Are you being beaten to the jobs post by youngsters who come complete with lower salary expectations and better qualifications? With so few decent job vacancies available, and with so many people chasing them, if you don’t ‘tick all the boxes’ for an employer, then your application is going to be dead in the water.

All at sea? Sinking fast?

That’s how it can seem if you don’t address the situation.

Similar situation-related dilemmas are popular fodder for graduate level business courses: in an ‘either/or’ situation, does one play to one’s strengths or address one’s weaknesses? The difference is that where the application of finite corporate resources are concerned, the ‘either/or’ choice may arise, and it could well be a case of either one or the other. However, where you are concerned, there’s no reason why you can’t do both. In case you say that it makes applying for jobs too much like hard work, there is absolutely no question that concentrating your efforts on a few specific jobs is far more likely to prove successful than firing off loads of grapeshot-style applications à la ‘hit and hope’ method of job-seeking.

One thing you should never do is pretend that you have a key qualification when you don’t. Misleading an employer in such a way could result in repaying your salary, possibly plus a huge fine, or even going to jail. No matter how desperate you are, don’t do it. If you’re still tempted, take out a copy of ‘Les Miserables‘ and read how the defense that ‘need justifies a crime’ is a complete non-starter.

So, given that you can’t lie and that you can’t turn the clock back to make yourself ten or twenty years younger, what can you do?

There are two principal ways in which you can trump the vitality of youth, and those are through your experience, and your proven track record in the world of work. Instead of apologetically explaining how you weren’t able to take a specific exam or training course, or how it ‘didn’t exist in your day’, describe in reasonable detail all the higher level functions of the job you are applying for and how you have already successfully undertaken comparable duties. Try to quote some specific examples or to attach documentary evidence. Make sure that you do so with the appropriate permissions or, at the very least, with any identifying data securely obliterated. If you don’t do this, you will be sending a very bleak message to the interviewer about your understanding of the word ‘confidential’.

When you describe these duties, opt for a bullet-pointed style which is quick and easy to digest. Leave a space between the lines, too, as this gives an interviewer an opportunity to highlight and annotate your resume.

Always put yourself in the position of the manager responsible for the successful candidate because they have to train the new recruit in all the skills which you already possess. Once you’ve identified the elements which are likely to present the biggest stumbling blocks, concentrate on establishing how you could walk straight in to the job and perform them after minimal instruction.

If you have a good sick record, but can’t say precisely how many days you’ve taken off in a specific period, ask your current personnel or payroll department for quantification. If you’re worried about being asked ‘Why?’, you can always come up with a little white lie such as that you need the information for a life assurance application. Being able to say “I’ve had two days off sick in twenty-four months” is far more convincing than “I have an excellent sick record” or “I’ve only had the odd day off”.


Sell yourself


From an employer’s point of view, the ‘Devil you know’ can be a better bet than someone who’s completely untried.

Showing you can do the job, however, isn’t the same as having the necessary piece of paper. It may be that the employer is a stickler for qualifications, or it may be that it’s mandatory for the post-holder to have passed a specific examination, in which case you have no choice but to take it if you want to progress.

Again, the best way of seeing a solution to this dilemma is to consider the point of view of the interviewer. Imagine you were interviewing someone and you’d just asked if they had a specific qualification, to which they’d baldly replied “No”. Where would you go from there given that you had four other scheduled candidates, all of whom you knew did have the aforesaid qualification? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Humans are naturally inclined to follow the easy option, and a hard-pressed interviewer isn’t going to get bogged down with a lost cause.

The answer is to sweeten the pill a bit. Instead of saying “No”, have some solutions to hand so that you can say “I propose to obtain the qualification by … “. Depending upon both you and the nature of the post, this could involve taking evening classes, following a correspondence course, signing up for online tuition, or being sponsored by your new company through a residential course at a university or a vocational college. Take some literature about each option to the interview with you and offer to leave copies with the interviewer. While this doesn’t solve the problem of you not having taken the exam, it does present at least one possible solution, and that makes it infinitely superior to the terminal, “No, sorry, I didn’t take it”.

It may be back to school

With corporate profit margins sliced to the bone, many companies are concerned about engaging graduates whose only aim is to gain the experience you already have. These ambitious youngsters are fully capable of learning the ropes, getting their rough edges knocked off and then, six months later, handing in their notice and disappearing off to work for a major competitor armed with inside knowledge of their first employer. You can present a different proposition which, if you handle it properly, will definitely appeal to some managers.

After all, you only need one job offer.

Clive West ran an employment agency for 12 years before selling it to a rival company. During the years of his directorship, the business received over 15,000 job applications and had nearly 1,000 active outworkers at any one time. Before that, Clive was a senior officer in marketing and management. As a key part of his work, he has both devised aptitude tests and interviewed extensively. He is now a busy careers journalist working from home.