Let’s be super clear from the outset – if a job description has a specific set of qualifications that are essential to the role, it won’t matter how well you spin your CV, you simply won’t be in the running. This isn’t about bypassing a requirement for essential qualifications – and it also isn’t about how to get a job with little or no experience (which is a whole different topic). This is specifically about those all too common instances when a role seems just a stretch too far from our current position, so we simply rule it out and move on. But what if you went for it? What if you were brave enough to address the gap in experience head on and believed you could solidly justify your application? In the words of Wayne Gretzky, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ (I had to look up who said it, I thought for years it was Michael Jordan!).
So here’s how to take more of those shots.
1. Write (and memorise) an elevator pitch
So-called because it should last the length of a quick journey in a lift (apparently that’s 20 to 60 seconds), the elevator pitch is a ‘who I am, what I do and what I’m offering you’ summary which should spark enough interest in your audience to warrant an invitation to discuss things further. It’s always a good idea to have one of these up your sleeve whatever role you’re going for, but it’s even more crucial when you lack the required experience. It’s a useful thing to be able to trot out when you’re asked the dreaded ‘tell me a bit about yourself’ question at interview, but I’d recommend having one drafted before you even submit an application – you can use it as your guiding star for editing your CV, writing your covering letter or discussing a potential application with a recruitment agency. When you get a bit overwhelmed or lost in your application, you can return to it as your mantra. If you’re not sure what to include, we like this article from the folks at Balance Careers.
2. Tailor your CV for the role
If you’re aiming for a specific position, and know you don’t meet all the criteria, you need to power up your CV to compete with more experienced applicants during the initial shortlisting. A generic CV for your industry isn’t going to cut it – you need to study the job description and person specification carefully and make sure you include and emphasise the relevant key words and terms they’re looking for. Obviously don’t include any falsehoods or lift sections of their material directly - this is about drawing the reader’s eye to the things they are essentially scanning your CV to find. Shout about the relevant areas of experience you do have (using their preferred phrases), and use confident and ambitious language to describe what you’re doing in your current role to boost your knowledge and experience in other key areas.
3. Stand out on social media
You want to do whatever you can to give yourself the edge over more experienced candidates. A great way to do this is on LinkedIn (and sometimes Twitter, depending on your industry). Make sure your profile is up-to-date and you are interacting and commenting on relevant topics. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of thoughtful and well-timed posts and you'll be popping up in the feed of the hiring manager – meaning you'll be a 'familiar' name when you then appear in their list of applicants. A great way to do this is to comment on (and share) content from the company itself, and to engage directly with employees there in forum discussions or on their posts. You could even ask what it’s like to work there! It takes a bit of time to plan and execute, but it’s often worth the investment.
4. Show your potential
We mean this in a very specific and practical way – be clear about the areas you know you lack the required experience in, and use your CV and cover letter (and eventually your interview ) to tackle these head on. They are not weaknesses or black marks against your application, they are areas of opportunity you can show you’re actively working on developing. The hiring manager is looking for someone who is self-aware, adaptable and keen to continue learning and improving – sometimes what you lack in experience, you can make up for with well-considered examples of these qualities. But, obviously, focus mostly on the aspects of the role you do have demonstrable experience in - that's going to be the clincher! You just need to be ready to re-frame those 'gaps' in a positive way when they're on the table.
5. Be real and be honest
I nearly called this section ‘Be confident’, but everyone quite rightly hates that ‘advice’, don’t they? Of course you’re going to try to be confident, but sometimes (*cough* often) it’s really bloody hard – especially if you’re already feeling like you don’t have the experience they’re looking for. But what is important is genuinely believing you are worthy to be considered alongside the other applicants, and being curious and open throughout the process (whether that’s with yourself, the recruitment agency and/or the hiring company). You don’t need to pretend to be someone or something you’re not (PHEW!), but you should be able to back up why you think you can do the job and be honest about what support and training you might need. Ultimately, they want to see if you would be a good fit for the company – and that’s right up there on a par with ticking all the boxes in the job description (including all the ‘essential’ experience). They want to ‘see’ you in that role and in their organisation as they’re considering your application, so that’s where having genuine interest and authenticity will shine through.
The best thing you’ll ever hear on this...
It is widely reported in studies (and backed up by our own experience) that most people who end up being offered roles do not meet all of the essential criteria (especially in terms of experience). But they believed they could so they did. And so can you.
It also never hurts to have a team of professional career cheerleaders in your corner, so please do speak to us about any roles you’re considering and we can give you the inside scoop on the company and how it might be best to approach your application. You can find all our latest vacancies on our website, and we’re always available at the end of the phone or email – 01932 355000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.