I was a college senior attending a Recreation and Parks Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, circling the job board with twenty other men and women varying from newbies fresh out of school to seasoned professionals. When I saw the job, my job, I wanted to tear it from the wall to keep all others from applying. It was everything I wanted: Wyoming, with its fields and farmhouses, mountains, and infinite blue skies, was seeking a Masters-level researcher to conduct a survey of State Park attendance, compile the results and write a comprehensive strategic plan.
With some pretty amazing rose-colored glasses on, I convinced myself that they would overlook the fact that I hadn’t finished my Bachelors, much less a Masters. I was sure that my Bs in Business Statistics and Computer Programming qualified me for this level of research. But most of all, I knew that I could learn to do anything if I loved the work. So if they wanted an enthusiastic, hard-working, inexperienced employee, I was one of the best. And after all, this was a Recreation and Parks conference and that was my major. So I applied.
Here’s the cool part. This was back in the day when if you took the time to type up a cover letter (on a typewriter) and send your resume, then chances were you were really interested in the job. So they actually called me in for an interview, and asked me some questions. Then gently they explained that they needed the research skills that are honed in a Master program, but that they appreciated my interest and wished me luck. Wow. Does that ever happen today?
I left the conference with interviews lined up for jobs more fitting to my training and experience. But I have never regretted applying for that job that seemed so far out of my reach. Here’s why:
- I was given an opportunity to practice interviewing.
- I learned something odd about myself. I went to school to learn how to run playgrounds and gyms, but strangely it was the research, statistics and computer programming that grabbed my attention. Hum, maybe I should store that little nugget away for the future, I thought.
- And what if they had taken a chance on me? Imagine how challenging and interesting that job would have been.
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg cites a Hewlett-Packard study that found women will apply for a job if they meet 100% of the requirements. A man will apply if he is about 60% qualified, because he knows he can learn the rest (page 62).1 I have a suggestion for both women and men: if you can learn; if you are a hard worker; if you are enthusiastic; and you meet many to most of the requirements, go ahead and apply for that job. You just might get it.
I remember once when I had several job offers in front of me, I turned to my mentor for advice. His suggestion: “take the job that scares you.” After all, if I take a job for which I am 100% qualified, where is the growth? Where is the learning? I don’t want a job that I can do in my sleep. I want a job that challenges me; a job that requires me to flex my brain muscles. For that, I must take the job that leaves me just a wee-bit afraid.
Note: 1) I was unable to find the original Hewlett-Packard study that underlies the information cited from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I did find a post by Curt Rice, which discusses his attempt to find the source of the statistic and being unable to track it down.
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