Not Sure You Should Apply for the Job? Here's How to Push Past the Doubt
Not Sure You Should Apply for the Job? Here's How to Push Past the Doubt

We all second-guess ourselves at times.

Say I share a job listing with you, and you think to yourself: “This sounds great and I used to do this at my old job, but I dunno if I should apply. I mean, there are probably more qualified candidates out there ...”

This is a totally normal thing to think. But it’s no way to respond to someone sending you work leads, even if they’re a friendly colleague. If you highlight a lack of confidence in yourself, you sound like a weak candidate. And suddenly your contact may wish they hadn’t told you about that opening at their company at all.

When you let self-doubt stand in your way of pursuing a job you’re qualified (or mostly qualified) for, you quit much too early in the game. So let’s talk about five ways to nip this self-defeating behavior in the bud.

Make your intentions clear and concise

When someone responds to a job listing I’ve shared online by sending me a meandering message about how they used to do this type of work, sort of, a few years back, and they’d have to update their resume to apply, but maybe they should because they’re tired of their current job and their boss is a nightmare, plus they’d like a job that allows some telecommuting so they can go for five-mile afternoon runs because they really miss working out during daylight … and on and on.

This drives me crazy, hopefully for obvious reasons. If you’re interested in a job lead a professional acquaintance has shared, the best response is a direct one. Behold: “This job sounds great. I have experience doing this work, and I’d love to apply. What’s the best way? Should I send you my resume, or would you prefer to introduce me to the person handling the hiring?”

If you have specific questions about the gig, ask away, but keep them short and sweet. And if you aren’t sure whether you’re interested in the role, the best private response to the person who posted it is none at all.

Ask a trusted confidant for their take

I understand having to parse out whether a particular listing matches your current skills and needs. But unless the person sharing the lead is a friend or close professional contact, don’t ask them to hold your hand while you mull over whether to apply. This is the written equivalent of a wimpy handshake. And it does little to inspire someone to put in a good word for you if you do apply. No one wants to recommend someone who sounds tentative about the job or their abilities to perform it.

Better to share your insecurities and decision-making process with a colleague you can trust to keep your professional secrets. (Remember, there’s a right way to ask for career advice, too.) And if your skills are a bit rusty and you’d like a bit more of a competitive edge, continuing education might just provide the missing link your resume needs.

If you have 80% of the necessary experience, go for it

Today’s job listings often ask for the moon from candidates. They’re not just looking for a marketing manager with eight years’ experience. They’re looking for a marketing manager who has at least 100,000 followers on every social media platform known to man, has managed no less than 25 people at once, has used every single piece of productivity software ever invented, knows how to code and is fluent in Russian and French.

Don’t let overreaching job listings scare you off. “Usually in recruiting it’s an 80/20 rule: If the candidate meets 80 percent of what you’re looking for, go ahead and submit them to the hiring manager,” says Kristen Fife, Seattle-area senior recruiter who’s worked with IT companies, Microsoft, Comcast, the University of Washington, Harborview Medical Center and many others. As long as a candidate meets a company’s need-to-have skills, a recruiter can skimp on the nice-to-haves, she adds.

So if you have the core skills and, say, four of the five years’ experience desired, apply! The last thing that should stand between you and a dream job is the fact that you’ve never used MailChimp, WordPress, Slack or another app or don’t have some peripheral skills that are easy enough to master in less than a day.

Balance confidence with reality

There is, of course, such a thing as aiming too high. Let’s use 23-year-old me as an example. I was between jobs and apartments and convinced my mom to let me move back in with her for a song. No doubt eager to whisk me out of her house, my mom encouraged me to apply for dozens of job listings I was grossly underqualified for. I’m talking senior management positions requiring 10 to 15 years of full-time experience.

“You never know,” my mom would say. “It’s worth a shot.” This remains terrible advice. There's believing in yourself, and then there's wasting everyone’s time. I had exactly one year of post-collegiate office experience under my belt then. I was good at what I did, but I was no prodigy. And I certainly wasn’t upper management material.

Moral of the story: Be realistic. If you’re not sure where the line is between “I know I could do this job if given the chance” and “I’m quite a few years and qualifications shy of this job listing’s criteria, but I’ll try anything,” ask a trusted colleague for their opinion.

Follow up, firmly, but respectfully

It’s a common story. An acquaintance who promises to share a hot lead with you or introduce you to their boss goes silent. Two, three, five days pass and still not a peep. Don’t write them off. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve had a change of heart or the position has been filled. Assume they got busy and follow up with a succinct message. No groveling, no apologizing and no preceding phrases like wanted to follow up with words like just or simply, which sound mealy mouthed.

Make it easy for them to respond. If they always communicate by text, send them a text. If they’re more of a Facebook Messenger type, contact them there. If they have yet to introduce you to their manager as promised, ask them how they’d like to proceed: by making the introduction themselves or by telling their boss about you privately and having you email the boss yourself?

Remember, you’re a professional. You’ve got this.


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Michelle Goodman

Guest writer Michelle Goodman is an award-winning journalist and author based in Seattle. Her books — The Anti 9-to-5 Guide and My So-Called Freelance Life — offer an irreverent twist on the traditional career guide. She specializes in writing about work, entrepreneurship and career change.

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