Are You Setting Your Sights Too Low?

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By Marcelle Yeager

When you're job searching, it can be very hard to decipher a job description. There really is no standard practice out there, and it can be very tough to figure out what a company truly expects in a candidate. Some will tell you a posting is more like a wish list and companies just want to see what they can get. However, it will most likely be a waste of your time to apply if you don't meet any of the minimum or required qualifications.

But how can you tell if you're devaluing your experience when selecting which jobs to apply to? Maybe you're returning to work after an absence and feel like you're not up to speed on the latest technology. Don't let that hold you back from going after jobs you qualify for and deserve. If the following situations apply to you, you may be setting your sights too low.If you have been out of the workforce for personal reasons: There are many personal reasons why people take time off, either by necessity or choice. Don't feel like employers won't understand that. They should, and you can be transparent about it in a cover letter and résumé. If you logged several years of work prior to this break and can identify skills and accomplishments and how they align with a job of interest, go for it! Don't think that you have to apply to a lesser job just because you have been out of the working world for some time.

Also, remember that volunteer work is valuable. If you've done any type of volunteer work in the meantime, include it.

If you are currently unemployed: Perhaps you just couldn't take it anymore and resigned. Or you were laid off. Again, this happens often, and employers will not be shocked by it. Some people think they will be completely looked over if not currently employed. This could happen, but it's less likely to if you are up front in a cover letter or résumé about your reason for being unemployed.

There are diplomatic ways to express that you hated your boss and quit. Talk it out with friends and family to figure out how to say what's going on in an honest, appropriate way.

If you are worried about your educational background: Depending on your field, it can be difficult to get an interview if you don't have a degree beyond high school. But strong work experience is generally viewed as more valuable. Companies will sometimes consider work experience in lieu of a higher degree. That said, it cannot hurt to ask.

If you've sent out dozens of job applications with no responses: This is less of a sign of not being up to snuff than of the need to change your approach to job searching. The chances of receiving responses to blind application submissions are close to none. If you haven't been doing any networking or outreach to people in your industry or the one you're targeting, it's time to start. Referrals are the most common way people get jobs today. Sitting behind a computer screen day after day is not going to help you get the job you want.

If you've been told in the past that you're overqualified for a job: This is not an easy thing to hear, especially if you're really interested in a particular job. Unfortunately, people easily make assumptions and may feel you would become too bored in the job and leave for a more exciting opportunity if it came along.

Don't let this comment make you start applying for jobs below your level of experience and expertise. Devise a way to clearly explain your interest in the jobs you're looking at. Be able to say why you think it's a mutually beneficial fit for you and the company.

If you're changing careers: We often have to take entry-level jobs if we are making drastic career changes, but that's not always the case. If you can equate most or all of the skills and background you possess to your newly chosen career, perhaps you should not be starting out at the bottom. This is something you can explore in informational interviews. Remember: Networking is key.

It is not an easy thing to build yourself up and go for jobs you should be targeting when you haven't been working, or when you've been beat down and lost confidence over an employer's comments. You need to keep in mind that a company often doesn't know exactly what kind of person it's looking for until it finds him or her.

Human resource professionals often write job descriptions, and there can be a disconnect between what is in the posting and what a hiring manager really needs and wants. A hiring manager may see a résumé and discover something that would be useful for his team that wasn't apparent in the posting or that he hadn't considered before. That person could be you.

Don't devalue your background. Showcase it, no matter what your circumstance.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.

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