You're the perfect candidate for more jobs than you think! Leverage our best practices and apply to more jobs, even when you're not a 100% match.

Understanding and interpreting job descriptions can be a detrimental pain point for job seekers. There’s often a major disconnect between what a manager is communicating in the job description, the actual responsibilities that will be performed, and the requirements candidates need for the role. In one of our virtual job search office hour sessions, over a third of the questions were around job descriptions, listed requirements, how much weight applicants should put on the requirements, and whether they should apply or not.

The conundrum on the flip side comes from many hiring managers whose mentality is, "I wish people would apply even if they don't have all the requirements. It's my job to identify the best applicants for an interview and it’s not their job to say they aren't among the most qualified. I feel like I'm missing out on so many quality candidates because they don't think they're strong enough and, therefore, their resume never reaches my inbox."

In addition to job description discrepancies steering applicants away, other issues exacerbate the problem. As outlined in Harvard Business Review and other articles, women generally only apply for a position if they meet 100% of the qualifications listed in the job description, whereas men apply when they meet 60%. The disconnect is significant, and as a result, we’ve put together some insights and best practices to help job seekers better clarify matters around job descriptions, applying, and following up.

What you should know about job descriptions.

Have you ever reviewed the list of requirements in a job description and not applied because you were missing some of the requirements? Most job seekers self-eliminate themselves from applying based on the listed requirements. It comes at a cost to organizations and viable candidates because some of those requirements aren't even relevant for the role and are just preferred qualifications. Many job postings can be outdated, recycled, or intentionally left broad if a manager or company doesn’t want to share specific details or has multiple opportunities spanning different projects and teams.

Don’t let unclear job descriptions cost you the chance of attaining great opportunities. Instead, evaluate the job posting and identify what information is missing before getting in touch with the person responsible for the job posting, typically a recruiter. Make a list of what's missing that you care about and be prepared to ask questions around those details. You may be wondering who can answer your questions, which brings us to recruiters.

Learn more about job descriptions and requirements from recruiters.

One of the best actions you can take during a job search is to identify tenured recruiters who are focused on supporting a specific type of skill set or industry; many are skill-focused and sometimes industry-focused. Most of these recruiters are often involved in conversations with hiring managers about their specific hiring needs, the job description, and the core requirements and skillsets they’d like someone to have. Get referrals of recruiters from others in your network, search on LinkedIn, and reach out to recruiters listed in a job description as being skill or industry-focused.

Once you get in touch with the recruiter, ask if they’ve spoken to the hiring manager or other key stakeholders. Inquire if the job description was written specifically for this role, if it was recycled or a general description, and ask for additional details not included in the job posting. Knowing where it came from and how valid the details are can help you assess how serious you should take it and whether you should apply.

You don’t match 100% of the requirements; should you apply?

One hiring manager said, “I would much rather hire somebody that has 50% of my qualifications, and they’re just a good person who wants to learn and who will get along with the team, than somebody who has 100% and just kind of set in their ways.” No one is truly 100% when you add in soft skills and other similar factors that make a great candidate. We recommend applying for roles where you have 75% to 80% of the requirements outlined and an interest in learning the rest. This baseline is flexible and can be altered based on role, level, and industry. For more junior-level candidates, we encourage a 50% match or more. And if you can’t get enough information from the recruiter or job poster, and it looks like a role you're interested in and could do, even if you are missing some of the requirements, take a shot and apply for the role. Below are a few example scenarios.

  • Project managers with agile scrum methodology experience interested in positions using a SAFe framework should apply, despite not having professional SAFe experience. Help your candidacy by taking a SAFe course and including it in your resume.
  • You’re a technical support specialist interested in a role requiring Security+. You have A+ and Network+ certifications and completed Security+ coursework but haven’t sat for the exam yet. Apply, but include your Security+ coursework on your resume and reference your upcoming Security+ exam date in your cover letter.
  • You’re a senior full-stack developer interested in a technical lead position requiring management experience, yet you’ve never held a management or lead title. Apply for the position if you’ve helped mentor or train developers, been involved in the hiring process, held code reviews, and been involved in performance management. These responsibilities should be clearly outlined in your resume. You may get more interviews by having a couple of LinkedIn recommendations showing your mentorship and sharing that with your recruiter.

Again, requirements are often a laundry list for the ideal candidate and may be inaccurate due to missing or recycled information, etc. If you believe you can do the core function and learn some of the other key aspects, don’t hesitate to apply, but not until you’ve optimized your resume!

Optimize your resume.

So, you’ve decided that you’re going to apply for the position, but before moving forward it’s critical to optimize your resume before submitting it or uploading it to an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). Customize your resume to reflect the job position posted by reviewing the entire job description and integrating some of its wording into your resume. If you have the skills being requested, mirror or use the same language and wording from the job description. This helps increase your resume matching and ranking within the list of applications for that job in the ATS. If you don’t understand the wording or parts of the job description, research them to get a better understanding. Do you know someone in the same type of role? Ask for their insight to understand how you may fit into that position, the duties, and the day-to-day. Don’t forget about the recruiter, as they may know the most common industry job titles your skill set goes by and the key responsibilities or buzz words to include in your resume.

Prepare questions for the interview.

Are there missing job details the recruiter couldn’t answer? If so, these questions should be saved for the interview and can include targeted and open-ended questions around benefits, pay, goals, project details, responsibilities, expectations, tech stack, environment, culture, team dynamics, stakeholders, users, etc. Create a list of questions to ensure they get addressed during the interview. Quality interview questions can include, "What would my key responsibilities be? What are your expectations of what will get done over the first month, and three to six months, etc.? Can you please expand on anticipated projects, the tech stack, applications, roadmap, and other details?" Find more example questions you can use to qualify a role in our Do You Have Any Questions? article.

When, how, and how many times to follow up.

After applying for a job, you may not hear back immediately on your application which is why you should try to connect directly. Once you apply, try connecting with the recruiter or hiring manager that posted the job. Search for a name, email, or link tied to the person that posted the opening. If there isn’t an email or link to connect, but only a name, find them on LinkedIn. Connect with them and send a message to let them know you applied and that you’d like to talk about the position further. If there isn’t any contact information or names on the job posting, find the company on LinkedIn and start following them. You can learn about their culture, activities, and events. Some companies may even have a list of contacts tied to given job postings where you can then connect.

Even if a job posting is missing a contact person or email, there may be a link that takes you to the company website where you can identify a local office and phone number. Call the office directly and let them know you applied for a given position and location. Then ask to speak to the right person. Even if there isn’t a link, you can always research the company and find an office number to call and inquire. Just be sure to have the pertinent job details available during your call or email to help streamline the process, including the job number and title listed in the job description. Always include a couple of additional qualifications that you may have left off your resume or reiterate and emphasize your experience with two of the most prominent requirements identified in the job description and your resume.

After your first follow-up, the rule of thumb is to wait at least two business days before doing another one. Hiring managers and recruiters can receive an enormous influx of emails and LinkedIn messages, so give them a few more days before doing another follow-up, but try a different approach, i.e., LinkedIn message instead of an email, or call the office instead of emailing. We recommend giving three attempts to connect before moving to your next opportunity.

Overall, job descriptions are supposed to help you decide whether you’re interested in applying and it’s important to apply for jobs you’re genuinely interested in, qualified for, or even partially interested in and semi-qualified for based on the information available. Some job descriptions may seem like riddles; take the time to investigate. And if it makes sense, take a chance, and apply if you’re 75% to 80% of a match and go the “trust but verify” route during your conversations and interviews. Don’t miss out on valuable opportunities. Use our insights and best practices and you’ll have a better chance of landing your ideal job!