You’re searching for a new job, when suddenly you see it—a position that you just know you’d love. There’s only one small problem: you’re not exactly qualified for it.
Whether it’s years of experience or a particular desirable skill they have listed, you’re missing at least one piece of the puzzle that you assume to be crucial. You consider closing out that browser tab and moving on with your life, but the job just seems too great. You figure you should at least give it your best shot and apply.
Your resume is pretty cut and dried—it’s the basic bullet points of your professional history up until this point. Your cover letter, however? It’s your chance to share a little bit more of your story, explain why you want this position, and truly convince the hiring manager that you’re a perfect fit for the job.
But, managing to do all of that—when you already feel a little unfit for the gig? Well, it can definitely be a challenge. Don’t panic yet! Here’s what you need to know about your cover letter when you’re applying for a job that seems a little out of reach.
1. Analyze Your Expectations
Alright, first things first, it’s time to get real. I’m all for expanding outside of your comfort zone and throwing your hat into the ring for opportunities that seem like a bit of a stretch. However, I don’t believe in setting yourself up for disappointment.
So, before even opening up a new document and attempting to crank out the perfect cover letter, you need to be honest with yourself. Is this position truly something you should be applying for? Or, is it way outside the realm of possibility?
Perhaps you’re one year short of the range of experience they’d like to have. Or, maybe you consider yourself proficient in Excel—but you’re not quite at that expert level they have listed. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a huge deal. So, I say go for it!
But, if the position is asking for an experienced sales executive with 7-10 years of experience—and you just graduated with only an internship under your belt? Well, then you probably need a little more time to pay your dues and work your way up.
This step might seem a little discouraging, but it’s important. After all, no amount of creative cover letter writing is going to be able to fill those major gaps.
2. Focus on Relevancy First
When you’re already feeling a little self-conscious and underqualified, it can be tempting to start your cover letter off with something like, “I know I’m not at all what you’re looking for, but…” Read these words carefully: do not do that.
There’s absolutely no point in drawing attention to your flaws or lack of experience right off the bat. Instead, you should use those precious cover letter lines to describe what exactly you do bring to the table—by focusing on any relevant skills or experience you have.
Comb through the job description and highlight the keywords and attributes that you fulfill. Then, emphasize those in the early part of your cover letter. It helps you start off with a bang by presenting yourself as a relevant, qualified candidate—which is important for making your way to the top of the “to be interviewed” pile.
Also, it’s important to remember that no employer anticipates finding an applicant who checks every box on the job description. Really, it’s more of a wishlist than a checklist. So, don’t get discouraged by zoning in on all of the criteria you don’t meet. Instead, stay positive and draw attention to all of the positive qualities that make you a great fit.
3. Pull Out Key Accomplishments
Let’s face it—being great at what you do always translates, even if you’re looking at a career shift to a completely different type of job. If you can show that you’re someone who puts their all into projects in order to achieve the best possible results, hiring managers are sure to be impressed.
This is why it’s so important to pull out specific, quantifiable achievements in your cover letter. Maybe you increased sales by 25% in one quarter in your last position. Perhaps you refined a process that improved efficiency and cut out five hours per week of unnecessary busy work. Or, maybe you organized a company-wide fundraising effort that raised $10,000 for your local animal shelter.
Whatever it is, make sure you include some hard accomplishments right in your cover letter. Remember—success and hard work are always transferrable qualities.
4. Demonstrate Your Interest
There are those people out there who will literally apply for any open position under the sun. They desperately want a new job, and they’ll add their resume to the pile for any opportunity they can find—just for the sake of applying. But, guess what? Hiring managers can spot that type of candidate from a mile away.
Needless to say, you don’t want to be one of those people. So, you need to adequately share your passion for or interest in this particular position. Why do you want this job? What attracted you to the position or the company?
This is an important piece of information to share in your cover letter. It emphasizes that—even if you don’t meet every single requirement—you’ll bring a strong passion and positive attitude to work every day. The great thing about that? It’s something that simply can’t be taught.
5. Finish Strong
Ending your cover letter can present a new challenge. How can you wrap everything up and inspire the hiring manager to reach out for you for an interview? I recommend concluding with a sentence like, “I look forward to talking with you about how my diverse skills and experience can benefit your organization.”
It recognizes that you’re bringing something a little different to the position—but that you’re confident you’ll still have a positive impact. Plus, it’s a strong call to action for the employer to reach out and set up a time to chat.
Nobody ever feels like they’re absolutely perfectly suited for a position that they’re applying for. But, when you feel particularly underqualified? Well, it’s a surefire way to walk into the hiring process with a bad attitude and a load of self-doubt.
Shake it off and use your cover letter to show what a qualified candidate you are! Use these tips, and you’re well on your way.
Most job seekers encounter the following scenario at some point in their career: you’re not the typical worker bee; you have diverse experience and have performed a variety of functions in your career. Any employer should welcome your skills, but when you apply for your next job, the company wants at least ‘10 years of direct work experience’ and couldn’t care less about your eclectic background. So you’re not even considered for the position.
It’s pointless to ask if this is fair. The burden is on you to demonstrate why you’re a good hire even if your qualifications aren’t a perfect match for the position. Here are 4 tips for getting past this hurdle and landing the job you want:
Fill in the gaps in your cover letter
Cover letters, once a staple of job applications, have become passe. With a large volume of job applicants to review in today’s online world, most human resources professionals just scan through resumes with a cookie-cutter checklist by their side.
That doesn’t mean, however, that a brief, well-crafted note won’t attract the attention of a conscientious reviewer. In fact, if you can make a succinct case for why you should be hired, you will actually make the reviewer’s job easier and differentiate yourself from the pack. It shows initiative and thoughtfulness on your part.
The key here is to tell your story and use it to demonstrate your value: how have you evolved as a professional, what specific skills have you gained from your various experiences, and how will those things add value to the company. Tell that story convincingly, and you should at least get an interview.
Be honest — you’re not perfect
Conventional wisdom encourages us to highlight the positive and stay away from the negative. That makes sense but the flip side of that coin is that if you don’t address your obvious weaknesses proactively and show an employer why they don’t matter (or how you will get around them), they will likely be held against you and eliminate you from the race altogether.
Using the above example, if a job requires 10 years of direct work experience but you only have 5, you need to acknowledge that discrepancy but explain why you believe you can do the job just as proficiently as someone who meets that criterion. Otherwise, human resources will simply throw your resume into the ‘no’ pile without a second thought.
This is yet another reason a cover note is so essential. Even most standard online applications allow you to make a personal statement in a comment box, so use that to help the reviewer understand why your track record, no matter how diverse or indirect, has honed you into the type of professional they’re looking for. If you lack some particular skill, acknowledge it and explain why it won’t be a problem (perhaps you’re taking a course at your local college).
And don’t assume that the skills you have can’t be applied in a particular job just because the description doesn’t say so.
Connect the dots for an employer
When applying for multiple jobs, it’s natural for candidates to become fatigued and start cutting corners. The temptation is to leave it to the company to figure out how valuable your skills are. That’s fine if you meet all the requirements for a job but can hurt you if your story isn’t straightforward.
Make it easy for the reviewer to follow your career trajectory, both on paper and in person. That means don’t just state facts but spell out what those facts mean. For example, if you started your career in media investment banking at Morgan Stanley, then moved to an operations role at Disney, and now want to join Google in strategy, explain how your banking experience taught you about the business aspects of media and got you the operations job at Disney, which in turn showed you how traditional media is changing in a digital age and positions you to help Google with business strategy.
Make a promise
The one quality that a resume can’t capture is motivation. Even if you lack a particular skill required for a job, promising that you will make up for the deficiency through hard work, dedication and willingness to learn will help your chances. Motivation isn’t a guarantee of success, but it’s a strong indicator. And making a sincere promise that you will do whatever it takes to excel at your job will give your potential employer comfort.
S. Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has worked in technology, media, and telecom investment banking. Kumar does not own shares of the companies mentioned in this article.