Image: Farhan Irfani (adapted)
This weekend, my part-time assistant told me he found a near-perfect job to complete his schedule. The issue was, he didn’t fully qualify for it. What do you do when that happens? Most people give up and don’t apply. That’s what he was going for as well.
Thankfully, he asked for my opinion so I could change his mind about it. He sent me the job description. Like most job descriptions, it was almost entirely impossible to meet all the requirements for the job. The job was part marketing, production and community management for an extremely popular website.
Okay, so far so good, but add the need to be bilingual in Malayalam and English. For those who don’t know, Malayalam is the main language of the Kerala state, in India.
You have to be seriously talented to do all these things, so what are the chances someone with all these skills is going to look for part-time employment?
They did over 11 interviews and never hired anyone.
Job descriptions are meant to be over-the-top
Before you dismiss this as being an exception, please look at any job websites. Most job postings have impossible-to-meet criteria.
In a way, that’s by design. As a tech startup founder, I’ve had to hire people in the past. I’ve built impossible job descriptions too. Why? Because you want to attract the very best you can get, even though you know such a person doesn’t exist yet.
“Yet” is the keyword here.
You should apply to your dream jobs before you’re fully qualified for them. Smart employers hire people, not resumes. For any job posting I’ve done, I’ve interviewed people who met as low as 50 percent of what I’m looking for. If they had done interesting things in the past and seem like a good fit and are willing to learn, that’s more important than a perfect resume.
Smart employers hire for future potential
I remember when, at my previous job, we interviewed a promising candidate for a position as a Ruby programmer. He met about 60 percent of the qualifications. He did well on our tech test, but he didn’t ace it. He did great in the personal interview. We ended up hiring him without hesitating.
Simply because we wanted to work with him. He seemed like someone who would uplift everyone and work his ass off at any task we’d throw his way. We were right. Four years later, he’s now the Director of Engineering for that same company, which is now one of the hottest tech companies in Canada.
This is one example that speaks for many.
Every good employer I know follows this pattern. They look at resumes for the basic stuff but don’t make a judgment call based on the presented information alone. They analyze their candidate’s trajectory to figure out what their potential is for the future. They ask questions to assess their personality, not their skills on paper.
Soft skills beat hard skills any day
Soft skill: any skill or quality that can be classified as a personality trait or habit.
In a recent Indeed.com survey, 1,000 participating hiring managers were asked to provide the most important skills of top performers in their company. Here were the results — all soft skills:
- Effective communication skills
And the most sought-after skills, in addition to the above ones, were:
- Conflict resolution
- Work ethic
Employers are looking for these skills, whether they list them as requirements in their job postings or not. To be more employable, you should use some of your spare time to learn them. This articles goes into greater detail.
At the first startup I joined, we hired Kenneth as a Community Manager. He had no experience in that field. He was an artist who worked in the freezers at Target to make ends meet. On paper, he wasn’t qualified at all for the job. But when you peeled the layers, he had the makings of a great Community Manager.
He was constantly solving problems and working with his teammates in the freezer. He was self-directed and showed up daily with a smile, even if his work wasn’t the most fulfilling. He never took a day off and even volunteered to stay longer hours without getting paid extra. He never asked for a raise in three years working there.
That’s a real gem of a worker! Wouldn’t you hire someone like that?
Smart employers hire people like that over those who can do the job but have subpar soft skills.
Needless to say, Kenneth was a star as a community manager. Shortly after, he started handling the quality-assurance department. He quickly rose the ranks to lead the company’s main project. This all happened in under two years. He’s now a QA Engineer at a top tech firm in Canada.
I hired my assistant with almost no qualifications. I could sense in him a strong desire to learn and work hard. I was right. He’s been working for me for over two years now and I never want to let him go. He ended up doing 100 different things, from graphic art to proofreading, from game testing to video editing, etc.
I keep sending him new things for him to do and he always does it with a smile. When I ask him if he could do something for me, his answer is almost always: “on it!”
Again, that’s a real gem of a worker and passing him by would be a mistake.
Why soft skills are more important than hard skills
Soft skills are more important than hard skills for one simple reason: they’re rarer. That’s true mostly because it’s not what we educate people in.
It’s just not sexy to learn soft skills.
I mean, you look at job postings and they all list hard skills, so why bother with soft skills? Also, schools teach hard skills, so surely that’s what you need to learn to be employable?
All this is so wrong, as proven by the hiring managers in Indeed’s survey. The best hires are those with great soft skills.
Soft skills are more important is because they’re more transferable. They don’t apply to a single job, they apply for all of them! Hard skills become irrelevant over time. Some more than others.
As we keep improving technology and machines will continue to replace human jobs, your “human” skills are going to be even more valuable. When robots program better, write better, etc, all you’ll be left with are your soft skills to prove your “worth”.
Soft skills also make you a better human overall. They also help with your personal relationships. They make you more confident and increase your drive. Who wouldn’t want that as an employer?
What to do when you get declined for your dream job
If you know you have great soft skills and you are declined for a dream job you’re mostly qualified for, simply move on. Maybe it just wasn’t a dream employer. Maybe it wasn’t good timing. Maybe you weren’t a good fit for other current employees. There are hundreds of possible reasons.
But here’s the thing with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: you get one every week these days. You just have to be receptive to finding it. And most of the time, it’s not you finding it, it’s it finding you.
There will be plenty of dream jobs for you to apply for. You’ll get hired by smart employers who look beyond the resume filled with hard skills and hire you for who you are and what you can bring to the job in the future.
No candidate is ever perfect, so never be afraid to apply even though you can’t fully do the job yet. Good employers don’t expect you to anyway.
You can do this!