4 signs you should apply for the job — even if you aren't sure you're qualified

  • It's possible to land a challenging job even if you don't have every single one of the requirements in the job posting.

  • We got expert advice on when you should apply for a role you think you're unqualified for.

  • For example, if you have a friend at the company who can vouch for you, it's probably worth applying.

Applying to a job is a major investment of time and energy. So you don't want to spend hours toiling over the perfect cover letter for a job that's completely out of your league.

If you're on the fence about applying for a challenging job, there are a few key factors that can help you decide either way. We spoke to Amanda Augustine, the career expert at TopResume, and looked at other expert advice on the key signs that you should go ahead and throw your hat in the ring.

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You have nontraditional work experience that gives you the same qualifications

That's according to Augustine, who said that internships, volunteer work, and freelance gigs all count. "Three to five years of experience," for example, doesn't necessarily refer only to paid, full-time work.

That said, "the most important thing is going to be how you portray it on your résumé so that when someone's glancing at your résumé, they understand you have the required experience, even if it's not in the most traditional form," Augustine said. The hiring manager shouldn't have to go digging to see what makes you qualified for the position.

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The traits and experience you don't have aren't core requirements

Augustine said that some job postings have a huge list of desired traits — but not all of them are required. And the hiring manager knows they probably won't find a candidate who meets all the criteria.

If the job posting says candidates must have 10 years' experience and an MBA and you're a recent grad, you might not want to waste your time applying. But there's more "wiggle room," Augustine said, if the company is looking for a candidate with an MBA and/or five years of relevant experience and you have one of those.

Someone at the company can give you a great referral

Consider getting a friend or former colleague who works at that company to vouch for you.

"Minimum requirements can be overlooked in many instances, and the best way to unlock them is to get a glowing referral from someone at your target company who you may have worked with in the past," Jon Silber, CEO of Purple Squirrel, an online recruiting and networking marketplace, told Glassdoor.

In fact, Glassdoor found your chances of landing a job are between 2.6% and 6.6% higher if you were referred by a current employee than if you applied cold.

You can write a solid cover letter that describes your impressive achievements

Alison Green, a.k.a. the workplace expert behind the "Ask a Manager" column, says you should consider applying for a job if you almost meet the experience requirements — especially if you can "write a really good cover letter and point to excellent achievements."

Green writes: "The idea here is to put yourself in the hiring manager's shoes. What should make them excited about hiring you?"

If you can articulate that clearly in a cover letter and résumé, you might just have a shot.

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