Do not fear the purple squirrel.
Don’t despair. Many of the requirements may actually be nice-to-haves, a wish list. The recruiter may be looking for a “purple squirrel”—a candidate so perfect they probably don’t even exist. If you have most of what they’re looking for, especially the most crucial items, you could still get the job. This is especially true if you have a referral.
On the other hand, be realistic.
On the other hand, if you can see that you’re clearly a longshot for the job, ask yourself whether your time might be better spent cultivating referrals and building up your skills rather than applying to dozens of jobs and not hearing back.
Maybe this job isn’t really in your wheelhouse yet, and what you’re really trying to do is not a job search but a career change.
Know what makes you stand out.
Next, identify your key selling points as a candidate for the job. Make sure those points are clearly communicated in your resume and cover letter, and your answer when the recruiter says “tell me about yourself.” You may need to address your weak spots during the interview (see below), but it’s even more important to know which of your strengths you want the interviewer to focus on. This is always crucial, especially when you don’t have all the requirements for a job.
If you do have all the qualifications, say so.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked an interview coaching client, “Do you have all the requirements in the posting for this job you’re interviewing for?” and they’ve answered “Hmm, I don’t know …” Sometimes it turned out that yes, they did have all of the requirements. If that’s true for you, that fact may be a key selling point, and I recommend you say, in your answer to the very first question, “I have all of the requirements in the posting.” That in itself won’t necessarily get you the job, but it certainly won’t hurt.
If you don’t have all the requirements for a job, be ready to address the weak spots in the interview.
Prepare to answer interview questions about the qualifications you lack. Make a list of them, and for each one, write down at least two “alternate qualifications,” reasons why it won’t be a problem on the job. For example:
- You have fewer years of experience, but the quality of that experience (in terms of accomplishments, say, or the prestige and high standards of your employer) makes up for the lack of quantity.
- Your outstanding education makes up for some lack of experience.
- You haven’t used the tools they list, but you’ve used similar ones, so the learning curve would be short.
- You have at least one story that demonstrates your ability to ramp up and become productive quickly.
- You’re already working on gaining that qualification in your spare time. (Sign up for a course before the interview!)
Now practice your answers, always beginning with something positive, i.e., one of the alternate qualifications you wrote down in the exercise above. After that, you can briefly admit you don’t have the qualification. Then end with another reason why it’s not a problem. Here’s an example:
“Do you have experience with XYZPatch?”
“I used FastFixer for two years during my time at SuperCo., so although I haven’t used XYZPatch specifically, I’m sure I’d pick it up fast. I learn quickly. For example, I taught myself the fundamentals of Python in three weeks by taking a self-paced course and working on it every night.”
This “sandwich technique” is one of the best ways to address negative issues in interviews.
Why is it so important to begin and end with positives? If you begin your answer with “No, but—” or “I don’t have any experience with that,” the interviewer may close their mind on that “no” before you say anything more. They may not give the rest of your answer enough of a chance.
Similarly, if you end with “but no, I don’t have experience with that,” you’ve allowed a weakness to have the last word.
Start and end your answer with the good stuff, and you’ll sound not only more qualified but more confident.
For more tips, see “How to Read Job Posting the R.E.A.L. Way.”