How To Get The Job When You're Not Actually Qualified

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
By Julia Sonenshein

There are plenty of good reasons to apply for a job you’re not fully qualified for — including the fact that the men around you are doing just that. (Remember Hewlett Packard’s internal study that showed that women apply for promotions when they meet 100% of the "required" qualifications, while men apply when they meet only 60%?)

Two years ago, I was unhappy with my job as a graphic designer and was regretting the fact that I hadn’t even tried to make it as a writer. I figured that nobody would hire me when they could get someone with experience. But, as it turns out, it was actually pretty easy to get hired. I just had to talk a bunch of jargon — and then not screw it up once I got the opportunity.

If you know you can do the job, and experience is all that’s stopping you, follow my lead. Here’s how I elegantly bullshitted my way into a new career that I love.

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Do you know how many people don’t proofread their cover letters? Your flawless, engaged, company-specific missive will stand out in a heap of typo-ridden drivel. Make sure you write about why you want to switch industries and the skill set you bring to the table; there’s more to qualifications than job experience. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You can make up for your lack of experience by knowing about the company, its competitors, the culture, and recent big projects. If the company has a client-facing presence, such as a store, go there. Then, tell your interviewer you checked the place out and mention your experience as a client. Suddenly, you have a lot of relevant experience, because you know what it’s like to be the brand's consumer. You cannot possibly imagine how many people show up to interviews knowing exactly nothing about the company they're applying to work for, despite years in the game. You can beat those people on preparedness every time.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Typical advice I’ve heard has a lot to do with pretending to look engaged, repeating back what the person has said to you, and consistently saying the person’s name. This is pedestrian — and beneath you. Instead, take your cue from your interviewer when it comes to talking about topics that are industry-specific. For example, if your interviewer calls slideshows “decks,” don’t call them “PowerPoints.”

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
No need to be an annoying jackass, obviously — but asking smart questions shows what you’re made of. A smart question is one that helps your interviewer picture you in the position you're applying for — leapfrogging that whole racket about you being under-qualified. For example, ask about ways you could grow in the position. It’ll make your interviewer think about where you’re going, not where you’re coming from.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Don’t know how to answer a question? Don’t go off on some weird, improvised tangent with no real point; your lack of experience will be clear. Instead, pivot to some other experience in your life that would help you answer the question.

Never worked in customer service, but the interviewer wants to know how you’d manage an irate customer? Think of a time when you were irate (but maybe say it was a stranger in a store, or your grandmother or something) and relate what you learned from watching a store manager expertly handle the situation. I did this at a job interview in high school, and boy did I ever get that job at The Gap.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Interviewers aren’t just looking for the person with the longest resume. They’re doing a mental check and deciding whether they want to spend 40-plus hours a week in the same room as you. Because you have no experience, you’re asking your potential boss to take a chance on you, so be polite and delightful. It goes a long way in balancing a short CV.

So, if you’re not qualified but know you’d be a good in a new position, go for it. Employers take chances on the new kid all the time. Why can’t that new kid be you?

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