Ask Alexis | Can I Ask What I Need to Land the Job?

hiring

Dear Ask Alexis,

I’m looking at a posting for a job I would enjoy but don’t qualify for. I’m not in the same field, but some of my background is related and I’d be willing to pick up more education or experience if it’s needed.

Would it be appropriate to ask the employer what I could do in the next couple years to become a very qualified candidate for such a job? I’d just be looking for some advice in an email rather than the whole face-to-face. Whom in the organization would I approach, and how?

Best,
Future Top Candidate

***

Dear Future Top Candidate,

First of all, I love your attitude! It seems as though fewer and fewer job seekers these days are honest with themselves about how much time they may have to put in in order to fill any professional gaps.

Of course here at Idealist Careers we encourage people to challenge their perceived limitations and question whether they need all of the qualifications listed in description in order to get the job (spoiler: you don’t!), but it’s still important to be open to the process of learning and professional development, and it sounds like you’re off to a great start!

On to your question!

First, are you sure that you don’t see yourself in this position tomorrow, instead of two years down the line? There is certainly a chance that you’re selling yourself a bit short (as we all tend to do from time to time, especially when gauging our professional aptitudes) and you’re ready for this shiny new gig right now! So spend some time really thinking about whether you could fulfill something like 70% of what is listed as required on the job description. If you can get to somewhere around 70%, there’s a good chance that your qualifications are similar to (or even more attractive than) many other applicants. I’d say, give it a try and send in your application materials.

If, however, you truly see this role as more of a #careergoal rather than something that you’re ready to take on at this point in your professional path, I would absolutely encourage you to reach out directly to the hiring organization (or hiring manager, if you have their contact information) to mine some information. While I understand that you don’t want to be a bother, you should certainly leave your inquiry open-ended, just in case the person on the other end would love to hop on the phone, or better yet, meet you for a cup of coffee.

However, the open-endedness should end there. If you’re planning to reach out for insight, you’ll want to guide the conversation (or the email) toward the information that you need as much as possible. So rather than reaching out with something like “What can I do within the next few months or years in order to become an attractive candidate for this position?” I’d try something like this:

Dear [NAME OF HIRING MANAGER],

I recently came across the [JOB TITLE] on Idealist.org, and while I believe I have some additional learning and growing to do, this is the kind of work that I could see myself a year or two from now.

While I’m sure you are busy with the hiring process, I’d love to ask a few questions about my own career trajectory and how I could someday be a prime candidate for this type of role. Perhaps you could send along some responses (or we could connect) once you have wrapped up you current hiring process.

If you are amenable to the idea, here are some things I was hoping we could chat (or email) about:

  • Of the qualifications listed in the job description, which do you feel are the most critical to the role?
  • I don’t have much on-the-job experience in [RESPONSIBILITY], but I have always wanted to learn more about it. Could you recommend a book, publication, online resource, or course that I could explore to develop my expertise?
  • If you’re willing to share, what is the first big project that you see a person filling this role taking on during their initial months at your organization? I’d love to be able to get a sense of what the priorities are for this role and work backwards to determine where I can address gaps in my qualifications. 

I hope to connect with you soon!

[YOUR NAME]

***

This will get you off to a great start. What you’re doing here is very similar to the route you would take if you were looking to do some digital networking or “cold emailing” to expand your professional network. As a hiring manager myself, I am always willing to offer feedback to a candidate (or prospective candidate) that may help to shape and inform their own professional development path (when time permits).

***

Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org, and if we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I’ll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).

Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!

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As a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of nonprofit experience and 6 years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.
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