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Writing a job application for a not-for-profit: How far can you stretch it?

Writing a job application for a not-for-profit: How far can you stretch it?

By The Good Jobs Team, 18 May 2016

Resume advice Job seeking strategies

You've been feeling that you're underemployed in your present job and have a lot more to give. And now a higher-level opportunity has come up: an organisation that's roughly in your area has advertised a vacancy. It's a bit of a jump up from where you are now, but you think you can do the job.

They, however, want someone who can do the job now - actually, they want someone who's been doing the job and has experience. It's the standard problem: you can't get experience because they won't hire you unless you have experience. And it's the standard answer: you try very hard to present the experience you do have in the best possible light.

The question, then, is how far you can stretch this.

  • You can't lie. You can't claim qualifications you don't have, or change your job title from "Assistant to the Regional Manager" to "Assistant Regional Manager".
  • You can't just ignore the stated criteria and present your existing CV without comment.
  • You can't jump too far. Be realistic. Don't put in for jobs you really don't think you can do.
  • You can be strategically unspecific, using words like "involved with" and hoping that the interviewer will read that as equivalent to "in charge of".
  • You can try and change the subject by telling people about your strengths rather than your deficiencies, or by telling a gripping story about why you're ready for the opportunity.
  • You can try and change their minds by pointing out why your present work really is equivalent to what they're asking for, even if it isn't actually identical.

So, how far can you go? The test here is whether you'd be embarrassed if they brought it up in the interview. You said you were involved with project planning; if someone on the other side of the table asked about this, could you say that you handled one section, or would you have to admit that you actually just worked in the same office?

Interviewers have probably read more applications than you've written applications, and they get a feel for the weak points. They're going to ask, and you have to be ready. Use it as an opportunity to show you're ready for more responsibility.

Do bear in mind, too, that employers don't always get what they ask for. They're asking for experience and talent and commitment and work ethic, but someone with all that usually has a job already: that's how they got that experience. You may not be perfect - you may be only borderline qualified - but you may well be the best they're going to get. They may have to put up with someone learning on the job. Don't give up. You're still in with a chance.