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Jun 07

Underqualified? Overqualified? Here’s What To Do

One of the most common questions students ask is regarding what to do when they see a job posting for which they are underqualified (or overqualified). For example, you might see a job for a “Director of Research Initiatives” that requires 15 years of experience leading interdisciplinary research teams. You have plenty of experience conducting research, and this is the kind of job you will eventually want to take on, but at the current moment you are not a good fit for this specific position. However, you love the organization and would be thrilled to work there, but no other positions are posted at this time. What should you do?

The answer is to reach out to the organization, indicate that you see the Director position posted, acknowledge that while you do have X amount of experience you realize you are not quite qualified for that specific role, and inquire about potential opportunities that might better fit your skills and experiences. (The opposite for jobs you are overqualified for). Sound intimidating or unrealistic? It’s not, and seven potential outcomes could result from taking such initiative.

Worst case (which really isn’t all that bad):

1) You receive no response. Bummer! Follow up again, and if you still receive no reply to your second e-mail then try calling. Some folks just operate better via phone than e-mail, and it can demonstrate a genuine interest in working there. Not sure how to find their contact info? Your grad career consultant can help.

2) They reply to thank you for your inquiry, and to confirm that this Director position is truly the only position they are hiring for at the moment. They’ll wish you well in your search. No harm, no foul. Move on with confidence, and check back again in about 6 months to maintain the relationship.

Now for the good news! FIVE potentially positive responses:

3) They could reply and say yes indeed they do have an opening for someone with your experience that’s just not posted anywhere. They would send it to you and you can apply!

4) They could reply and say that while they are hoping for an experienced person to take on the Director role, the job has been open for a while and they haven’t found anyone. Perhaps it would be worth talking to you about what you can do, and then consider adjusting the position to align with your background. That way the projects that are piling up can start to be accomplished, even if it’s not at the level of a Director. (This scenario may be more likely when the position is Senior Researcher, for example, and they bring you on at the Associate Researcher level instead).

5) They could reply and say that as of now they are only hiring for the Director, but once that person is on board he or she will be adding roles to the team, and your HR contact will pass along your resume/CV once the person is hired.

6) They could reply to say that you have a solid background and they would be interested in investigating opportunities to create a role for you on the team right away.

7) They could reply to say that while they don’t have any openings now, they will keep your resume/CV on file in case anything opens up down the road.

The likelihood of each of these scenarios being realized varies at every organization, but with such little risk for negative reactions and a potentially huge reward, we highly encourage you to actively engage the organizations you admire for the potential opportunities they might have. This can be achieved through a “prospecting cover letter,” and we can help you write it. To get started, take a basic application cover letter and switch the focus to inquiring about such potential openings.

Additional considerations:

When evaluating whether or not you are qualified for a position, know that you really only need to have about 60% of what they are looking for. If you have that, and you feel you can do the job and are interested, go ahead and apply. Let the employer decide that other candidates are more qualified than you, because you never know who else is out there. Someone with the exact qualifications described in the posting may not even exist in real life, aside from the chances they will actually want to apply for that same job. So be realistic, but also confident in your skills and experiences. You’ll miss out on 100% of the opportunities you don’t apply for (or at least inquire about).

Have you had success reaching out to an employer to inquire about opportunities? Share your story in the comments below!

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