When a man applies for a job, this is what he usually does: 1) if a job lists six qualifications and he has three, he applies; 2) he views required qualifications as negotiable and desired ones as entirely optional; 3) if he gets the job he is more likely to view it as a reflection on himself; 4) if he does not get the job he is more likely to view it as the hiring manager’s loss.
When a woman applies for a job, this is what she usually does: 1) if a job lists six qualifications and she has five, she does not apply; 2) she views required qualifications as non-negotiable and desired ones she does not have as nearly required; 3) if she gets the job she is more likely to describe it as good luck; 4) if she does not get the job she is more likely to view it as her fault.
The net result of these combined tendencies is that women are far less likely than men to apply for a new job they might enjoy. Gentlemen, keep doing what you are doing. Ladies, do not be that applicant: you are cutting yourself off from jobs you can do well and from opportunities for advancement you might want.
I am not saying that women should apply for jobs for which they have no relevant experience and none of the required skills. I am saying we should hold ourselves to the same standard men do when they apply for new jobs and new opportunities: if we have the most important of the skillsets to do the job, and the ability to learn the skills we do not have, we should apply for the job if we believe we would like it, learn from it, or advance from it.
What we should not do is wait until we have become the perfect candidate, for two reasons. First, there is no perfect candidate. Everyone has more to learn, and everyone has a different mix of skills. You might consider yourself less good at some things than other potential applicants but undervalue some of your skills and traits that the hiring manager of that job badly needs – and you won’t know that unless you apply. Second, the other people applying for the job are no more perfect than you are, because (see above) there is no perfect candidate. Hiring managers choose from the candidates who apply, and you usually do not know everything a hiring manager needs or wants, or everything about all the other applicants. You must put yourself in the consideration set, and that means applying for the job.
If you are in about your suitability as a candidate for a job, you can do some research. If you are applying with your own manager’s blessing, ask him or her if you are a realistic candidate, and if not, what would make you one. Be aware that you manager may want to keep you and may discourage you from applying for that reason, or for other reasons entirely unrelated to you. If you know someone in the organization or team where the job is, you can ask him or her. If you know people who have a similar position in other organizations, you can ask them. You can also ask the hiring manager directly: tell him or her you are interested in applying for the open position, show them your up-to-date résumé or LinkedIn profile, and ask if you are a competitive candidate. Don’t ask if you are the best candidate or are likely to get the job: ask if you are competitive. If you don’t get the job, follow up with the hiring manager and ask what you can do to be a more competitive candidate next time. Don’t ask why you didn’t get the job; ask how you can be a better candidate next time.
The final reason to apply for the job is that applying for jobs improves with practice, as does negotiating compensation and benefits. You will get better at describing your skills, at giving relevant examples of using them, at discussing your achievements, and describing your career goals. None of this is native to anyone (though it comes more easily to some people than others), so if you believe you do not do this well, even if you are correct about that you are not behind the curve, however much more confident other candidates appear. Importantly, you will also learn what skills you are missing for jobs you would like, so you can learn them and be a better candidate next time.
Do your research, and then apply for the job; good luck!