Am I too inexperienced to apply for this job?

Career development
Sarah Hobbs
By Sarah Hobbs | 10th April 2019

This is a question that gets asked regularly in career sessions, especially where the job advert or specification mentions years of experience. In the UK, legislation precludes experience from being a factor in selection decisions. I'm increasingly seeing people putting aside their long held beliefs about needing X number of years of experience, and instead taking some risks with candidates who show promise but who may not have the typical career path that might be expected.

A problem is that there are studies that show that women are less likely to apply when they lack experience than men and are disadvantaged in their career by this. This may also apply to you, if you are someone who likes to be well-prepared.

Do you need to be more ready to take a risk on applying?

If you want to apply for a role but suspect that you lack the needed experience, what do you need to consider?

  1. Do you have ANY of the required experience? At the end of the day you have to do the job, so while you might feel up for it - think soberly and carefully about whether you actually could perform in the role. One of my favourite movie scenes is from the film Love Actually, when the new Prime Minister - played by Hugh Grant - gets into his new office for the first time, closes the door, and with a pained expression at having to actually do this job says "Oh my God, that's so inconvenient". Don't risk a situation where you feel like that!
  2. Are the stated required experiences actually needed? Remember that you don't always know what it is that interviewers are looking for. I once applied for a job where I was up against candidates with significantly more years of experience than me. I then found out that what they were looking for was enthusiasm and creativity, which I had in buckets! So I put in a lot of work to understand the role, and what I could do with it - and ended up being offered the job. If you are a graduate who has been on a placement scheme, remember that while you don't have three to five years' experience, your scheme has just given you a wide range of unique experiences that other candidates don't possess - and these are equally valuable.
  3. What's the feeling you're getting from others? Test the waters. I deal with a lot of managers who worry for their team members when they apply for a role where they lack experience. Ask them for an honest view - you still have to take the decision for yourself, but either way guidance from a number of sources definitely helps.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. You need your interview A-game. If you lack the experience, assume you are the underdog. Practice like stink for the interview. We've commented before about preparing for interviews but you do need to pull out all the stops.
  5. Rejection happens to everyone. It's what you do afterwards that counts. In talking to a number of people with fast-track careers, they have often applied for jobs that they don't think they'll succeed in getting. They do it as a career tactic - "I wanted to throw my hat in the ring, to let people to know that I'm ambitious and believe I'm capable of rising to a challenge." When rejected, high fliers work at building a relationship with the decision-makers and getting feedback on what they need to do to be successful next time. For one Operations Manager, it was the third attempt that was successful - and he was still the youngest person appointed to that role in the history of the company. Compare this with someone who applies for a stretch role, is rejected and doesn't ask for feedback, then applies for other jobs where the only similarity is the high pay grade. This will just give people the message that you are unrealistic.

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