Owning Your Skills and Applying for the Job that Seems Out of Your League

We’ve all been there. Staring at the requirements for what seems like a dream job. Putting the mental note next to every requirement, “I can’t do that. I’ve never done that. I’ve only done that, like, once,” then sighing and deciding you shouldn’t apply.

Stop. Go back. Try again.

A lot has been written about the statistic, “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” And yet, we (womxn) still don’t seem to get it. I am only just beginning to, and I’m probably more than one-third of the way through my life.

Fortunately, I’ve had a rather non-linear career path:

  • Actor/musician
  • Preschool teacher
  • Communications and marketing in the nonprofit sector
  • Marketing in the AEC industry.

This kind of journey requires some leaps of faith in the job-seeking process. And being the kind of person who likes to over-share, I will happily expound on what I have learned in the process.

For the sake of clarity, I will imagine that all readers are seeking to stay in their current field but move up in leadership, either inside or outside of their current company. (I have plenty of suggestions for people seeking a complete career change, but those will wait for another day).

Redefine the Requirements

I had been a Communications and Marketing Specialist for three years in the non-profit social service sector. A premier local theater had just posted a job description for “Content Marketing Manager.”

I was drooling. Marketing for a theater?

But they wanted 5-10 years of experience. Someone who could edit and organize an entire magazine, five times a year. Someone who could create interactive lobby content. There was no way I would even be in the running, right?


I was reading the descriptions too literally.

  • I didn’t need experience with a multi-annual publication, I needed expertise in layout and content, as well meeting multiple deadlines. Hadn’t I supervised the design, publication, and distribution of annual reports, newsletters, and digital campaigns? Check.
  • I didn’t need experience with lobby display, I needed to understand audience engagement and storytelling. Hadn’t I contributed to compelling and successful fundraisers? Check.
  • I didn’t need 5-10 years of experience. I needed a damn fine cover letter capturing my command of language, my understanding of what it would take to deliver in this position, and my passion for the industry. Check.

Sure enough, I got an interview. The Director even opened the meeting by declaring, “To be honest, I want someone who has the experience on all these other resumes…but with your cover letter.” (see below)

Later, after providing writing samples and campaign pitches, I got the job offer. #nailedit

Don’t sell yourself short. Trust that your experience is valid and can expand beyond the dry specificities of a job description. And never underestimate a good cover letter to make that point.

Document the Daily

Annual performance reviews are great and valuable, but they only come once a year. A lot happens in a year—have you ever seen a baby?

Your career is the same way: without even realizing it, by the end of the year you’ll have completed countless small projects and presented at a myriad of meetings.

But when asked, you’ll probably only remember a handful, and you might even wonder if they really supported your team’s strategic plan.

1) Never forget. Keep to-do lists. Photograph calendars. Whatever it takes so that you can go back and recall those small projects that you got done.

Because every strategic plan breaks down into goals, which break down into plans, which break down in tactics, which break down into tasks. Tasks that you try to write off as unimportant are in fact vital to the success of a strategic plan.

Own it.

2) Track milestones year-round. A lot of us wait until we see the dream job posting to start brainstorming proof that we deserve it.

Instead, constantly keep your resume updated with recent achievements—hit rates, sales, engagement rates, whatever is valuable to you. Your LinkedIn profile is an easy place to do this. Ten minutes every two weeks or so should be plenty to save you scrambling when it matters.

3) Increase visibility. This sounds ambiguous, but a colleague recently shared an ingenious and pragmatic way to make it happen.

Let’s say you present at a meeting, and a colleague approaches you after to compliment your presentation. Your response? “Thank you so much, I really appreciate that. Do you mind emailing me your thoughts, and copying my boss?”

Brazen and forward, I know. But, also? Not the biggest favor you could ask of someone. If they don’t do it, meh. If they do? Boom. Tangible, visible documentation of your day-to-day excellence.

Every few weeks, your supervisor could be seeing the impact you’re having in the company.

When the time comes, they won’t be at all surprised when you pursue that promotion. In fact, they may even suggest it to you.

Rethink Your Free Time

Real talk: You shouldn’t be working every second of every day, and you shouldn’t be eternally binge-watching true crime shows.

As you pursue hobbies or recreation, don’t forget that these experiences offer valuable skill-building as well, which can be used as leverage when pursuing a career upgrade (and can be easily recorded on your LinkedIn profile [see above]).

  • Did you organize your church’s coat drive? Leadership, initiative, and community engagement. Don’t be afraid to brag if you exceeded last year’s haul—in fact, document it.
  • Did you help your cousin design a website for their geode diorama business? Or maybe you edited a community newsletter. Add that to your portfolio and include it when you discuss achievements in the past year. As long as you met every other expected metric in your performance appraisal, these outside accomplishments show that you have more bandwidth and can be trusted with greater responsibility at work.
  • Do you really have nothing like this at all? Rethink this. Volunteer work, community activities, even industry organizations and societies offer the chance to make friends, learn new skills, and prepare you for future opportunities.
“Yes, I Can.”

An excellent read from the Harvard Business Review assesses many of the studies about the discrepancy between men and women and the way we apply for jobs.

“Girls’ greater success in school (relative to boys) arguably can be attributed to their better rule following. Then in their careers, that rule-following habit has real costs, including when it comes to adhering to the guidelines about ‘who should apply.’”

We love to think there are rules and a meritocracy, but there simply aren’t. Billionaires don’t always have a fancy education, world leaders don’t always have prior experience, and the people in charge don’t always know what they’re talking about.

So cut yourself a little slack. Stop taking the job description too literally. Own your successes and track them. Leverage your free time for enjoyment and enrichment.

Then, when the time comes and they end the interview with, “You think you can deliver the full requirements of this position?”

You look them in the eye without an ounce of hesitation or self-doubt and say, “Yes, I can.”