Monday, August 10, 2020


"You Don’t Need to Meet Every Qualification to Apply for a Job." Well, taken literally, that's a given. One doesn't need to meet any of the qualifications to fill out an online form and click "submit" or to send an e-mail with a résumé attached. So most people don't need to know that they needn't meet all of the qualifications in order to apply. What I think that a lot of people really want to know is how to judge when applying in the absence of some or another listed qualification will be fruitful, and when it will be disqualifying; especially if there's a limit to the number of times one can apply. And no online article that notes "Well, my son managed it," is going to give people that information, because it varies by company.

For many people, the actual problem they're dealing with isn't imposter syndrome or a fixed mindset. It's that they don't know A) how much flexibility is built into the requirements list, and B) what the rest of the candidate pool looks like. Sourcing this information requires networking, but of different sorts. Knowing whether the "sticker price" for a job is fixed, or if there's an "or best offer" in there at the end requires having people inside the company who can relay that information, because it relies on a number of variables. And while not all of them will be specific to the company, many of them will be. And knowing what other people are ready, willing and able to bid for the role requires having an understanding of what skills are out there, and in what combinations they're likely to be found. While I wouldn't be surprised to find an article on applying without all of the qualifications that addresses these topics, I haven't run into one yet.

I'm not an expert in this subject, so take what I'm about to say with a grain (or maybe a mine) of salt. But I would suspect that understanding how flexible the requirements for a job are is the sort of thing that varies from role to role. What the hiring manager wants, and what they actually expect that they can get, is useful knowledge, as well as an understanding of how well the person who actually wrote the job description knows what skills are available. (There have been enough stories of companies asking for five years of experience in two-year old programming languages that this can be a valid concern.) Also the company plays a role, and here it helps to understand how the process of creating and publicizing job posting is conducted. What all this means is that applying for roles after they've been posted, but with no other insight, is going to be difficult. A network that can reach close enough to team(s) doing the hiring is likely going to be a must. And that's going to be a matter of having conversations and asking that people help connect the job seeker to the next person in the chain.

Understanding the labor market, and what skills are available in it, is also a matter of networking, but the network is going to be a broad peer-to-peer web. It's also going to require some industry knowledge. A programmer who doesn't know how long a language they're using has been available is not going to know if an employer is asking for an impossibly long tenure with it. But the network might also be able to take care of this. But knowing people who have enough visibility into the overall market to be able to assess if there is a sizable community of people who can meet all of the requirements will likely be important. All of this will take time. There's a degree with which effective job seeking outside of having a network of advocates starts to look like embarking on a career as an industry and labor market analyst. Which may be why networking is often viewed as so important.

Applying for a job via an online job portal or by answering ads with e-mails can be a remarkably low-information process. Even candidates who make to interviews might find that they receive no feedback on why they weren't selected. (They might not ever formally hear that they weren't chosen, for that matter.) That tends to undermine people's ability to use a failed attempt as a useful data point, and this can feed a general sense of futility. Especially in a job market that's fallen off the proverbial cliff. Even when it seems that no-one is actually hiring, job postings can be thick on the ground, and if people are expected to customize their résumés and create individualized cover letters for each one, it's not surprising that people would rather direct that effort to where they will have the best chance of success. And for many people that means limiting their efforts to roles where they feel they can clearly show that they tick all the boxes (and maybe then some) and then going all out for those roles. Does that leave them with the risk that they land in a role that doesn't challenge them, or has limited prospects for advancement, even if they “hit the ground running?” Yes. But for many people the perceived alternative isn't some better job where they're working to grow and learn. It's unemployment.

To be fair, this piece was written more than a year ago. The ravages of SARS-CoV-2 weren't on anyone's radar at that point. But there was still an unemployment rate, which meant that there were people who were looking for roles who were unable to find them. The systems that we have in place don't do a very good job of clearing the labor market even in good times. Some extraordinary circumstances can manage it, but they're less common than might be hoped. And absent those circumstances, knowing how to realize when requirements really aren't can be tricky.

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