Reading Between the Lines
How To Apply For A Job When You Don’t Meet The Requirements
Working in the motorcycle industry is a dream come true for many enthusiasts. I can’t tell you how many times I have received emails or phone calls with the opening line: “I have ridden motorcycles all my life” – you can probably find a few hundred resumes on MIJ, Monster Board or Malakye featuring these keywords right now. Unfortunately, riding a motorcycle since the age of 3 doesn’t necessarily qualify you to work in the industry, just as changing your own oil doesn’t make you a mechanic. Yet, for some reason, this industry we all love is filled with dreamers.
If you are a dreamer looking to get a foot in the door, or an experienced industry pro looking to step up, you need to be able to read between the lines with some of these job postings. Unless the person doing the hiring has previously worked in the same exact role they are looking to fill, a fair amount of the job description is guesswork.
Think about it: Hiring managers have to write a description that will simultaneously attract people to apply and ward off those who wouldn’t qualify for an interview. It is a balancing act, and just like the dreamer job applicants, some hiring managers are going to put up a wish list of who they envision the dream employee being.
The reality is that qualifications count, but they are not the only determining factor. We have all heard stories of a person who “met all of the qualifications” being passed over for someone who “seemed like a better fit,” right? This is because a company would much rather hire a candidate with two years of experience who seems like they could hit the ground running rather than taking a chance on someone with the required five years who failed to demonstrate strong communication skills.
So what’s a job seeker who doesn’t quite meet all the requirements outlined in a position description to do? How can you tell the non-negotiable requirements from the ones you could compensate for with your other awesome skills? How do you present the subject in your cover letter? One hint: DON’T start with “I have be been riding motorcycles since I was 3!”
Ask Yourself If You Can Do The Job
Notice that I didn’t say, “Do you want the job?” or even, “How much do you want the job?” Honestly, those questions don’t even matter. It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about working for Harley-Davidson if the job requires major/minor engine repair, but you have only changed your own oil and changed your exhaust. You’re not qualified even though you have been riding since you were 3.
Similarly, it doesn’t matter how fascinating you find a company: You shouldn’t apply for a job running its website if you don’t have any of the technical skills required.
Conversely, if you do have some of the skills or experience asked for, but not an exact match, go for it! Remember, the hiring manager is guessing at much of the job requirements in many cases.
Read through the job description and try to get a sense of what someone in the role would really do each day. After you’ve worked through the job description in this way, you’ll have a more accurate understanding of what you have to offer versus what skills you may be lacking… you may even know more about the position than the HR manager who wrote it up.
Experience ‘Preferred vs. Required’
Some requirements are listed because they sound good. For example, I once edited a job description to remove the words “sales management experience required” and changed it to read “sales experience preferred.” While it sounds like simple semantics, the actual difference is night and day, making this role more encompassing than exclusionary. Giving people options is always better.
In this case the company wanted a sales manager, but was trying to weed out inexperienced candidates. The rarity of the situation is that many candidates may have the experience to be a sales manager but not necessarily the title. Occasionally, ridiculous phrasing can ruin a job posting because someone on the team thinks it “sounds good,” rather than accurately portraying what is needed.
Companies often “fudge” the job description by listing requirements for a “dream” applicant. This is similar to a dating site where a guy’s profile reads “athletic male” but in reality he is on a bowling team on Wednesday nights sucking down beers. Truthfully, companies aren’t going to stall the hiring process waiting for that dream applicant to stroll in. Common sense needs to be applied on both the employer and job seeker side.
Solid, qualified applicants get interviews. So, if there is a dumping ground of desired skills at the end of the description, see them as “preferred” skills rather than absolute requirements – and then focus your application on all of the core skills you do have.
Sometimes the required skills you are missing don’t fit into either of the above categories: While not a deal-breaker, they will factor into the job, and they’re more than icing on the cake. First things first, remember, do not write the “I know I don’t have the right experience, but I have been riding since I was 3 years old…” cover letter.
An important piece of the application process is connecting the dots between the experiences you already posses and those the position calls for.
Just make sure you don’t over-reach for relevant experience. For example, do not try to explain how selling your bike on Craigslist prepared you to be a sales manager for a multi-line dealership. Instead, focus on how lessons learned from prior experience would apply to a future role. For example, describe how Parts Department experience would prepare you for service writing, because in each role you’re ordering parts necessary to get customers’ bikes ready; or explain how your obsessive desire to organize and schedule everything would be relevant to the job.
Bottom line, don’t let silly semantics stop you! If you’re interested in a role and could see yourself doing a great job, don’t let a few missing qualifications prevent you from applying. Follow the steps outlined here and see what shakes out. You may not be selected for an interview; but you could also be the best person for the job.
Applying for that dream job is the only way to find out if you have what they are looking for!