How to Decide if You Should Apply for a Job

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There are several types of job searches, from the casual browse to the desperate “pray and spray” method. No matter if you’re looking for a full-time job or part-time gig, it can be tough to know which jobs to apply for.

Well, good news! We made it simple. If you’re wondering how to decide if you should apply for a job, this guide is for you.

Table of Contents

  1. 3 questions to help you decide if you should apply for a job
  2. Other factors to consider when deciding whether to apply for a job
  3. 4 signs you shouldn’t apply for a job
  4. 4 signs you should apply, but prepare to negotiate or learn more

3 questions to help you decide if you should apply for a job

Even if you’re more than ready for a new role, you can still get lost in analysis paralysis during your job search. We narrowed down the top three questions that will help you decide whether to apply to the job in front of you—or not.

1. Do I want this job?

Before you think about whether you’re qualified, before you wonder about how to impress in an interview, ask yourself a simple question: “Do I actually want this job?”

When you’re desperate for a change, it’s easy to get caught up in applying to any job you could potentially get…but why spend the energy on something that wouldn’t be right for you anyway?

“Many job seekers apply for jobs that they don’t really want,” says Alison Doyle of TheBalanceCareers. “Ask yourself if you’d be excited to receive a call for an interview. In most cases, you will be better off devoting your resources to searching for a job that’s a better fit.”

Take the time to evaluate each job post. If you only apply to jobs you actually want, you’ll make the most of your own time and avoid wasting other people’s, too. 

To understand whether you want a particular job, think about these additional questions:

  • Does the work align with my interests and skills?
  • Does the company sound like a place I would enjoy working?
  • Are there any red flags in the job description?

If you do want the job, the next step is to consider whether the job will want you.

2. Do I meet 60% of the requirements?

Job posts can be intimidating, especially when the list of “required qualifications” seems to stretch on forever. It’s easy to talk yourself out of applying for something because you “don’t have what they want” or “can’t compete with other candidates.” 

Whoa there–—take a deep breath!

According to both science and recruiters, you should apply to a job if you meet 60% of the requirements. 

Be honest with yourself about whether your skills and experience match the requirements, but remember that there’s no way for you to know the whole package this employer is looking for. 

Employers write job descriptions carefully, but they’re always looking for a person, not a piece of paper. The right candidate has a combination of hard skills and soft skills, usually including:

  • Hands-on experience (even when the description says 5+ years, 2 might be ok)
  • Industry knowledge
  • Ability to communicate clearly
  • Hardware or software knowledge
  • Willingness to own & learn from their mistakes
  • Open-mindedness
  • Creativity
  • A consistent, positive attitude
  • Flexibility
  • Curiosity

Would you rather teach someone with a good attitude or dread working with a terrible teammate? That’s an easy answer. If an employer is comparing you to another qualified candidate, it always comes down to more than your resume. If the other person has 100% of the required experience but is insufferable to be around, your 60% and great attitude will very likely get you the job! 

3. How will this job help me meet my goals?

Garry Tan once said, “At every job you should either learn or earn. Either is fine. Both is best. But if it’s neither, quit.” 

You want to learn something and you want to pay your bills, but jobs can help you in other ways, too. Before you spend hours on a new job application, make sure to think about how the job might help you achieve your goals:

  • What will I learn day in and day out on the job?
  • What additional education, training, or certifications will this job provide me?
  • How will the pay rate or salary change my financial situation?
  • How will the schedule affect my work/life balance?

Not every job or gig has to move your career forward; sometimes, a job just needs to pay the bills. Others expand your network. When you’re looking for something new, it’s important to understand your goals, evaluate what you want, then compare the job in front of you to that list. 

Other factors to consider when deciding whether to apply for a job

While it can feel like there are a million things to consider in your job search, two of the most important other factors are the timing of your application and your competition. If the job post has been up for a month already, it’s less likely (though not impossible) that you’ll be a successful candidate. Conversely, if you can apply for a job opening within 24 hours of it being published, that may increase your chances of getting in front of a recruiter. As for your competition, if you can see that a job has had thousands of applicants already, it may be best to look for something with a smaller applicant pool. However, don’t let the timing or competition deter you from a job that looks perfect—if it feels right for you, apply anyway! You never know what will happen.

There are some times, though, when you definitely shouldn’t apply…

4 signs you definitely shouldn’t apply for a job

Just as good candidates are combinations of many things, good jobs are, too. Finding the right match involves compromise on both sides, but here are 4 signs you definitely want to skip applying to a job:

1. You don’t meet any of the qualifications.

Let’s say your only work experience is in retail jobs and you see an ad for a Chinese language tutor with 10 years of experience. Unless you speak Chinese and have references that can speak to your ability to teach others, applying to that job is not worth your time. When you sift through possible jobs to apply for, be aspirational, but also be realistic.

2. The basic qualifications would put your physical or mental health at risk.

No matter how much you need a job, there’s no reason to endanger your health at work. If you read through the job description and already feel a tightness in your chest, it may be time to move on to another job post.

3. The company’s mission or values are radically misaligned with yours.

This may be up for debate, but we’re strong believers that burnout is real, driven by overwork and value misalignment, and something you should avoid at all costs. If you’re not desperate for a new role or better financial situation, there’s no reason to apply to a job where you would be unhappy going to work every day. If you are in a desperate situation, while misaligned values won’t get in the way of your paycheck, they will eventually burn you out, which isn’t healthy in the long term.

4. The job ad or company feels like a scam.

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If it seems vague and non-committal or you get a weird feeling, do five minutes of external research on the company and position. You’ll likely save yourself a headache!

4 signs you should apply, but prepare to negotiate or learn more

Employers expect to negotiate during any job application process, and to be clear: you should, too. Even the best job matches involve negotiation. However, if you see a job ad that isn’t a hard no, but also doesn’t make you jump for joy, don’t rule it out automatically.

Here are some signs you should still apply to a job, but also prepare to negotiate or learn more: 

1. The commute doesn’t fit your lifestyle.

This has been a hot topic for years, first with COVID’s work-from-home experiment to many companies expecting employees to return to the office (RTO). Depending on the type of job you’re applying for, you may be able to negotiate working from home part time or getting your travel expenses paid by the company. 

2. The pay is lower than you were hoping for.

Pay is just one part of your overall compensation package. Whether it’s an hourly rate, annual salary, bonus structure, or employer contributions to retirement, healthcare, or education, there’s a lot of money available during negotiations. Remember: companies often pull financial resources from different “buckets,” so even if the pay in the job description doesn’t quite match your expectations, you can usually negotiate additional compensation in other areas.

3. You don’t see key information on the company’s website.

If you’re missing important information about the role or company and can’t find it with a quick scan of their company website, make note of what you’re missing so you can ask during an interview.

4. The company’s reviews are not great.

Glassdoor reviews can be…interesting, but remember the concept of a vocal minority: those with minority opinions are often the most willing to share them. While reviews and commentary from employees can be informative, you should take it all with a grain of salt and be prepared to make your own assessment. If you see a negative trend in any of the comments, use it as inspiration for constructive questions to ask during your interview(s).

In summary, you should apply to a job if:

  • You know you’d be a good fit for the role
  • The job opportunity has immediate or long-term benefits
  • You feel excited for the opportunity to work

Not every job will meet your standards, and you won’t get every job you apply to, but with the right selection process and attitude during your job search process, you’ll eventually land the next role to help you achieve your goals.

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