Not Qualified? No Problem! Apply Anyway – NO!

WorkCoachCafeRecently, I’ve seen some blog posts and LinkedIn Group discussions and comments encouraging job seekers to apply for jobs that are not good fits for them. I really don’t think it’s a good idea to apply for jobs when you don’t meet most – if not all – of the requirements. Except in very special circumstances (described below).

The Internet has made applying for jobs much easier than it was in the past. One commenter here on WorkCoachCafe wrote that he had applied for nearly 1,500 jobs in the year since he’d lost his job. Yikes! But, I hear many stories like that from frustrated job seekers. They aren’t the only one frustrated with what is happening now.

The Process Has Changed

In the “old days” (pre-Internet), we needed to type up a letter (on an IBM “Correcting Selectric” typewriter, if we were lucky), and then send it with a nicely printed version of our resume in a matching envelope to the employer or recruiter. So, applying took time, effort, and attention.

Today, the process is to simply click on the “Apply” button, and the resume or application is submitted. Quick and easy for applicants. For employers, the typical process today is overwhelming, with hundreds of resumes or applications submitted for every job posted. Often, fewer than 10% of those applicants are qualified for the job. Having been on the employer’s side of the transaction more than once, it frequently seems like most applicants have not read further than the job title before hitting the “apply” button. 

Why Applying When You Are Not Qualified Is a Bad Idea

Talk with recruiters today, and they will tell you that their clients would have accepted an 80% “fit” with the job requirements in the past. However, today, those same employers look for a 100% fit. Or better!

In addition, there are other very good reasons to not apply for a job when you don’t meet most of the requirements for the job:

  • Applicant tracking systems. ATS system use expanded when the tsunami of resumes developed, and, today, they are where most online applications and resumes are stored, greatly reducing the probability that an unqualified applicant’s resume will be seen by a human being. (In fact, the resume submitted by a qualified applicant won’t be seen either unless it is customized for the opportunity!)
  • Competition for jobs. Most employers have way too many applicants for each job they post. So, they don’t need to consider anyone who isn’t perfectly – or nearly perfectly – qualified.
  • Unqualified = spam. Recruiters, and some ATS systems, may view unqualified applicants as “spammers” and may “blacklist” those applicants, like spammers are blacklisted in email systems.
  • More rejection. These opportunities have an extremely low probability of turning into jobs, so applying for them adds to the feeling of frustration and rejection, damaging confidence and ruining morale, making the whole job search experience more discouraging than it needs to be.

For job seekers, applying without being minimally qualified is a waste of time and energy that is better spent elsewhere, in a more focused and careful job search (more on that below).

When “Unqualified” Applicants Might Get the Job

Sometimes, less-than-perfectly qualified applicants do land the job. Specifically, in these four situations, in descending order of probability:

  1. A current employee is looking for a “lateral” position (same level, different job) within the same employer or, less likely but still possible, looking for a promotion within the same employer.
  2. A job seekers is referred by a current employee via an employee referral program (7 times more likely to be hired than an “unknown” candidate!)
  3. A job seeker connects with an opportunity through their network, learning of the job when there is little competition.
  4. A job seeker discovers a job which has little visibility, so no competition and no ATS system in use. Very unlikely to happen these days without the “inside track” provided by networking.

ALL of those possibilities depend on the job seeker having a very good network and using that network to get a jump on the competition, not simply submitting their resume through a job board or an employer’s website.

Instead of Pointless Applications

Rather than applying for jobs that are not good fits, spend your time:

  • Networking, preferably offline
  • Participating intelligently and constructively in LinkedIn Groups
  • Volunteering in your field
  • Taking a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) class
  • Taking other classes to add to skills
  • Part-time or temporary work in the right fields or for the right employers

These things increase competitiveness, fill skill or experience gaps on resumes, expand networks, or help pay bills. They move your job search forward.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Applying without being qualified may have worked in the past, but in the vast majority of cases, it just leads to more rejection today – the infamous “resume black hole.” My strong recommendation to job seekers is NOT to apply unless you meet 80% (or more!) of the job’s requirements. To apply when you aren’t well-qualified is just a waste of your time. Focus on finding jobs that are good fits.

More on Applying for Jobs

Before You Apply: Answer 4 Important Questions

Avoid the Resume Black Hole: Resume Customization Cheat Sheet 

5 Resume “Rules” You MUST Ignore

© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. Thanks for the information. I only apply for jobs I’m 95 – 100% qualified for, but I still don’t hear back. I have a question about something I might be doing wrong. Is this a good place to ask it?

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Cathy,

      If you only apply for jobs that are 90% to 100% good fits for you, then there might be something else going on.

      We have many articles about effective job search on WorkCoachCafe. Maybe they will help.

      Good luck with your job search!

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