You get a call from a recruiter, and he tells you about a position with a great company. The role sounds exciting, and, from his description at least, seems like something you’d be interested in pursuing. He sends over the job description for you to review, and you are crestfallen. They say that the candidate must have a very specific certification and an advanced degree, neither of which you have. You decide that you are not qualified, so you never bother to send your resume to the recruiter.
I’m here to tell you all to please stop doing that. As anyone who has ever compared the job they do to the written description of that job will tell you, written job descriptions often have very little basis in reality! Here is a basic overview of how a written job description comes to exist. A manager makes the case to her boss that she needs to make a hire, whether that’s to create a new role or to fill a role that’s been vacated. Her manager requires a business case and budget. Part of that business case is a written job description. Then the job description has to go to the HR department, where things get added to it and deleted from it. Then it goes back to the hiring manager, and she and her boss “massage” it a bit more. Sometimes job descriptions are based on a template, and sometimes people take an old job description and “update” it with new buzzwords.
What happens many times is that during this back-and-forth, every single possible qualification and skill that the hiring manager, her boss, HR, and whoever else’s hands were on it make their way into the job description.
The result of this process goes from obtuse to absurd. Case in point: I recently read a job description for a Director of Marketing at a financial technology start up. One of the bullet points read, “Candidates must possess a strong understanding of derivatives.” Ben Bernanke, who has a Ph.D. in economics, who taught at Princeton, and who was the chair of the Federal Reserve doesn’t understand derivatives! Neither does his predecessor, Alan Greenspan. Am I to infer that neither Bernanke nor Greenspan are qualified to work at this company? Or should I infer that this job description is totally out of touch with reality?
If you meet more than half of the qualifications they are seeking, go ahead and apply. Be sure you write a great cover letter, and that you use keywords in both your resume and your letter. And of course, if you can network your way to the hiring manager, that written job description will be even less important.