Not Sure You’re Qualified? Go for the Job Anyway.


“Why didn’t we have any female applicants?”

This was the question posed by my colleague after a final round of candidate interviews.

Where were the women?

I recently completed a six-month temporary assignment as Chief Talent Officer of my company. Part of my responsibility during that period was to fill two executive-level positions.

The first position,  based in the US, had plenty of female applicants. But this wasn’t a surprise because it was an HR position, a field with a lot of women.

The second was a regional managing director position based in Europe.  Over the last six months, I reviewed hundreds (and I mean literally hundreds) of resumes and screened dozens of applicants.

When I started reviewing resumes for the managing director position, I noticed something interesting.

Very few women had applied.

In fact out of nearly two hundred applications less than five percent were submitted by women. Why?

This role had scope and scale. It had global visibility and tremendous influence in the organization.

The job  certainly paid well.

Who wouldn’t want this job?

Now there is plenty of data that shows that women are (comparatively speaking) under-represented in executive positions across Europe.

That still didn’t account for the dearth of applications.

There had to be another explanation. 

How many times have you looked a job posting and thought, “I would be perfect for that role!” only to talk yourself out of applying for the job because you didn’t think you had 100% of the qualifications to get hired?

I know in my career I’ve passed up many career opportunities because I didn’t think I had all of the skills and abilities listed.

I assumed recruiters wouldn’t even look at me.

What was I thinking?

According to author and women’s leadership expert, Tara Sophia Mohr, my thinking wasn’t unusual.

In her 2014 HBR article, “Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless they are 100% Qualified” the number one reason both men and women didn’t apply for a job was because they didn’t think they had the qualifications to be hired.

Why Women Don't Apply

Add to this, a widely circulated and quoted report from Hewlett Packard showed that men tend to apply for a job when they meet about 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.

Is this you?

It certainly was me.

When I think back to those resumes for the regional managing director role, I noticed there were a handful applications from men who were nowhere near having the experience or qualifications for that role, yet they applied anyway.

There were no such applications for women.

Had they opted out because they didn’t think they had 100% of the qualifications?


Mohr writes this about the top three barriers for women NOT applying for jobs:

…..three of these barriers, which together account for 78% of women’s reasons for not applying, have to do with believing that the job qualifications are real requirements, and seeing the hiring process as more by-the-book and true to the on paper guidelines than it really is.

These are powerful insights.


A few tips to consider for the future:

  • Practice strategic visibility. Take on the kinds of assignments that will boost your organizational credibility and put you in the running for plum positions that may not get posted (or for those that are posted but have strong internal candidates).
  • Get a mentor or a sponsor who can not only help you evaluate a job opportunity but help position you to compete (and win) for it.
  • Learn how to frame and talk about your experience meaningfully so that you can apply for roles even where you don’t meet 100% of the requirements.
  • Go for the job! If it’s a role that makes your heart leap, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by going for it. Even if you don’t get it, you’ll sharpen your interview chops, get important visibility from key recruiters and other influencers who will see your talent shine.

You got this!

Your turn. Have you ever not pursued a job because you didn’t think you were 100% qualified? Share your story in the comments. I’m listening.


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