The 2 Kinds of Skills You Should Highlight When You’re Underqualified for a Job

The 2 Kinds of Skills You Should Highlight When You’re Underqualified for a Job

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Wherever you see gaps, start by considering transferable skills first. You’ve probably heard this term before, but as a quick refresher, they’re exactly what they sound like: things you learned in one industry that’ll carry over to another.

For example, if you have customer service experience, you know how to make someone who’s unhappy feel heard and turn an angry conversation into a productive one. That’ll help you succeed in any job that requires active listening and problem-solving. Or, maybe you’ve never been part of a formal strategic planning process, but you helped your department develop and execute large goals, so you can draw on that experience.

When it comes to connecting the dots in your application, you’re basically saying: “This role calls for X, and my experience with Y gave me the skills I need to do just that.”

This is a critical step, yet it doesn’t give you the opportunity to share abilities that make you compelling but don’t fit into to the job posting listed. So, while transferable skills are really useful, stopping there is stopping short.

Just like companies list dream qualifications that aren’t essential but would make a candidate extra appealing; odds are you have some talents that aren’t called for, but would increase your ability to do a great job. These are your additive skills. (And I use the word “additive” because the goal is to focus on ones that’ll add to your ability to the do the job.)

Going off of the formula above, these translate to, “I have experience in Y, and even though it’s not called for in the job description, it’s going to help me excel in this role, because…”

To quote myself from a previous article on interviewing for an out-of-reach role, “An additive skill is something unique that you bring to the table—in addition to everything that’s expected. Think about it: If you’re slightly under qualified, there’s a reason why. If you spent the first two years of your career in a different sector, you bring experience from that industry. If you’re younger than everyone else applying for the role, odds are you submitted an extraordinary cover letter or have impressive networking contacts.”

Do you have three years of program management instead of five? That’s because you spent two years as a data scientist—and your analytical abilities will help you streamline your projects. Or maybe you spent a year abroad, and while there’s no requirement for a second language, you know that the fact that you’re fluent will help you reach a new demographic.

How to Use Them to Your Advantage

One of the most important (and most challenging) things to do as a job applicant is be memorable—for the right reasons. And here’s where both your transferable and additive skills give you a leg up. All of those people who have closely matched qualifications will draw a straight line between their experience and the role. But they could blend with other obvious choices.

Your different skills give you an edge because they help you stand out. First, in your cover letter, you can use both transferable and additive skills to tell a two-line story. For example, let’s say you’re a project manager who loves to write, applying for a job as a company recruiter:

Transferable skill: “Part of my current job is encouraging people to meet deadlines, and I’d use what I’ve learned there to get applicants to submit materials in a timely fashion.”

Additive skill: “As someone who creates my own networking newsletter each month, I know that my addiction to finding the right words would strengthen my recruitment efforts via email.”

Then once you land an interview, you can (again) call on these skills to show why you’re a compelling candidate.

For example, if you’re asked to explain how you could tackle the role on day one when you don’t have a recruiting background, you can respond with:

“Along with experience in [something called for in the job posting], I also bring [transferable or additive skill], which’ll help me [do something other candidates might not be able to].”

It sounds like this:

“A big part of writing persuasively is understanding your audience, and I’d call upon those same skills to connect with a top applicant who may be hesitant to apply.”

When you don’t have the exact qualifications, it’s easy to feel nervous or discount the experience you do have. That’s when looking at all your skills—and not just the ones that line up with the job description—can give you that extra boost you need. They’re a good reminder for the hiring manager that while you haven’t developed skills that’d directly correlate to the position, you have gained loads of other valuable experience that make you an awesome choice.