The other day I was using this Google Search trick to look for full time remote jobs. I’m a content marketing manager so part of my Google search contained “content marketing.” However, the first search result was for a growth marketing position—something I am probably not qualified for.
The job listing appeared because one of the qualifications in the job description was having an understanding of content marketing principles. I checked that box but couldn’t do the same for the other qualifications. They required the applicant to have experience with lifecycle marketing, email campaigns, and push notification campaigns.
This is so not me, but after seeing how cool the company was I convinced myself that it could be. So I added two custom sentences to the beginning of my cover letter template, uploaded my resume, linked to my portfolio site, answered a few short questions, and submitted my application.
The whole process took about five minutes. Other than five minutes, I had nothing to lose.
The next day I heard back from the company’s Head of People who was in charge of screening job applicants. We scheduled a call and had a great conversation. But twenty minutes into the call it was obvious that I was not a good fit for the position. I even said this.
“If you want to achieve growth primarily through content marketing and lifecycle marketing is a secondary initiative, I think this might be a good fit.” I said. “But if you’re looking for someone to primarily focus on lifecycle marketing, email campaigns, and advertising campaigns I’m probably not a good fit.”
This candor inspired the Head of People to do something I’ve never experienced a recruiter do before. She told me about a position in the company’s hiring backlog. Sure enough, it was for a content marketing manager position. The job description wasn’t created yet but she told me she wanted me to speak with the Head of Marketing.
At the time of this writing, I’m in the final round of interviews with this awesome company for a full-time, work-from-anywhere position. The email threads below with the Head of People show how this progressed in such a short time frame.
Getting this interview was not a one-time, lucky occurrence. I have applied to jobs I was underqualified for in the past to win interviews and get hired. Years ago, when I was a writer with no management experience, I applied to a management position following the same steps outlined below. I accepted that job offer and worked at the company for two amazing years.
How to Apply to Positions You’re Underqualified For
When done right, applying to jobs you’re underqualified for is a good tactic to use when it’s hard to find new job listings that closely match your desired job title and experience level. Below I will show you how to effectively apply to jobs you’re underqualified for in five steps.
Step 1: Create really good application assets
When you spend time up front creating really good application assets like a resume, cover letter template, portfolio site, and an updated LinkedIn profile you can apply to jobs quickly and increase your chances of receiving a positive response—even for jobs you’re underqualified for.
- One-page, two column resume (example): Two years ago a hiring manager at a large company told me this resume style was the most impressive he’d ever seen. I’ve been using it since then with much success. It also helps to add short testimonials to your resume.
- Project-based cover letter template (example): Sometimes I write custom cover letters like this, but when applying to jobs I’m underqualified for I use a cover letter template that details two successful projects I worked on. These projects show that I follow through on completing projects—a skill that is relevant to nearly every type of job.
- Simple portfolio site (example): Many job applications request that you add a link to your website. When you spend time creating a simple portfolio site and can add a link to your job application, you stand out from more qualified applicants that don’t have a website.
- Updated LinkedIn profile (example): Many job applications also request that you add a link to your LinkedIn profile. Simply copy the content from your resume onto your LinkedIn profile. Again, taking the time to do this will give you an edge over more qualified candidates that didn’t take the time to update their LinkedIn profile.
Step 2: Don’t create multiple versions of your resume
Having multiple versions of your resume creates more struggle than opportunities.
Imagine if I applied to the growth marketing position mentioned above with a resume that focused on my growth marketing abilities. My accomplishments related to growth marketing would pale in comparison to true growth marketers that were applying. And, if I did get an interview, the hiring manager would ask me questions that would be hard to answer.
Why do you want to be a growth marketer when your previous job titles list you as a content marketer? What is the most successful email campaign you worked on? What does lifecycle marketing mean to you? My answers to these questions would be forced and the hiring manager would feel it.
I’ve been in these situations before and they are not fun. They are also a waste of time. You get an initial interview but it becomes clear to you and the hiring manager during the call that you’re not a good fit.
It’s better to create a single resume that focuses on your best accomplishments, regardless of job title. This way, it doesn’t matter that your resume isn’t optimized for the job description because it’s optimized for something better. Results. This is what hiring managers truly care about.
Step 3: Apply to jobs at tech startups
Tech startups are agile by nature. They have to be in order to succeed. This agility extends into the human resource and hiring department.
Tech startups also place a premium on hiring good people over good skillsets. It’s an inherent part of the startup culture. For instance, when venture capitalists don’t love a startup founder’s idea but love the founder, it’s not uncommon for them to give the founder money to build something related to their original idea.
Similarly, when the Head of People at the tech startup I applied to understood that I was a good person and could offer value to the team and company, she offered me an opportunity related to the opportunity I originally applied for.
To find and apply to remote jobs at tech startups, I recommend using AngelList.
Step 4: Slightly alter your cover letter
Instead of creating multiple versions of your resume, simply add a few sentences to the beginning of your cover letter template that indicate why you’re interested in the position that is outside your area of expertise.
When applying to the growth marketing position I added a few sentences about how I thought I’d be a great fit if the role prioritized content marketing. I also said that I had worked alongside growth marketing managers in the past and could confidently manage email campaigns, ad campaigns, and other tasks I was underqualified for.
I added these sentences to the first paragraph of my cover letter template, replacing the placeholder text that says “TWO SENTENCES ABOUT QUALIFICATIONS” in the cover letter template below.
By spending a minute to offer this additional context to the hiring manager I was able to win an interview without being untrue about my previous experience.
Step 5: Be honest during the initial interview
Imagine if I told the hiring manager that I applied to the position because I was tired of content marketing and wanted to pivot to growth marketing. First, this isn’t true. Second, she would have never told me about the unlisted content marketing position!
When you’re honest about your career goals and intentions great opportunities with great companies will open up.
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