Should you apply for jobs when you don’t fully fit the brief?

Posted on Posted in Ask Alison

There’s a quote by Richard Branson that says “if someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”

You can apply this quote quite easily to your job search. Say you’ve seen what sounds like your perfect job advertised but you’re not sure that you’ve got the skills, qualifications or experience that the employer’s looking for. What should you do?

I say, and I think Richard would back me up on this, go for it – on certain conditions.

Richard Branson Quote


Take a look at the job description for the role. There’ll be a list of skills that the employer is looking for so how do your skills stack up against the requirements?

Skills are usually listed as either ‘Essential’ or ‘Desirable’ and, if you can match at least 80% of them on the list then there’s really no harm in going for it especially if the ones you lack aren’t essential.

So, if you’ve done most of the tasks on the list (and know that you can back your claims up with strong evidence at interview) then you should apply.

If you are lacking some of the skills, all is not lost. Use your covering letter to demonstrate how you could learn those skills quickly by giving examples of previous learning and taking on new challenges. Use the covering letter too, to talk about your transferable skills – these are the skills you do have which you could use effectively in any new role. Whatever you do, however, don’t start your cover letter by saying “I appreciate that I don’t have the relevant skills/experience/qualifications, but…”. That’s a red flag to an employer and pretty much guarantees you won’t get to the interview stage.


Most jobs have a minimum requirement (generally 5 GCSEs at grades A – C for entry level positions) but others may require specific qualifications – a degree, a professional certification, specific IT knowledge.

If no specific qualifications are mentioned then get your application in. If, however, the employer is looking for someone who has passed their ACCA accountancy exams and you haven’t even studied accountancy never mind taken the exams then it’s a no go. Your CV won’t even get you to the interview stage. Similarly, if the employer is looking for someone with C++, Ruby on Rails, or SQL knowledge and your IT knowledge only extends as far as using Microsoft Word then you should keep looking.

In addition, for some jobs you’re required by law to hold certain qualifications and you won’t be hired without them so you need to decide whether to study for them or reconsider your career options.


If the job description states you need 5 or more years’ experience and you’ve been doing a similar role for 4 years then it’s worth submitting your application. You can use your cover letter to explain your suitability and highlight the positives from your current role.

If you have less than half of the experience the employer’s looking for then it’s probably best to stay put and build up your experience – if you really want to work for a particular company you can always send them a speculative application at a later date when you have more experience under your belt.

So, assuming you can meet the bulk of the requirements that the employer is looking for you’ve got nothing to lose by applying. I’ve applied for, and been offered, jobs in the past where I didn’t meet all the requirements and I’ve also recruited people who didn’t exactly match the job description so it is possible and certainly worth a go.

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