How to become the unicorn candidate
Q: I’m searching for a new role. The very act of going through jobs advertised online is getting to me. The list of qualifications and requirements expected in many of them is simply unreal. I don’t think I can fulfil half of what they are seeking. In fact, I doubt anybody can. Should I apply anyway? (BC, email).
A: The short answer to your question is ‘yes, you should’, but in a smart way. Hiring managers are describing the perfect candidate on those role descriptions. But they are well aware the perfect candidate may not exist. This potential dream employee is dubbed a unicorn candidate, writes Ines Gonzalez, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.
Unicorn candidates are also called purple squirrels: mythical creatures with a perfect CV, full of relevant qualifications and detailed experience that fit a job’s requirements absolutely spot on. So, how to become the unicorn candidate?
This description may be miles away from where you are right now.
Let’s take a moment to understand those impossible roles and how you might fit the bill as a candidate. The list of requirements is endless, the years of experience impossible. It’s a dizzying shopping list.
A unicorn doesn’t exist at all – and, in all likelihood, neither does the candidate who ticks all the boxes in the published list.
The employer is describing standards that are very difficult to meet. Very few candidates could even hope to fulfil the requirements. It’s a bit like writing your Christmas list, full of wishes, but no expectation that you will find all of them when you come down the stairs on Christmas morning.
The effect on a jobseeker is often a feeling that applying would be a total waste of time.
Read between the lines
My advice would be to take a forensic look at the published requirements. Read between the lines to learn what they are really after. Hiring managers are looking for something different, a candidate who stands out, a good fit for the team, maybe a leader who can inspire and innovate.
Make a list of bullet points of your findings.
Then look at your CV and career as a whole. Detail how you meet some of those requirements, taking into consideration your transferrable skills. These may not correspond to what they have published, but they could be important factors when push comes to shove.
Take a bit of time on this. You want to present an application that shows how you fit in the position and the company. Predict what they are expecting.
If you feel this is the role for you, and you meet at least half of what they have listed in their advert, you should apply. There is no place here for impostor syndrome.
I would like to highlight a difference between men and women applying for roles. This is not solely relevant to unicorn positions but it does touch on a related theme.
Women feel they need to meet the criteria 100 per cent to apply for a role while men apply with about 60 per cent. The result is that women go for 20% fewer jobs, according to LinkedIn data.
Give yourself permission to apply, even if you are not the perfect candidate they are describing.
Picture a unicorn in your mind. That’s what they think they are looking for, but it doesn’t exist.
Ines Gonzalez is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers.
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