mohr found that just 10% of women and 12% of men said their top reason for not applying was "I didn't think I could do the job well," while the largest percentage (46.4% of men and 40.6% of women) simply thought it would be wasted effort. You can see the results of the survey below:

Why this is a big deal: According to Mohr, job applicants are apparently misinformed about how the hiring process actually works; most recruiters aren't looking for someone who can check off individual boxes on an application form one who is convinced they can fill the role adequately and explain why and how. Mohr writes that "advocacy, relationships or a creative approach to framing one's expertise" can overcome not having all the listed requirements on a job posting.

What's more, this behavior is gendered. Mohr's data backs up the oft-quoted statistic that men tend to apply when they meet 60% of the qualifications while women only apply when they meet 100% of them. Mohr suggests it's not a lack of confidence on women's part but a knowledge gap on how people actually link up with good jobs. While women are socialized to follow rules, Mohr argues, men know that "disruptive" behavior is a benefit in the workplace and aren't afraid to do it when it's to their advantage.


Reading job postings as absolute lists of requirements puts applicants at a competitive disadvantage. For example, Silicon Valley recruiter Scott Purcell told Quartz that the qualifications in a job ad are usually a wishlist and that applicants with a majority of the listed skills and a solid work history are usually viewed competitively.

What it means for you: This isn't to say that falling six years below the required experience or lacking relevant work experience won't get your application deleted, but rather that people who feel they are a good fit for a job are often competitive candidates even if they don't meet every qualification. Since the hiring process is more flexible than job seekers realize, shying away from risk-taking puts applicants at a disadvantage in their careers.

Nevertheless, with the job market still lagging behind for young people and recent graduates, "you're just not applying enough" is hardly easy-to-swallow advice. With so many qualified people still out of work, many employers can still cherry-pick the best applicants for less money. 

If the economy continues to improve (or more optimistically, speed up the pace of recovery), job seekers won't need to jump through so many hoops to find steady and productive employment. In the meantime, it's not going to hurt to apply to a few reach jobs while you're still looking for something to pay the bills.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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