Reading over the requirements and qualifications section of a job description can feel a lot like listening to someone call out lottery numbers. You go down the list, and once in a while you get all the way to the bottom with all of the skills matching your resume perfectly, and it feels like you hit the jackpot.
But actually, you didn’t. And not because it’s you. It’s those other people.
When it comes to applying to jobs, other people are the absolute worst. It’s like they never even think about you. They just go on applying and interviewing for all the positions you want as if you don’t even exist. The best way to deal with this is to give these other people a taste of their own medicine and not acknowledge them either, right? Wrong. Because if you acknowledge their existence correctly, these other people become your secret weapon. Consider this:
I run in organized 5ks sometimes. Recently, I put together a route around my neighborhood that’s pretty much exactly 3.1 miles long. Sometimes, I say to myself, “Hey why don’t I try to match my 5k PR.” The result every time: I don’t even come close. I could chalk up some of it to terrain or time of day or weather or whatever, but that shouldn’t account for 6 whole minutes of variation. The real reason I can’t match my time is because I’m alone. No one is passing me, no one is sprinting to the finish challenging me, no one twice my age is passing me while pushing a two-seat stroller (this has happened before), no one is giving me the motivation I need to maybe run a few strides faster than my current pace.
Applying for jobs is the same way. You need to acknowledge the competition. You need to realize that there are people out there who have all the same qualifications as you on paper, so it’s going to take more than putting a check mark next to each of the requirements in the job ad to get hired or even get a phone interview.
You need to really think about your experiences. Separate the documented from the unique. For example, did you earn any certificates or degrees that are required or preferred for the position in question? That’s good and needs to be communicated in your cover letter and resume, but the fact that it’s so firm only means others probably also possess the same certificates and degrees, so you can’t focus on that alone.
Instead use these documented qualifications to build your foundation as an able candidate, and then use your unique experiences – like working with someone noteworthy in the field, experience in a similar corporate culture, or a deeper understanding of both how to do something best and why that is the best way to do it – to prove why you are the MOST able candidate.
No, you can’t see who you’re up against and that’s frustrating, but you should at least realize they’re out there and express some reasonable and clear associations between what you know about the position you’re vying for and what you know about yourself.