Leap of Faith: Persuading Life Science Employers to Hire You When You’re Not Quite Qualified

Leap of Faith

Have you ever spotted a life science employment ad or job posting and said to yourself, “I could do that job”? Then you look at the list of qualifications, and you lack several key requirements. Maybe you don’t have quite the right degree or number of years of experience.

For new graduates with limited experience, as well as career-changers whose experience is outside the area they now wish to pursue, fighting the underqualified label is tough. Let’s face it ­–­ all other things being equal, most employers would prefer to hire candidates with the right qualifications and experience over candidates, no matter how enthusiastic, who lack qualifications. A difficult battle, yes, but it’s not impossible to beat the underqualified label. This article proposes five strategies for overcoming a lack of qualifications.

  1. Make the most of your transferable skills.
    You may not possess the years of experience required for a given job, but chances are, you possess a skill set that contains abilities needed for many jobs, including the job you covet. “The focus is now shifting away from time spent in the industry, to transferable and relevant experience in an attempt to land fresh new talent for the long-haul,” notes Val Matta of CareerShift. Scrutinize ads and job postings for the kind of job you seek, and identify skills you’ve demonstrated that are needed for these jobs. Typical life science transferable skills include scientific methodology, problem-solving, strategic thinking, teamwork, conflict resolution, critical thinking, relationship-building, comfort working with ambiguity, and the universally sought skill of communication. The ability to communicate effectively is atop the list of skills sought of life science professionals in Deloitte’s 2019 US and Global Life Sciences Outlook. Skills cited by as being especially in demand as of 2019 by Paul Strouts, Global Managing Director at Hays Life Sciences, are digital skills, leadership skills, medical-technology skills, and sales skills. List applicable skills in your resume, and in your cover letters, take the next step by explaining how your skills apply to the job you’re pursuing.
  2. Get a referral.

Employers who typically would not consider a candidate with no proven track record may be open to a job-seeker who has been referred – or better yet, recommended – by a trusted employee. In fact, employee referrals are the top and most preferred source of hire for hiring managers. Someone who knows your skills and talents can make a pitch convincing the employer to take a chance on you. “People who know you, or who know of you through others, will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt if you don’t have all the required qualifications,” affirms Sharoni Billik, CEO and founder of SBHC, a medical affairs professional services firm.

  1. Consider playing up volunteer and other unpaid experience.
    Perhaps you have minimal paid experience in the field, but you do have some applicable education and/or unpaid experience (through internships or volunteer work). Experience is experience; it rarely matters whether it’s paid or not. If unpaid experience helped you develop skills that are crucial to the type of job you seek, it’s fair game for the experience section of your resume. It’s also much easier to get a volunteer gig than a paid one, so if you lack even volunteer experience, get some, such as by starting or joining a science-outreach program in the local school district.
  2. Conduct informational interviews.
    This underused networking technique gets you in the door to meet with employers who might not give you the time of day upon reading your resume. Once you establish rapport with your interviewee, he or she will be more inclined to consider hiring you, despite under-qualification. You can also use the interview to probe into the employer’s needs, problems, and challenges. The trick is to discover needs that you can fulfill, paving the way to perhaps creating a position for yourself. Learn more about informational interviewing.
  3. Indicate your flexibility and willingness to learn or gain additional training.
    When separating resumes into piles, a category employers sometimes use is “underqualified but trainable.” Hiring manager Marc Lipshitz, for example, states, “Investing in someone by training them has led to some of my greatest hiring successes.” If you cannot convince an employer that you are qualified, you may be able to make a case for being trainable. State in your resume and cover letter that you are an enthusiastic and quick learner who can rapidly get up to speed with job knowledge. If a job carries a specific educational, training, licensing, or certification requirement, state your willingness to pursue that requirement. If you’ve already enrolled for the appropriate training, your case will obviously be even stronger.

Final Thoughts
It’s sobering to realize that, given a choice, many employers prefer to hire the most qualified candidate. In a time of low unemployment and a shortage of talent, however, hiring managers may be more willing to consider the underqualified. Many job postings offer wish-lists of preferred qualifications; most employers do not expect the candidate they hire to have every qualification listed in the job posting. Further, considerable research shows that it’s not always the most qualified candidate who gets the job, but the one with the best rapport with the interviewer or the most enthusiasm and confidence.

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