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You’re cruising, scanning the job openings, when you see it. The perfect job. The duties play to your strengths, and you’ve heard great things about the company, but there’s a catch. You aren’t 100-percent qualified.

Should you still apply? You don’t want to miss out, but on the other hand, you don’t want to waste valuable time and energy. Is it really worth it?

Here’s a three-step process to help you decide:

Step 1: Conduct a Reality Check

First, look at your overall job-hunting strategy so far. It’s fine to take a risk, as long as all your job applications aren’t risks. When you applied to college, you didn’t apply to all ivy leagues, right? You applied to safety schools.

The same goes for job hunting. You want most job applications to be within reach.

Next, go through the job description carefully and check what you’re missing. Go old school and print it out.  Then highlight skills you’re missing. Is there a lot of yellow? Move on to another job.

Are there only a few blips of yellow? What types of blips are they? Are you missing key certifications required by law to do the job? Are you more than three years short of the experience requirement?  If you are, consider passing.

Finally, check the company. Are they really as great as you think?  You’re considering spending a large chunk of your waking hours there. At least search Google news.

For instance, I saw a great job recently for a client. When I checked the company, I learned the owner was a “disrupter” with a tendency to go bankrupt. That client wasn’t looking for disruption. She wanted good benefits. It pays to do the homework.

Now, if you’re still in the game, proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Tally Your Transferable Skills

Employers think they want someone who is perfectly trained for the job. They also don’t want to read hundreds of resumes.  They create long wish lists, hoping to save themselves time and narrow the field. But they can get excited about a candidate who surprises them.

A good cover letter can surprise them. You get bonus points if you tell a cool story.

Case in point, I once had a client who wanted an entry-level job in human resources. The problem? She had “only been a lifeguard” and done some office temping. We talked about her day-to-day duties. She admitted she worked at one of the most crowded beaches in America as part of an award-winning lifeguard team. Then she casually mentioned she saved at least one life each summer.

Let me repeat that. She saved people’s lives.

She showed grit, agility and a willingness to work with a team. She explained that in her cover letter, and employers took notice. One decided to take a chance and train her.

Sidenote: Sometimes it’s hard to look at your own work history and pick out the gems. Sometimes it’s worth asking others for help.

Step 3: Work Your Network

Okay, if you’ve made it this far, you’re ready for the toughest step. It’s time to network like a fiend. What’s that? You’d like to skip this step? You’ll just sit at your desk and email resumes to random places?

Don’t do it! I have a secret weapon. LinkedIn last week  launched a service that highlights your connections. A button appears next to job openings at companies where you know someone. You click the button and — wham! — you’ve asked for a referral. Here’s a link explaining the process.

Having someone vouch for you can get you in for an interview. You still have to prove you can do the job. But this step will help you get around that wish list. Your buddy can say, “Hey, this guy went to my school. You might want to take a second look.” Sometimes, that’s enough.

A word of caution: personalize that request for a referral. Take a moment to reach out. Ask them about their dog. Check in about that conference they mentioned a month back. Whatever.

And while social networks are great, don’t forget old-fashioned conversations. Be open about your job hunt in your daily life. There’s no shame in job hunting. Just be discreet around the boss, of course.

Whether by phone, email or in real life, tell your network about the job you’re seeking. Don’t be too vague, thinking that will open more doors. (“Oh, I’ll take anything in marketing, PR or advertising.”) Clarify your goals first and be specific.

If You’re Passing on the Job…

If you’ve decided not to apply, take heart. There’s still gold in this exercise.

You’ve found something that excited you in the job hunt, and that’s worth studying.

If you notice a skill set that you’re consistently missing in jobs you want, take a class or consider a certification. Maybe you’re not qualified in a certain skill or software application, but you can start training. You can even apply to jobs as you’re doing the work. Sometimes showing commitment to learning will impress employers.

If you’re updating computer skills, consider My public library system and many others have added this as a free service if you have a library card.

Also, if you need real-world experience but don’t know how to get it, brainstorm ways to take a project from start to finish on your own. Maybe you do some work for a nonprofit. Maybe you help Aunt Ethel with that web site she needs. Just get started.

Most importantly, don’t give up. If you’re not quite qualified for this job, keep scanning the horizon and keep learning new things. Then go through those steps again, and maybe apply to the next job. Stay vigilant. Remember, lifeguards aren’t the only ones with grit.

[su_note note_color=”#CBEAFE”]Wondering if my coaching services are a good fit? Set up a free, 30-minute strategy session. Email me at or call 240-277-6224.[/su_note]