Ask Steve: Insane Lists of Job Requirements And You

Thanks to our own Tamara Hecht for noting a need for this post – and it's a chance for me to launch an experimental "Ask A Progeek" section (thinking of having it organized both for individuals and in general).

So it happened.  You found your perfect job, or come to think of it in this economy, any job.  Anyway, you look at the list of requirements, which almost inevitably is some kind of insane wish list, and you realize you don't meet them.  Yet, you still want that job and indeed can do it.

What do you do? 

First, let me put your mind at ease – if you think that that entire list has to be fulfilled perfectly, you're almost inevitably wrong.  Except in the case of certain scientific, engineering, and legal requirements, you don't have to fill the list out perfectly.  Chances are that list has been through so many hands no one actually cares that much.

Keeping that in mind, there's three things to do:

Meet The Real Requirements:

First, you have to meet the actual, core requirements of the job – and they're probably buried in the laundry list.  So it's up to you to figure out what they are and show that you meet them with your resume, cover letter, and interview.  If you can't do that – then you really should not be applying for the job in the first place, sorry.

Now if you've met the real requirements, and managed to demonstrate them in your resume, cover letter, etc. you also have to help people throughout the interview process.  You need to focus on what the job entails, what you can do, and even help out the recruiter/HR people to see you're the right person – since chances are they're not exactly thrilled with the insane list of requirements either.

Find you can do the important stuff, show it, and then be the best buddy to the people trying to place you.  They probably need a friend anyway.


OK, so there's things on the list of requirements you don't meet, but aren't as vital to the job, are too specific, or just ridiculous.  But, be honest here, those items are going to have to be addressed by your future employer, if only for them to say "well, wasn't that important."

 So you need to show that you may not meet the requirements, but you have something else in your knowledge and experience that's just as good or better:

  • You may not have 2 years experience with one software package, but you have 4 years with a similar one that'll help.
  • You have experience in another, related industry.
  • You were on some special project that gave you extra insight (even if not the experience they wanted).

You get the idea – go and look for something similar to what they want and either play it up (if it's important), or keep it ready just to counter any concerns.  Be ready to answer questions about your gaps.

In general a rule is if you're going to substitute, substitute with more.  If you lack 3 years experience in an industry, you don't counter with 3 years experience in a  related industry if at all possible – you counter with 4 or 5 or more.

Also, never, ever discount non-professional experience.  Your hobbies, etc. can provide substitutes in some cases.

Have An Edge:

Finally – and this applies to almost every job search – find your special edge in the job.  Find what makes you uniquely suited for it.  Yes, others may have edges and advantages, but stop worrying about them – focus on you. 

Finding what makes you best for the job is your secret weapon, your finishing move OR opening salvo (depending on when you need it) to show you are The Best Person for the job despite the laundry list only two people on the planet meet.


  • You have a unique passion for the subject you can demonstrate.
  • There are trends that follow you throughout your career, even in different industries, that show you have unique knowledge.  For instance my career inevitably involves A) insane amounts of data, B) being in the public eye.
  • You had a unique or a set of unique experiences few others have – maybe even a formative personal experience – that makes you psychologically suited for the job.

You get the idea.


These three answers are the three weapons to overcoming the laundry list: showing/knowing you can do the job despite it, showing equivalencies in areas you don't meet the list, and having a unique edge no one can deny to set people's minds at ease.  If you have these things, and communicate them, you have a much better chance to triumph over a Listzilla of a job request. 

As you go on, you'll also find you get better at this.  You develop a repertoire of skill mapping and understanding of your unique edges you can employ in your search.

Steven Savage