What to do when you have too little (or too much) experience for a job

It can be really frustrating when you apply for a job you really want but get the feedback that you “don’t have enough experience” or you’re “too experienced”. Sometimes you feel like the job hunting equivalent of Goldilocks – trying to get the amount of experience that’s ‘just right’!

The situation can be intensified if you have a break in your career, for whatever reason, and employers have doubts about whether your experience is still relevant.

Agencies and employers have their own agenda and, for every open position, they will have a predefined idea of what they want and they will look for specific recent experience.

The best strategy is to anticipate what they want, by analysing the job description and what the company does, and bring your most relevant experience to the fore. This means in your CV, LinkedIn profile and cover letter, to get as close a match as possible to what they are looking for. This process is called ‘tailoring’, which is the process of understanding which skills and experiences are most important to a specific vacancy and then adjusting your CV and other documents to make them relevant and noticeable. It’s also important to talk about your most relevant achievements and adopt the same strategy in interviews.

Not all valuable experience has to be work-specific either – consider any side projects, courses, volunteering or internships that you’ve completed. Can these experiences be brought to the fore to highlight your relevance for the position?

It’s also a case of trying to pre-empt any concerns that a potential employer may have – so if it’s a management role in a different sector you’re interested in for example, talk about how your management skills are transferrable. If it’s a delivery role you’re interested in and your most recent experience is in management, then you can emphasise the particular experience and skills that are needed for that type of role and downplay your need to use your management skills.

Companies and agencies still look at recent experience first and foremost, so from the candidate’s perspective, it can be really frustrating as skills and attitude often get overlooked – at least at first. As an interview process goes on, a candidate’s attitude and skills become much more important and are a bigger part of the rationale to hire someone.

So for example, a candidate may lack experience in a certain area compared to someone else, but they have great skills, their attitude is spot on and they seem to be a good cultural fit for the company. That person may end up with a job offer rather than someone with more experience. I’ve seen this happen many times.

Finding and landing the right role is a jigsaw puzzle, it does take time and it’s about having the right tools and strategies.