Aim High

Embrace a growth mindset and apply for that dream job, our career expert says.

"Failure is not a bad thing. I have yet to meet anyone who’s landed 100 percent of the jobs they’ve applied for. I wouldn’t look at it as a failure; it’s just a part of the process." - Mike Caldwell. SORBETTO | DIGITALVISION VECTORS | GETTY IMAGES

Aim High

Embrace a growth mindset and apply for that dream job, our career expert says.

On the job search, being too cautious can hold candidates back. Tara Mohr wrote in the Harvard Business Review that in her survey of more than 1,000 Americans, the top reason for not applying to a job was the same for men and women — they didn’t think they’d be hired and didn’t want to waste their time. But for women, additional reasons included following guidelines about who should apply and fear of failure. Mike Caldwell, executive director of TCU’s Center for Career & Professional Development, shared advice on when to go for it.


Should people apply for a job if they don’t meet 100% of the qualifications that are listed?

In a lot of cases, people will and should apply if they don’t meet 100 percent of the qualifications.

What’s most important is that you review the job description carefully — is the qualification a preferred requirement, or is it required? For example, you may see in the description that a bachelor’s degree is required. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you probably should not apply to that. However, if you’re an upcoming grad, by the time you start that role you may be a qualified applicant.

Read between the lines — sometimes job descriptions will ask for the ability to do something. You should have the ability to articulate your knowledge of that area, but an ability requirement is something that’s going to be a little bit more subjective. It might be a potential ability.

As long as you’re meeting the majority of requirements, I would encourage people to go ahead and apply — give it a shot. I think people get hired every day who don’t check all the boxes on the preferences or abilities side.

Failure is not a bad thing. I have yet to meet anyone who’s landed 100 percent of the jobs they’ve applied for. I wouldn’t look at it as a failure; it’s just a part of the process.


Do you have insights into the selection process that can help inform job candidates?

If you’re looking at a larger company, they may have a very structured process; if you’re applying to a local, small nonprofit, they may be more likely to respond to you if you’re an applicant who doesn’t check all the boxes.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and look at your application and your qualifications for the role. Ask yourself, “Does it make sense why I’m applying for this role? Am I a qualified person for this position?” If the answer is yes, then proceed.

If there is an application with a direct checkbox that says, “affirm that you have a bachelor’s degree” or “affirm that you have three years of experience managing people,” those checkboxes are probably minimum requirements. And if you can’t check those boxes, that those are the types of roles that I would maybe second-guess applying for.


Are applicant tracking systems — or robots — deciding who gets hired?

They use the application and make sure that you have completed that; a complete application is required. But in most cases, an actual person will be the one on the other side looking at it. And they will still make that that old school 10- to 30-second glance at your resume and say, “OK, is this a person we want to move to the yes pile or not?”

I see people on LinkedIn all the time; the recruiters are like, “Where’s my robot? I work for a Fortune 500 company; I don’t have a robot looking at resumes.” They have this big pile that they have to go through and sort and score.

I’ve seen some employers that will use a cap; once it hits a certain number of applications, it will automatically close. Those are the things to be more aware of. If you’re applying to a government role, for example, those will open in windows, so a job will open September 5 at midnight, and it will close September 5 at 3 p.m. And if you’re not in that applicant window, you’re out.


Why do people sometimes undersell their qualifications on the job hunt, and how does that hold them back?

Some of the best candidates undersell themselves because they’re conscientious, they want to follow the rules. They’re probably someone who’s a great employee. They’re trying to be honest and reflective about themselves about their abilities. They know that they have things to learn; at TCU, we talk about having a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset know, “I can always get better.”

Sometimes people will create a hypothetical candidate in their mind, and that may be just a kind of magical person that really doesn’t even exist.

I’ll add another piece in here that sometimes comes up: A student might see “one to two years of experience required,” and they may think “I don’t have that experience.” I’ll ask, “Well, did you have an internship? How long did you do the internship?”

Have someone you trust help you walk through your resume and determine what qualifications you actually have. Look through your resume and total up all experience — experience is experience is experience. They’re not asking for X years of full-time experience, they’re asking for that span of time.

When you’re applying to positions, you’re applying to those 10 or so positions to see where you are — it’s kind of like applying to college in a way. Maybe there’s one or two roles that are a reach; throw those in that bucket as well. There’s nothing stopping you from applying.


Have you heard from alumni who’ve been successful applying for jobs that at first seemed out of reach?

I have. I can think of one computer science student who said, “I’m applying to these internships with these organizations; I’m not really sure if I’ve got the skill set.”

She was working in restaurant jobs or retail jobs. She was basing a lot of things on her past experiences that did not align with a role at Google or Facebook. But in reality, her education, her skill set and her background actually did align to that; her experience didn’t match, but her skills did. And ultimately, that’s what the employer was looking for.

She was still a student when she got her internship. And then she graduated and converted the internship to a full-time role.

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