Underqualified or just Impostor Syndrome?
June 8, 2010 8:08 AM   Subscribe

How do I apply for jobs I'm probably qualified for but fear that I'm not?

In my current position I've moved up the ladder relatively quickly. I love my career, but I need to jump a sinking ship right now. My workplace has become toxic. I see jobs that have requirements that I mostly fit, but I keep talking myself out of applying because I feel like a fraud. Impostor Syndrome. (I mention moving up quickly because my years of experience and my current title might seem incongruous to employers.)

How do I get over this? How can I tell if it's just Impostor Syndrome or if it's really a job I'm not qualified (yet) for?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The quickest way to tell is to apply for it. They can work out themselves whether you are qualified or not, it's no big deal if they decide you aren't.
posted by emilyw at 8:11 AM on June 8, 2010

Remember: applying for jobs is free. Just be truthful. If you get through the whole process and they hire someone who is unqualified, it's their problem not yours.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:17 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do it anyway...it worked well for me!
posted by jgirl at 8:19 AM on June 8, 2010

Apply. Every job you don't get just leaves you open for the right one anyway.
posted by philip-random at 8:21 AM on June 8, 2010

You never know what they're looking for. They could have a whole bunch of technical requirements, but what they really want is someone who is good with customers and meshes well with the team. Or everyone who applies meets three of their six ideal criteria, while you hold back because you "only" meet five.

The only way you are guaranteed to not get the job is to not apply. Go for it!
posted by Madamina at 8:24 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also...smart and slightly underqualified is better than someone who is qualified (on paper) but unable to think on their feet or be flexible. I am amazed at the new hires I have seen that have zero problem-solving skills.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:25 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good cover letters can help mitigate the requirements you don't fit.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 8:25 AM on June 8, 2010

Apply for the job. Don't misrepresent yourself. Most employers want people who are bright and capable. Just because you don't have particular skill XYZ doesn't mean you can pick it up on the job.
posted by chunking express at 8:31 AM on June 8, 2010

Apply. Write a cover letter addressing specific points and emphasizing your strengths. Then it's THEIR job to winnow out the resumes.

I had a job as an HR assistant once, and it was my job to do the first round of resume-winnowing. I did have to look for certain key words and compare the resumes to a certain "boilerplate" list of must-haves - but all that happened to the rejected resumes was that they were thrown away. There was no blacklisting, no mocking, no "can you believe the NERVE of this guy, applying to Position X?" And in fact, some resumes that weren't qualified for Position X, but looked like they were written by nice people who had good skills, were filed away just in case they might be needed for Positions Y or Z. Saved us the time and trouble of a new search, if one of Job X's rejectees jumped at Job Y.

Secondly, I would send resumes on to the HR Director (this was a small company) who may not have been superbly qualified, but looked as if they might work. Then it was up to the HR Director, who at least gave them a call for a phone interview. If you get to this point, and really really shine in the phone interview, you may well have a chance.

Don't be discouraged! Unless your skills are VERY mismatched (this is an accounting position and all your experience is in psychology) it's worth at least a try. You won't be laughed at, blacklisted, or anything else.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:33 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

For upper level applications, everyone is a unique package and nobody meets all the requirements (or, if they do, they want far more than the salary range budgeted). You'll be doing them a favor by giving them another option to choose from.
posted by salvia at 8:36 AM on June 8, 2010

Minimum experience years will certainly get you by an HR filter but that's not why you get hired. The main reason is that experience from Y company doing job X is not necessarily applicable to doing job X at Z company. The context of job X at Z and Y are different -- so success at Y doesn't necessarily mean success at Z.

In general, the people I've seen make successful transitions have been the ones that have steep learning curves and adapt well.
posted by cheez-it at 8:41 AM on June 8, 2010

Also, you're not a fraud. They can tell the difference between a Director with five years of experience in a certain kind of organization and a Director with eighteen years of experience at another kind of organization. And some places will want someone with a decade of experience and gravitas. Nevertheless, after meeting their minimum criteria, other places will prefer the up-and-comer who has moved quickly up the ladder, and will appreciate that you're a relative newcomer still full of excitement and energy. (In fact, just about anything you're worried about might be spun as a plus.)
posted by salvia at 8:49 AM on June 8, 2010

You apply anyway. For every ad that you read and think yourself underqualified there's a company over-asking for what they'll accept.
posted by rhizome at 8:52 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I tell my jobseeking kids "let them tell you no". Apply, be honest but sell yourself. You may need to explain in your letter how fab a fit you are for the position if you are a non traditional applicant. Trust in them to catch it at the application or interview stages if you aren't up to the task. This isn't just empty pep-talk, I was just offered a position I am underqualified for (no degree) cos they think I am the shit. I am letting them tell me yes.
posted by Iteki at 9:01 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

my years of experience and my current title might seem incongruous to employers

In a good way.

Apply for everything. The worst thing that happens is they don't hire you but you get a little more practice at interviews, which is never a bad thing.
posted by ook at 9:22 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

my years of experience and my current title might seem incongruous to employers

Believe you me, you are in the much better position. My job title is low for my experience and level of responsibility, which makes even lateral moves seem somewhat aspirational on paper.

Even if your experience does fall a bit short of what the prospective employer is seeking, go ahead and apply. It's possible that they are in a position to make a judgment call and would consider hiring you as the Assistant Director of Foo instead of the Associate Director of Foo, expecting that after a couple of years, you could possibly move up.
posted by desuetude at 9:48 AM on June 8, 2010

Apply for everything. The worst thing that happens is they don't hire you but you get a little more practice at interviews, which is never a bad thing.

this. Just keep thinking of it as practicing your skills of job application/interviewing, not as potential rejection because OMG I'm missing criteria number 26b.
posted by CathyG at 10:10 AM on June 8, 2010

i highly encourage my friends to apply to positions they think they might not be quite qualified for. my current job i didn't meet certain requirements that i thought would be dealbreakers (like requiring 5 yrs experience specifically in the software industry- i had exactly zero) but they took me on because they thought i'd be a quick learner from the interview and the tests they had me do. i almost didn't apply to the job because i, too, was having the imposter syndrome, but after being just barely passed over for an entry level position somewhere else i was like AAH SCREW IT and applied to a bunch of jobs i didn't think i was qualified for- one of which i got. you never know when a company will take a chance on you, but you narrow those odds significantly if you don't apply at all.
posted by raw sugar at 10:25 AM on June 8, 2010

Agreeing with everyone that you should just apply, because that is how people get jobs.

Also, I don't know what field you're in, but I apply for jobs in software/web development, and I can't remember the last time I had all the required skills listed in the ad. Seriously. Employers will throw together the most ridiculous set of skills, things no one person would ever have, or if he did he would be asking for a seven-figure salary. Sometimes I'm pretty sure they put in acronyms that are just plain made-up.

As long as the general description of the job sounds like something I have done or could do, I apply. I really don't even bother reading the full "skills list" most of the time.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:28 AM on June 8, 2010

To piggyback on this question, would you pre-emptively use your cover letter to cover up any discrepancies between their requirements and your skills (e.g. "while I am not fluent in ancient Cyrillic...") or would you just not mention it until asked about?
posted by Phire at 11:00 AM on June 8, 2010

I have a strong interest in ancient languages and look forward to learning Cyrillic.
posted by Iteki at 11:42 AM on June 8, 2010

because I feel like a fraud. In my book, a "fraud" is someone who isn't a doctor but operates on patients anyway. Or a lawyer who failed the bar but practices law anyway. Or applies to a job because s/he really sekritly is aiming to embezzle the company blind. THAT's fraud.

Applying for a position that may, OR MAY NOT, be "above your experience/qualifications" is, at worst, having your reach exceed your grasp. That's all. It's not fraud, it's not misrepresentation. A shelf-stocker at Wal-Mart is free to apply to be vice president of Apple. He probably (almost certainly) won't get the job, but he won't be hauled out and arrested or publicly humiliated either. His resume will be tossed into the trash, and that will be it.

I say this because many times people with the "impostor syndrome" feel as if they will be punished for daring to be ambitious, but the most that happens to almost all of them is that they are ignored. And many of them are respected and praised. Very very few, except for celebrities, are mocked and humiliated. (Sure, if Kim Kardashian decided that she was going to play Cordelia in a Broadway production of King Lear, yes, she'd probably be mocked into next Tuesday. But if you're not an especially vapid famous-for-being-famous celeb, things like this rarely happen.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:44 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

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