Further Questions: Should people who don’t meet all the job qualifications still apply?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

There is a statistic from a 2014 Hewlett Packard internal report, quoted in the book Lean In and many other places, that says women don’t apply to jobs unless they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men will apply if they meet about 60%. This week’s question is:

Should people who don’t meet all the job qualifications still apply? What is your advice for a hypothetical job seeker, looking at one of your organization’s job listings, on parsing the listed requirements? Are any safe to ignore, or to think of in “creative” ways? Bonus question: any stories about people getting jobs when they did not meet all the qualifications?

Ellen Mehling, Job Search Advisor/Instructor and Brooklyn Public Library’s Job Information Resource Librarian: First I would pay attention to the job requirements vs. the preferences in the job posting. Don’t think that every job description is just the “wish list” you want it to be – the employer may be 100% serious that each of the requirements is, you know, required. If you meet most (like 80-90% or more) of the requirements, I would go for it. You might not get an interview if the missing requirement(s) are crucial to the position, and it may be a harder sell if you do get an interview. Emphasize what you do have to offer, based on the job posting, and include any additional skills you have that are relevant to the job; they may help you to get an interview. If you are a quick learner and enjoy acquiring new skills I would include that info too.

What you definitely should not do is lie and say, or imply, that you meet all the requirements if you don’t. Employers don’t want employees they can’t trust.

Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College: I wouldn’t recommend applying for any job for which you don’t have the required qualifications. It just wastes everyone’s time. 

Desired qualifications are a different matter. You can be hired without any of them, although you are less likely to make it to the interview stage in a strong pool of candidates. Be aware that if the employer puts them in the ad, they’re part of the job, and you should be prepared to address how you would gain those skills.  

It’s been my impression that men do tend to overmatch while woman undermatch, although it’s by no means universal. I don’t know if it’s socialization, economics, or something else. For my part, I value job security very highly and wouldn’t take the risk of moving my family for a job I wasn’t confident I could do well.  

Kathryn Levenson, Librarian, Piedmont High School: If you think there is a chance you might get the job, why not try?

I cannot even count how many resumes I have put out into the world over the years. I tailor each resume to the job. I look for keywords in the announcement and use those in the application or resume.

I have a document I can cut and paste my skills from into the application or resume.

List all your skills: sales, logistics, accounting with examples of what you did, what kinds of software you can use, language skills, etc. But, only pick the skills relevant to the job listing to add there. If you are applying to be a library assistant, any jobs where you worked with children would be relevant. If you speak Spanish or other languages, that would be helpful in school settings. 

Learn something about restorative justice and conflict resolution, even if it is reading some articles on these subjects.

Amy Tureen (she/her/hers), Head, Library Liaison Program, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas: Absolutely! In a perfect world, organizations would be intentional and honest about the true “requirements” for a position. These are things the selected candidate must have, day one, to be successful in the role and do not include skill sets that can be learned on the job without causing harm to the organization. For example, in my department (subject liaisons), we have reduced our required qualifications to two in almost every case: 1) an earned Master’s Degree in library or information science from an American Library Association accredited program by the date of appointment and 2) competence and sensitivity in working with individuals who are highly diverse regarding many facets of identity, including but not limited to gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, ability, income, level of educational attainment, and religion. Anything else we can teach you. Sadly, we have yet to achieve universal perfection, so ads are often rife with “requirements” that are really preferences. As such, candidates should never view requirement lists as truly black and white.

Hilary Kraus, Research Services Librarian, UConn Library: Speaking from my experience in academic libraries, rules about required qualifications can be strict. This is especially true at public institutions. Hiring committees frequently use a matrix of the required and preferred qualifications from the job ad, confirming which of these each candidate meets based on their application materials. In these circumstances, required qualifications are typically deal-breakers. Anyone who doesn’t meet those cannot be interviewed.

The matrix is a great tool for reducing bias and encouraging objectivity in the search process. That said, it lacks flexibility. As a candidate, it’s your responsibility to find a way to demonstrate that you meet, in some capacity, all the required qualifications. In your cover letter and resume/CV, make this as clear as possible so it’s easy for the hiring committee to check those boxes. If your experience is more adjacent than exact, explain why what you know or have done is a sufficient match to that item in the job ad. And of course, you should also try to include how you meet as many of the preferred qualifications as possible, to stand out amongst other candidates.

Gemma Doyle, Collection Development Manager, EBSCO: Whether or not an employer is going to demand all of the job ad qualifications be met is something no job candidate can tell from the outside, so they definitely shouldn’t limit themselves to job where they met 100% of the qualifications.  Aim high!  You never know who else is in the candidate pool, and your experience may be more relevant and helpful than you might think from the outside.  However, and there is a however – some people might tell you that if a job interests you, you should apply, no matter what qualifications you’re missing, because the most they can do is not interview you; there’s no harm done.  I caution against that a little.  There is a point at which the gulf between an applicant’s experience and the required qualifications is just too large, and applying is going to make an applicant look like they don’t understand what the job is. If they’re applying for a higher-level job and have no experience at all, it pulls their judgment into question in a way employers are going to remember. 

It’s hard to pin down a percentage of job posting qualifications you need to hit that makes sense.  It really depends on the job, your experience and the qualifications you don’t have.  I think about it in terms of skills vs. experience.  If most of what you lack are things that can be learned on the job – the specific ILS, software, etc., then that’s one thing, and you can talk about the software skills you do have as a way of showing that you are able to pick up new skills.  But if you’re missing key experience, if the job is asking for 5 or more years of supervisory experience, and you have one or two (or none!) that can be a hard thing to overcome. 

If you think that might be the case for you, one thing you can do is reach out to the hiring manager – after the job is closed, so there’s no question that you’re trying to get a backdoor interview – and ask for an informational interview about what the role and what kinds of things they’re really looking for (beyond what’s in the job posting) and what kinds of things you can do to get that experience.  A lot of hiring managers are more than happy to talk about these things, and are thrilled people are interested in their jobs, even if they aren’t ready to apply to them yet. After we did our last hire at the beginning of the summer, I did a series of informational interviews with people who were interested in joining our team or a similar role someplace else someday, and I think they were helpful for everyone, including me. 

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: The shorter answers are: It depends, be careful, and be very careful about “getting creative.” The longer answers begin with Barbra Streisand (Fanny) in Funny Girl or Matt LeBlanc (Joey) on Friends where Fanny responds to Follies open audition requests by assuring casting staff that she can “roller skate” and Joey shows up to a commercial audition with his “twin” and swears at a movie audition that he does NOT have a certain physical “situation.” And all of these lies or “getting creative” with their truth are designed to get the job. So while it ends up going relatively well for Barbra, it does not end well for Joey, so for us – the answers lie somewhere in between.

Should people who don’t meet all the job qualifications still apply?

If the qualifications are identified as “required” and specific, my answer is no, they shouldn’t spend valuable job search time on an application that may not even make it out of an HR or Library vetting practice. I have this opinion for a number of reasons but – frankly – in many areas of the profession there are standards above the institution governing levels of achievement in general or to gain a specific salary and those requirements may well be in place because of accreditation requirements; state, regional or national standards; and, possibly workforce or municipality or governing board standards.

A general statement is – if the job description has both a required and preferred section, then when should one – reading a required section – ask questions?

  • If the education is both specific and vague such as “A master’s degree is required.” might yield the questions -Which master’s degree? What type of accreditation must accompany that master’s degree?
  • If the educational statement says or implies that years of experience might substitute for education one can consider an application. I have seen this approach come and go over the years, but it has now landed back on the acceptable list and many organizations are being more specific and saying – for example – two years of experience can substitute or count for one year of college education.
  • If the required years are a range such as 5 to 7 years, this might beg the question “Is this time counted in months?” or “I have 4.5 years – will that suffice?”
  • If the application timing is an issue, one should ask “I am finishing my master’s in May ’22, but it is now March ’22. Can I still apply with the expectation I would not start until my master’s is completed?”

The preferred section of the job description lists just that – what is preferred and I wholeheartedly say people should apply if they have all (obviously), some, some similar, or none of those elements preferred. In addition if the job description lists education, experience, competencies, expectations, etc. but there are no labels of preferred or required – interested applicants can either apply anyway or check with institutions first to ask if any of the listed areas ARE required or preferred. (One can always also ask, are these description areas prioritized?)

As to “getting creative” I say no….if you don’t have anything like it then don’t – again – spend valuable job search time on the application. BUT if titles mentioned are similar – if educational requirements aren’t clear or if job description terms simply don’t match the institution you came from or the educational program you attended, you can either call to clarify or apply and provide an honest crosswalk between what you have and what they have identified on the job description.

I do not have any stories of people who got jobs where they didn’t meet the qualifications. I do have more stories of people who embellish their self-assessment and identify themselves as “tech savvy” when they simply aren’t. And – although most organizations don’t “test” or assess before hiring to see if – in fact – you ARE tech savvy, most organizations have reinstituted the probationary period and also build into training some pre-assessment to determine where the new employee (still in the probationary period) might “be” in the skills and abilities and knowledge spectrum.

What I also think is perfectly acceptable – if you find you don’t have the preferred qualifications or the competencies or attributes listed on the job application – is to identify – for example – a tech level where you currently are – then your willingness to learn, the identification of a (possibly) self-training plan you feel could bring you up to the level or credential needed and – for example – a statement on how you learn and the speed with which you learn. Applicants might also provide examples of what they have done and – to provide validity to that – match up who in your references might know that information about you first hand. Then invite the potential manager with an invitation to contact the reference and ask about something specific to the skills and abilities or knowledge area to assure a potential supervisor that you are part of but not all of the way there, but you can “get there from here.”

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: The answer to this week’s question is “it depends”. I think, more and more, many of us work in organizations where the application process is more automated and often managed by a Human Resources department that belongs to the institution (in my case, a college) and not directly to the library. When we identify required qualifications for a position we are required to verify that all candidates meet them in order to move forward in the search process. At the same time, many job ads indicate that “an acceptable combination of education and experience” may meet the requirements. So this is the opportunity for a candidate who does not meet the specific requirements to make their case.
Online application forms make it very difficult to ignore required or preferred elements of an ad. But here is one reason I like to see a submitted CV or resume as well as the online form (question from a few weeks ago). Use the resume to provide enough detail on experience or education that you want to create a compelling argument for your candidacy. And make good use of your cover letter to tell the search committee why the job interests you and what you would bring to the position. Give clear evidence of how you meet the qualifications – projects you have worked on or managed, skills you have, etc. Remember, when we say 2-4 years prior experience or doing a specific job like supervising, we really to mean 2-4 years. If you are close to the two years you meet the requirement. Don’t assume the hiring committee will privilege the candidates with 4 years’ experience. We are looking for a collection of experiences, education, and ideas from candidates. If we are working together thoughtfully we should look carefully at how each candidate presents themself.
My advice is not to apply for a job that you are clearly not qualified for. Your application may not advance past an initial review by staff other than in the library. If it does, it probably won’t advance once the search committee sees it, which is not a good use of anyone’s time. If you are interested in a job and think you are qualified, take the time to make that argument. Read the job description and show the search committee how your education and experience make you a qualified candidate.

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or in whale song. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

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