Woman in front of laptop biting a pencil in anticipation. Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

You May Be Underqualified, But You Can Absolutely Get The Job

Ever stumbled upon a job listing that sparked a little fire in your heart, only to scroll down to the qualifications and think, “Well, that’s not me, I’m unqualified”? You’re not alone.

Many of us have been there, hovering over the ‘apply’ button, only to shy away because we didn’t tick every single box on the list. But what if I told you that some of the most inspiring stories come from those who went for it anyway, even when they didn’t have the requisite qualifications?

This is the inspirational story of one woman who went after a particular job despite believing she was unqualified, and it is a notice to all job seekers that your qualifications or lack thereof are not the sole consideration of the people and companies that hire you!

Keep reading for Tricia’s encouraging story, and tell us in the comment section if you have ever landed a work role you felt unqualified for.

Many of Us Have Experienced “Unqualified” Denial- Thinking We Cannot Get The Job We Want

Line graph with green and red lines, and the words "Ability, Skill, Intelligence, Competence, Experience, Expertise, Capability" written over it.
Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Here’s a nugget of wisdom that might surprise you: a study from Hewlett Packard observed that men often apply for positions when they meet just 60% of the criteria, while women tend to wait until they’re a 100% match.

It’s a statistic that peels back the layers on why some of us hold back, revealing a mix of self-doubt and the daunting specter of ‘imposter syndrome’ – that nagging feeling of not being good enough, which, by the way, hits women and minorities even harder.

But here’s the thing – the courage to leap into the unknown, to apply for that job despite not meeting every qualification, is a story that needs to be told more often. It’s about looking beyond the checkboxes of skills and experience and seeing the value in determination, the willingness to learn, and the sheer grit to grow into a role.

So, let’s dive into one such story.

This isn’t just about celebrating someone who landed a position they might have felt a bit out of their depth for; it’s about the lessons we can all learn about stepping out of our comfort zones. Because, at the end of the day, the journey of going for something bigger than we thought possible might just be the push we need to redefine what we consider achievable.

The Inspiring Story of an “Unqualified” Person Landing a Dream Job

Below, I interview Tricia Hatfield, the Director of Finance and Personnel- Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Initiatives & Innovation (VPEII) at the University of Montana- Missoula. This is the inspiring story of how she was hired and subsequently moved into a position that, originally, she felt unqualified for.

Picture of the Grizzly statue at the center of University of Montana-Missoula, with the iconic clock tower and "M" mountain in the background.
Image: Collegevine.com
L: What inspired you to pursue a position you initially felt unqualified for?

T: Stepping out of my comfort zone and applying for the Director of Finance and Personnel role was significantly influenced by the encouragement of a close friend. Initially, the thought of pursuing such a position seemed almost audacious to me, given my self-perceived gaps in qualifications and experience.

My friend, who worked at the University in a different department, insisted that she thought I would be a good fit and that I should give it a shot despite feeling underqualified. Her belief in my abilities and her encouragement to put myself out there became the catalyst for a decision that would ultimately redefine the trajectory of my career.

L: Do you remember the exact moment when you decided to chase this opportunity?

T: Yes! The moment! It’s etched in my memory because it all unfolded over a casual game of cribbage with my mom and this friend of mine (laughs). The job felt like a long shot, but it was kind of one of those now-or-never moments. So, with a ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ mindset, I decided to just go for it.

L: I love that. So, after you applied, you got an interview. How did you prepare yourself for the interview process?

T: When it came to preparing myself for the interview, it was all about being genuine. I told myself, “Just be real, be honest- be you.” It wasn’t about pretending to have skills or experiences I didn’t possess.

Instead, I focused on what I could bring to the table and how my unique blend of skills, even if not a perfect match, could add value to the team. I spent time evaluating my past experiences, identifying moments where I’d learned quickly, adapted, or creatively solved problems, and tied those to potential benefits for the company.

Also, I braced myself for the inevitable questions about qualifications I lacked, and I was prepared to answer them. I know I’m not qualified in that area, but here is what I can do…” I thought about transforming potential weaknesses into opportunities to showcase resilience, willingness to learn, and my track record of rising to challenges.

L: What strategies did you use to highlight your strengths or transferable skills during the interview process?
Illustration of a woman sitting in a chair, ready for a job interview despite feeling unqualified.
Image: Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

T: When I went into the first interview, my game plan was pretty clear: highlight what I do best and be open about my eagerness to learn. I wasn’t shy about it. I put it out there, almost like a promise: give me a challenge, and I’ll meet it head-on, not just with what I already know, but with what I can and will learn.

Although I may have had limited knowledge in some areas of the job, I framed it as an advantage. Like, “Hey, I might not know this specific thing right now, but guess what? I’m super quick on the uptake, and my track record proves it.”

I was upfront about the possibility that I would make mistakes (like everyone does), but that I’d also be resourceful, ask questions, and fix the errors I made in order to
learn from them.

Throughout the whole process, my strategy revolved around authenticity. I wasn’t pretending to be the perfect candidate on paper. Instead, I was the candidate who could and would grow into the role, bringing a fresh perspective and the energy to tackle anything thrown my way. It was a bit like saying, “Bet on me, and I’ll show you why you made the right choice.”

L: What were the most significant challenges or fears you faced in pursuing this position?

T: Oh, man. It was a rollercoaster of internal turmoil. I’m someone who lives with anxiety and depression (like many of us do), and I have that little voice in my head that tries to get the best of me, convince me I’m not capable or “worth it”, especially in moments of vulnerability. During this experience, I was afraid they might think they made the wrong decision if they took a chance on me. It was nerve-wracking.

And then there’s the whole aspect of sticking with it. I had a fear of potential regret whispering in my ear, like, “What if you get it, and it’s too hard, and you want to bail?” I wasn’t sure if I was setting myself up for a future where I’d look back and question my choices.

So, yeah, facing down those fears was a process. There was a lot of second-guessing and what-ifs. But, I still felt an excitement about the unknown. Yes, the uncertainty was daunting, but the possibility of something great outweighed that.

L: How did you address the moments of self-doubt?
Illustrated image of a woman sitting on a tightrope between a happy face emoji and an angry/upset face emoji, depicting self-doubt around being unqualified.
Image: Rosy / Bad Homburg / Germany from Pixabay

T: I think self-doubt is something we all struggle with at one time or another, so I wasn’t a stranger to it, but I dealt with a lot of it during this process. You know how it is, one minute, you’re feeling all pumped up and ready to take on the world, and the next, you’re hit with a wave of “What am I even doing?”

For me, it was all about grounding myself in the present and recognizing my worth, not just as a professional but as a person. There were moments, lots of them, where I had to take a deep breath and remind myself of my journey, my achievements, and the value I bring to the table, regardless of my qualifications.

And I kept reminding myself that the worst-case scenario – getting a “no”- was not the end of the world. I told myself that a rejection wouldn’t diminish my worth or my capabilities.

So, in a nutshell, combating the self-doubt was a mix of saying, “Let’s just see what happens,” and a firm belief that, no matter what, I would be OK. It was a journey of self-discovery, one where I had to sell myself not just to the potential employer but to myself first and foremost.

L: Were there any surprising moments or turning points during your interviews that helped you or the employer see your potential?

T: Oh, there were definitely a couple of eye-openers during the interview process that felt like the universe was giving me a nudge, saying, “Hey, this could really happen!”

The first moment of surprise came when we started talking about what I needed to thrive in this role. I was open about what would make me a happy and successful employee. Over the course of my professional life, I’ve realized that it’s reasonable to have expectations of our employers, too; it’s not a one-sided relationship.

For me to be happy and successful as an employee, I need to be valued, appreciated, and compensated for the work I do, and I need room to grow. If an employer can give me that, I’ll commit to the job and give it my all. And I was a little bit surprised that they were totally on board with it. It was like finding out that not only did they want me to fit into their world, but they were also willing to adjust to make sure I could thrive.

Then, there was this turning point—getting called back for an additional interview. Man, that moment was a mix of adrenaline and sheer terror. It was the kind of validation I didn’t know I needed, realizing they were seriously considering me despite my fears of being underqualified.

L: Oh, man, I can only imagine! Were there any other parts of the interview process that helped ease your fears?

T: One question I asked of my interviewers was what was their expectation for someone who is brand new to this industry to learn the job and feel confident in this role. They laid out plainly that they expected a learning curve, telling me it would likely take at least a year until I felt fully at ease in the job.

And they were cool with that! It wasn’t just a confidence boost; it was a giant neon sign telling me that they saw potential in me, even if I was still wrapping my head around it.

Here was this employer, ready to meet me halfway, seeing value in what I could bring to the table, even if I was still learning some of the finer points of the game. It was a powerful reminder that sometimes, it’s not just about fitting perfectly into a predefined mold but about both sides being willing to learn and grow together.

L: That’s amazing. Can you share how you’ve grown or what you’ve learned since starting the role?
Headshot of Tricia Hatfield, Director of Finance and Personnel under the VPEII, University of Montana-Missoula
Tricia Hatfield, Director of Finance and Personnel under the VPEII, University of Montana-Missoula.

T: Since stepping into this role, the journey’s been a crash course in realizing that “unqualified” doesn’t mean “unprepared.” The biggest takeaway for me was that you’ve got to define your own role. It’s not about squeezing into a box someone else has crafted; it’s about shaping that space to fit your strengths. I’ve leaned into what I’m good at, making sure those skills shine and fill the gaps where traditional qualifications might have been.

Being resourceful has become my middle name. I quickly learned that if the tools or resources I needed weren’t readily available, it was up to me to create them. And adaptability has been key. The willingness to change how I approach tasks, to be flexible and pivot when necessary, has not only been crucial for my personal growth but has also reflected positively in my work.

All in all, this experience has taught me that the landscape of a job is what you make of it. It’s about leveraging your unique skills, being proactive in addressing needs, and always being ready to tweak your methods for the better.

L: How do you think companies can benefit from considering candidates who are, on paper, underqualified?

T: You know, when employers start looking beyond the traditional checklist of qualifications and consider candidates who might not tick every box, they’re essentially opening the door to a whole new world of possibilities. It’s not about finding someone who’s perfect on paper but about seeing the value in people’s experience and spotting the potential for greatness.

What companies should really be looking for are individuals who’ve demonstrated perseverance and grit, those who’ve faced challenges head-on and didn’t back down. Just because someone hasn’t walked a conventional path to acquire specialized qualifications doesn’t mean they’re any less capable of mastering those duties. It’s about capability, not credentials.

Have flexible expectations rather than rigid ones. By valuing the qualities that show someone can grow into a role—like resilience, a willingness to learn, and adaptability—companies can benefit from a workforce that’s not just qualified but also diverse, dynamic, and ready to tackle challenges in ways that might not have been imagined before.

It’s about creating a culture where potential is nurtured, and the focus is on what employees can become, not just what they already are.

L: Very well said. So, how has achieving something you once thought was out of reach affected other areas of your life?

T: Landing this position, which once felt like a big reach, has honestly changed my life. It gave me the confidence and self-love I’ve been working to achieve for a long time. And the confidence is not just about patting myself on the back for a job well done; it has seeped into every nook and cranny of my life, changing the way I talk to myself and others and how I interact with the world.

And surprisingly, taking this position has revealed to me a passion I didn’t quite realize I had before. I’ve found this deep-rooted joy in lifting others up, in being that nudge for someone else to discover their own potential. Whether it’s part of my career and giving a pep talk to a colleague or cheering on a friend, it feels amazing to play a part in someone else’s growth.

So, yeah, stepping into what felt like the unknown has not only boosted my own self-esteem but also kindled this desire to help others find their footing. It’s taught me that sometimes, the most fulfilling paths are the ones we were initially hesitant to walk down. And honestly, if this experience has shown me anything, it’s that sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to just go for it.

L: What message do you think your story sends to others about the nature of being unqualified and potential?

T: Never count yourself out just because you think you’re not quite there yet! Here’s the thing: throwing your hat in the ring, even when that little voice in your head tells you it’s a long shot, is the first step towards something bigger. You’ve got the chance to showcase who you are and what you bring to the table—so why not take it? Every single opportunity, even the ones that don’t pan out, teaches you something valuable about getting to where you want to be.

L: Looking back, what advice or tips would you give to others who are considering applying for a position they feel underqualified for?
Bouquet of red tulips next to a day planner with a note that says "Make it Happen" and a pen sitting on top of it.
Image: Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

T: Don’t let the fear of being unqualified hold you back. Your willingness to learn and adapt is your golden ticket. If you’ve got the drive to grow, you’re already on the path to achieving great things. So, go ahead, put yourself out there.

Don’t limit yourself. Take the opportunity to try! If you haven’t found EXACTLY what you want to meet your needs, don’t settle or stop trying to find it. You have to be ok to fail, just make your eagerness and willingness apparent.

And if it doesn’t work out, that’s ok! Failure doesn’t need to be feared or avoided; it is a critical component of success. Be okay with failing so you can learn how to do it better next time. There will always be another opportunity.

Bold Leaps Lead to Unforgettable Stories

This whole story really hammers home a key point: what’s written down in job descriptions is just part of the picture. An arguably larger part is your grit, your zest for learning, and having a never-say-die attitude even when the inner critic gets loud. Tricia’s story is a cheer for the underdog in all of us, encouraging us to lean into the unknown with a heart full of courage and a mind open to growth.

So, if you’re there, hovering over the ‘apply’ button with a heart full of dreams and a head full of doubts, let this story be the little push you need. It tells us loud and clear: stepping out of your comfort zone, with your eyes wide open to learn and adapt, is where the real growth happens.

Never let the fear of not being “enough” on paper stop you. Dive into the possibilities, be ready to grow, and above all, trust in your journey. Remember, it’s those bold leaps, those moments of “What the hell, let’s go for it,” that lead to the most unforgettable stories.

So go on, hit that apply button, and chase that dream even if you feel unqualified or underqualified because who knows? The next chapter could be your best one yet!

About Tricia

Tricia, Director of Finance and Personnel for UM-Missoula, sits on steps with her husband and two dogs.
Tricia with her husband and two dogs.

Tricia lives in Missoula with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. She loves spending time with family and friends or going on hikes with the dogs. Tricia also enjoys frequenting outdoor events like farmer’s markets and craft fairs.

She has a degree in Communications Studies from the University of Montana-Missoula and loves that she gets to use her degree every day as the Director of Finance and Personnel under the VPEII. Her favorite saying is as follows:

“We’re all doing the best we can with what we have, and everyone’s best changes every day. Give yourself love and grace to make mistakes and fail, and have the same expectation and compassion for others. That’s the only way to learn, grow, and succeed in our unique and beautiful journey’s of life.”

What was your biggest takeaway from Tricia’s story?

Have you ever gone after a position you felt unqualified or underqualified for?

What happened?

Tell us about it in the comment section; we would love to hear from you!

10 thoughts on “You May Be Underqualified, But You Can Absolutely Get The Job

  1. Rachel Burnett

    Amazing story and a great reminder that overcoming imposter syndrome can unlock the potential we all have!

  2. Amy Heller

    I just loved this article! It highlights the need to “endeavor to persevere” (my husband’s favorite quote). You need to follow through when you know in heart you are right for a position. Go Tricia!

    1. Danielle Dahl

      There were so many great tips in this article for sure! I found that statistic about how many women think they need to meet 100% of the qualifications before applying to be staggering! Thanks for leaving a comment!

    1. Danielle Dahl

      We agree! We appreciate that she chose us to share her story with. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Hopefully, you had a minute to look over some of the other inspirational stories, too!

  3. Gail Radonski

    This was a beautifully written and inspirational interview. Thank you for the inspirational message.

    Gail Radonski

    1. Danielle Dahl

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment! We appreciate Tricia sharing her story with us. We hope you you take a moment to check out some of the other inspirational content on the site as well.


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