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How to Land a Stretch Job

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Next time you read a job description and see that you meet all the requirements the company is looking for, you may want to skip applying.

Sure, the odds are higher that you’ll be called in for an interview. If you do get the job, you will likely start off with a bang. You know your stuff, after all.

A few months go by. You’re losing your enthusiasm. You’re getting bored. You don’t want to admit it, but it’s time to start looking for a new job.

In retrospect, you realize you should have looked for a job with a little more challenge. A position where you would have to push yourself more or where you would learn new skills. You should have stretched.

Next time, look for a job that you’re about 70% qualified to do now.

If you need a job right away because your current situation is intolerable, or if you are unemployed and your savings are evaporating, this suggestion seems a bit too dreamworld. You need to do what you need to do.

But if you have some wiggle room (and really, even if you don’t), landing a stretch job is a worthwhile goal. “The 30% you’re not qualified for are responsibilities that would stretch you in ways that excite you and would allow you to tap into your talents,” says career coach Kelly Studer.

First, let’s tackle a common objection: Hiring mangers (and resume-scanning software) are looking for perfect fits.

Some of them are, it’s true. Many companies don’t want to train new employees and prefer to hire people who can hit the ground running. They don’t want to take risks, as the costs of replacing an employee who doesn’t work out are high.

You can’t change how other people make decisions. But you don’t, ever, have complete information–not about the hiring process or the other candidates vying for a particular job. It might be harder to secure an interview with a manager who is checking off boxes on a long list of requirements, but that doesn’t make it impossible. And resume-tracking software is the best argument yet for spending more time networking.

Keep in mind, too, that managers write job descriptions with the perfect candidate in mind. That person rarely exists.

Put aside the myths, ramp up your confidence, and make a plan to reach for what you really want. Why wait?

Getting a Stretch Job

Just sending off a resume for a job that isn’t a lateral move is usually not going to work.

Instead, start looking for jobs that are a step-up, and then build a case for why you are the perfect candidate. Take time to consider the objections a manager might have to hiring you, and go on offense.

The trick is to identify the gap–that 30% of the job description that you don’t have direct experience in–and present evidence that you can handle those responsibilities. You need to reassure managers that you have the skills and talents that are needed to perform those tasks.

Recast your resume and cover letter to showcase talents and skills that will help you fulfill those gap responsibilities. Most of your resume will present what you have done in the past, so be sure to balance that with what you want to do in the future.  “Boldly state where you plan to take your career next,” says Studer.

Be sure your online profile also reflects your individuality as well as your talents, as those are the things that will help you stand out compared to other candidates.

If you don’t immediately need a job, review the descriptions of your ideal next job. See if you can find ways in your current job to develop some of those missing skills or experiences, perhaps a side project or a company-wide initiative. That will not only lessen their concerns, but will reveal your commitment and enthusiasm–and every employer is looking for those.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.