How closely do job requirements in a want ad typically match what a company is actually willing to accept?
July 24, 2008 6:31 PM   Subscribe

How closely do job requirements in a want ad typically match what a company is actually willing to accept?

I've been job hunting for a systems admin position for a few months with little success. The problem is that I'm sort of in-between mid-level and high-level technology requirements. I managed a pretty large environment - 75 servers, 6,000 users, 3,000 desktops\notebooks, etc. - but it was 100% Windows which I think is somewhat rare. We also contracted out higher end switching and routing tasks although I handled basic day-to-day management like switching VLANs, unblocking ports, creating NATs, etc. Basically, I did a little of everything - active directory, server management, pc imaging, SQL, etc. - but never really mastered anything. In addition, I only have a two-year degree from an unaccredited technical college. I worked my way up to network admin over several years (and held the job for another 3 years) but would never have been hired off the street by the organization without a degree.

It seems as though every job posting I see lists a technology I have very little experience with such as Unix, Novell, VMWare, etc. or requires a certification I don't have. I'm a very quick study but it's hard to convince somebody to give you the opportunity to learn on the job. They usually want a Bachelor's degree but it's also fairly common to list it as "preferred".

Obviously, employers are going to list the qualities of their dream candidate when putting together an ad, but how far are they stretching it? Should I just say screw it and apply for everything regardless of how closely I fit their criteria? If the ad contains the exact statement "Bachelor's degree required", should I still apply? A friend of mine in HR told me to "throw as much as you can against the wall and see what sticks" but I'm reluctant to apply for a job that says I'll be managing Linux desktops when I know nothing about Linux other than using it a couple of times.

I'd like to hear from hiring managers or somebody in HR who reviews resumes. Do you scan for the job requirements and automatically trash any resumes that don't match or do you look at the overall candidate and at least put them in the maybe pile? If it's the latter, what things on a resume might help someone slip thought the cracks? Or, is it the overall "vibe" you get from the resume (escalating responsibility, impressive accomplishments, etc.).

Also, I'd love to hear any stories from people who've gotten killer jobs they weren't even remotely qualified for and how they did it.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
IME, it varies widely. Sometimes, the requirements are a minimum, sometimes they are made by committee and thus are a hodgepodge of what various people want to see. Sometimes, it's a description of the person who held the job before, even if that person had grown into the position over time.

Given this, my rule of thumb is to apply for every job I see that looks good, if I can see myself doing a good job. If they don't think I'm qualified, they just won't call me. I learned this lesson after I decided not to apply for a few jobs I thought I was underqualified for, that ended up going to less-qualified people.
posted by lunasol at 6:45 PM on July 24, 2008

Also, you asked for a way to get hiring managers to consider you, or how to get a "killer job:" networking. Tell everyone you know in your field that you're looking for a job. If you can, ask your most recent boss/coworkers for help. You can go a lot further with someone to vouch for you.
posted by lunasol at 6:51 PM on July 24, 2008

I'm not in your field, but I do a lot of hiring. For me, it depends a lot on the other candidates. If there are several candidates who meet the posted requirements, then, outside of something really remarkable, everybody else goes into the not-this-time pile. What's really remarkable? A great resume, or a great cover letter. Long-term experience in the field, ideally with progressively increasing responsibilities. Commitment, in its many forms. On the other hand, sometimes your posting says 'must have x,' and not a single applicant has it. Like I said--it depends a lot on the other candidates. And since that's entirely outside your control, I figure the best bet is to just keep plugging away at it.
posted by box at 6:55 PM on July 24, 2008

Given the number of likely applicants for the positions for which you're applying, I'd say it's likely that resumes are going through a first screening in which candidates missing skills are being filtered out.

On the other hand, it sounds like you're an excellent employee. People who actually meet you and work with you probably think you're awesome.

You, my friend, need to network. Talk to the people who know you and can personally recommend you to their friends. Tell them what you're looking for, maybe one or two out of the 125 people you know will know a hiring manager personally, and then you can leapfrog past the resume screening stage.
posted by amtho at 6:55 PM on July 24, 2008

If you've got Windows-only experience, you're going to have a very hard time getting jobs that require Linux/Unix. My suggestion would be, by hook or by crook, to get some Unix admin experience. Volunteer to set up a server for a non-profit, or do some reasonably interesting project. Maybe even run an "experimental" linux machine at your current job to demo Linux's capabilities to your team.
posted by zippy at 7:10 PM on July 24, 2008

Rule of thumb - if you can meet 80% of the "essential" requirements for a job, then apply. Personally, I'm wary of a candidate for a permanent post that meets all the essential requirements of a post - makes me think that they'll be bored within 6 months and leave. I'd prefer to hire someone that has most of the requirements and the proven ability to pick up the rest.

If you think that you could go in and do the job, picking up what you need as you go along, then apply. Employers are usually willing to provide training, but only in certain areas - you need to prove that you can add value from day 1, and more value with additional training.

Bear in mind that "Bachelors Degree required" is very different to "Linux experience required" in that having a bachelors degree doesn't really say much about your ability to do the job, but if the job involved Linux, then you'd probably not be able to do it without Linux experience. Some essential requirements are more essential than others. (Personally, I think that the "degree qualified" thing is irrelevant. If I have to choose, I prefer a candidate with relevant experience rather than someone with a degree. It's a standard thing to request, but often comes with the "or equivalent" caveat, which you obviously meet.)

Doing a little of everything is a great starting point - just remember to tailor your CV to each individual post you apply for to highlight the experience that you have in that area.

A good covering letter is essential - it puts the recruiter in the right frame of mind to read your CV. Summarise why you're the best candidate for the job and why you want it. If there's something glaring that is missing, address that in the covering letter, but make sure you state how you would work around it. eg: "I've not worked in X industry before, but in my previous roles, I have had to learn the business very quickly so I don't anticipate a problem".

Your first goal is to get the interview, then you can take it from there. One of our best hires was a guy sent by the agency because they thought he needed interview experience. He lacked the required experience, but made up for it in the interview with his attitude and ability to learn, so we hired him. The agency was quite surprised. 12 months on, he's already been promoted and is a real asset to the team.

Experience isn't everything - but being the right person at the right time is - so apply for everything that you think you would be good at, and the right job will come along sooner rather than later.

Good luck!
posted by finding.perdita at 8:43 PM on July 24, 2008

Agree with the "different levels of required" comments above. One other thing to keep in mind in addition to those comments is that job descriptions are often written by HR, not by the actual technical team. Because of this, they are often filled with buzzwords, certification requirements, etc. As others have said, if you think you can do the job based on the description, apply for it, and highlight (in both resume and cover letter) your strengths that would be applicable for the job. If you find out that you're getting shut out from multiple positions that you're interested in because of a lack of certifications, most certs are pretty easy to get - $40 for a study guide, and a fairly wide range of cost for the test. Not sure what technical certs you're seeing, but you can also look into things like Project Management Professional (PMP) to try to set yourself apart.
posted by um_maverick at 5:10 AM on July 25, 2008

There are some things that are required and few wish list items. The problem is the applicant never knows which ones are the wish list items.

Generally, I work with the recruiter to write the ad. I also give the recruiter a list of screening criteria. The recruiter goes through the applicants and gives me a screened list. If you're applying for a job and you're missing something essential, this is where you'll be eliminated from the process. The HR recruiter will eliminate you, before I see you.

Next, we schedule interviews and see which one of the candidates is closest to our ideal.

Apply if you're close to the requirements and you're interested in the job. You never know if the thing that you're missing is just a nice to have.
posted by 26.2 at 6:13 AM on July 25, 2008

Use a recruiter / search firm for your job search.

Understand that they're being paid to find a qualified candidate who will be a good fit for the position and will stay there for a while. Recruiters have the right to explain things about the position, salary, requirements, etc. to which you won't have access when applying directly to the company. If they don't know the answer to your questions, they can go back and ask the client on your behalf. They'll also be able to figure out how good a match your skills are for the job, and talk you up to the hiring manager before you have any direct contact with him/her.

Last time a recruiter sent me on an interview, he gave me tips about the hiring manager's personality, preferences, and what he was looking for in a candidate.

That being said, either find a recruiting firm you trust and give them an exclusive to all the places you apply, or insist that they notify you which companies are receiving your resume. If you apply directly to the same job to which a recruiter submitted your resume, most employers will discard both copies of your resume in order to avoid conflicts of interest or contractual concerns. Most recruiters understand your caution in not giving them an exclusive, but you should work with them to keep each other "in the loop" on your job search.

The recruiter's fees often come out of the employer's pocket, and do not affect your salary (or not very much if at all). Some will hire you as their employee and have you working on a contract basis for the client, for either your whole time of service or in a short (3 month - 1 year) "try-before-you-buy" period. Many offer health benefits during the time you're an employee of the recruiting firm.

I don't think I will ever send my resume directly in to an employer again.
posted by tkolstee at 11:33 AM on July 25, 2008

« Older Need a psychiatrist in Toronto   |   New SCSI card is hiding the old SCSI card-thus... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.