Subverting Expectations In Career Management: Recruiters On Hiring Employees For White Collar Jobs.

Updated on March 13th, 2023

April 12th 2021

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This text was fully written by humans.


  • Job offers always give you the feeling that you do not fit the requirements. That you are not good enough.

  • In this article, we introduce the point of view of a few experienced professionals. Some of them are professional recruiters while others had a period of time in the past when they were recruiting.

  • As it turns out, modern recruiters hiring for innovative companies do not necessarily seek those who reflect the job offer in 10% but rather, those who subvert expectations, think out-of-the-box and present extra qualities.

How To Do Career Management When Facing These Endless Lists of Job Requirements for White Collar Jobs?

If you have ever looked for white-collar jobs online, you must have noticed that the lists of requirements and expectations often far exceed the amount of attention spent on describing the position and the associated benefits.

And you probably recall this situation very well: there is an exciting new opening in a company that has always been high in your private ranking of dream employers. The scope of duties sounds exciting, and the geographical location is just perfect. 

You have a strong working ethic, and the qualities of a good employee and you feel confident that you can handle the job. There is only one problem: the list of job requirements is long, detailed, and exceeds what can be found in your resume.

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Do I Still Stand a Chance?

So, you start to wonder, “Can anyone even meet all these expectations at all? The list is so long!” Yet, you think to yourself, “They probably get hundreds of job applications…

At least a few of these people will likely hit all the marks. It’s not a good career management move from my side if I apply for a position where I have no chance from the get-go!” And, in the end, you sigh in disappointment and scroll down to read yet another job opening.

But wait! Have you ever wondered how recruiters treat applicants who don’t fit all the criteria yet still, decide to apply? Perhaps, they occasionally take a punt. And, they give a chance to a person who doesn’t hit all the marks listed in the official job offer?

In this article, professional recruiters hiring for white-collar jobs speak about their approach to hiring in such situations. Would they give you a chance once they notice your strong working ethic or qualities of a good employeeAnd if so, under which conditions? 

Getting familiar with their opinions might change a lot in the way you perceive the role of a recruiter. It might also improve your chances to land a job that seems to be “out of your league”! And, let you improve on your career management practices. 

Piotr Migdał, PhD: 

“Job Offers For White Collar Jobs Are Often Imprecise! So, Be Bold In Your Career Management and Don’t Be Scared to Apply!”

As a foreword: in my job openings, I am careful to distinguish actual requirements from the personal competencies and skills that are just “nice to have.” 

And, I am always careful to make the list of obligatory requirements as short as possible. It is a conscious decision. I aim to make it straightforward for the applicants and reduce the guessing game.

As a good example, you can view an application I drafted, which praised my environment: http://p.migdal.pl/qg-hiring/ Most importantly, this job offer resulted in many relevant applicants coming to us. And in the end, it led to a wonderful hire!

At the same time, most openings don’t go that way. Recruiters tend to write a long list of requirements, without a second thought on which of these requirements are essential, and which are not. Most likely, the final hire won’t fulfill all the criteria anyway!

For worse, many potential candidates will cross themselves out preemptively and step back from applying as they don’t hit all the marks on the list. Furthermore, the confidence gender gap is a thing. It means that it is likely that unnecessary criteria make much fewer women apply.

Job Offers Offer Contain Spurious Requirements!

Even worse—it is likely that list covers requirements related to technologies that are not necessary for the job at all! Such job offers are either written by someone who is not familiar with the position or consciously written in this way to reduce the number of applicants.

Therefore, if you hunt for a job and the job description is roughly aligned with your skillset—apply! It is up to them to decide if you fulfill enough requirements to invite you to an interview. Also, remember that some skills can be developed in the meantime, or are not as necessary at all.

What is stated in the job offer might also be more specific than necessary. For example, say, you read in the offer that they are looking for a candidate with a “PhD in Computer Science.” In this case, they mainly look for a PhD. However, they will likely be fine with other smart and research-oriented people without a PhD too.

And even if they indeed look for a PhD, it’s rarely the case that they look only for PhDs in Computer Science rather, what they mean is PhDs in STEM sciences who have technical skills related to their company projects (so, for instance, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, or Physics may also work, perhaps as long as the subjects are close enough).

Ontology Of Value Piotr-Migdal Subverting Expectations In Career Management: Recruiters On Hiring Employees For White Collar Jobs All Posts Job Applications and Interviews Job Interview Tips and Tricks
Piotr Migdał, PhD is a Physicist, Data Scientist, a popularizer of Science, and the Founder of Quantum Flytrap. He has many years of experience with building teams and recruiting specialists and Data Scientists in the IT industry. Contact:
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Patrick Britz, PhD: 

“Show The Strong Working Ethic by Explaining Which Requirements You Don’t Fulfill And How You Are Planning to Fix This.”

Did I ever accept a candidate who didn’t fully fit the job description for the position yet presented a strong working ethic? The short answer is, “Yes!” 

The longer answer would be that I have learned to write better job ads in the process. The candidate needs to fit the basic set of requirements. Having said that, the additional, nice-to-have requirements should be clearly stated as such.

However, it also happened in my practice that we have modified a position or created a new position for a candidate without a matching profile—just because we were so impressed with that person and their strong working ethic!

The main factors that drive such recruitment decisions are an anticipated high team fit, a valuable skill set, and a proven high commitment to the mission of the company and the team. From my experience, those situations happen rarely… But they’ve has always been a great success!

So, What To Do If You Have Strong Working Ethic Yet You Don’t Fit In 100%?

What would I recommend to job hunters who are thinking of applying for a position, yet they feel that they don’t fit the job description in 100%?

Well, unfortunately, job ads vary greatly in how precise they are written. If the ad appears to aim high, then applying without checking all the boxes is certainly a good idea. 

A good point here is to be proactive in the cover letter or email. Explain which requirements you meet or exceed, and which requirements you do not meet (while also explaining how of course, you are willing to meet them quickly).

Ontology Of Value Patrick-Britz Subverting Expectations In Career Management: Recruiters On Hiring Employees For White Collar Jobs All Posts Job Applications and Interviews Job Interview Tips and Tricks

Patrick Britz, PhD, is an Experienced Chief Eliminator of Obstacles (CEO) and General Manager of NIRx Medizintechnik GmbH. Relentless builder of successful companies, markets, teams, and networks. With 20 years of dedication to Neuroscience, he is always excited about new and upcoming opportunities.

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Mariam Kostandyan, PhD: 

“In Your Career Management, Try To Match The Employer’s Mindset And Not Necessarily the Required Skills. Employers Expect the Strong Working Ethic!”

Job descriptions often contain a long list of “expected skills.” However, most of the time, it is not even possible to fully fit in all these requirements. Truthfully, employers know that too. Depending on the company and the actual job content, the job description is an ideal image of a future candidate rather than the realistic expectation.

As an executive search consultant, I interviewed candidates who did not fully fit into the suggested requirements on multiple occasions. It’s either that they didn’t have the right degree, the right number of years of experience, et cetera.

Of course, it is important to understand that there should be at least some fit with the requirements for the given position. But nowadays, progressive work environments tend to hire people not for their hard skills but rather, for their soft skills (except for the highly technical jobs). They also tend to hire not for the existing experience but rather, for the potential to learn new skills.

Choose For What Interests You The Most!

During my career in the management consulting firm, we hired several candidates who were “out of profile.” Yet, they were all successful in their positions! My advice for you would be to apply for the jobs that interest you the most.

For those which you believe you can do content-wise and, most importantly, that you can prove that you could do—for examples, by providing examples from similar roles before, education-related experience, how your skills could contribute to that role, etc.

In summary, if you trust your strong working ethic, yet, you notice that a skill mentioned in the job description is missing in your résumé, don’t be afraid to still send your application. My experience as a recruiter and a job hunter tells me that a full fit with the job requirements is not always needed.

Ontology Of Value 15-MariamKostandyan-squared Subverting Expectations In Career Management: Recruiters On Hiring Employees For White Collar Jobs All Posts Job Applications and Interviews Job Interview Tips and Tricks

Mariam Kostandyan, PhD works as a Research Consultant at a recruitment agency, Schelstraete Delacourt Associates. She is responsible for a strategic search for potential candidates on the executive level. She works with professionals across a broad range of industries — from the agricultural industry to IT. 


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Maura Declercq – Mîndrilà:

“In Your Career Management, Focus On Growing—Applying for Ambitious Jobs That Don’t Fully Fit Your Resume Is Often the Best Idea!”

Does it happen that candidates get the job even if they don’t fulfill all the requirements on the list? Actually, in my experience, it happens all the time! We rarely place candidates who are a 100% fit compared to the job description. And I think this is a great thing! There is no such thing as the perfect candidate. If somebody else has told you that, then I’m agreeing to disagree with them…

Why is it great to hire candidates who don’t match in 100%? Well, think about it! It’s quite logical. If I would find the perfect candidate for a company, it means that this candidate is already very experienced in doing what they are already doing.

So first of all, there is no perspective for this candidate. Why would he or she change if they can not improve themselves. If they have to do the same job that they’ve been doing for all these years at the previous employer? There is no learning curve then, or, there is a very small learning curve. Maybe they will learn something at the beginning just because it’s a new company…

But in the end, the tasks that you have to perform will be the same and repetitive. There will also be no sparing with the teammates, and no aligning with the team—because this person knows what to do, is already self-driven, doesn’t even need sparing anymore.

So, where is the motivation for that poor person to grow and work on professional development? For me, that’s a recipe for boredom and, consequently, for a disaster. I think such a hiring would make quickly somebody very disappointed and unhappy!

A Piece of Advice For Hiring Companies.

I also have some general advice for companies looking to hire talent. As in everything in life, I believe in the Pareto 80-20 rule. So, as an employer, look for the essential traits that you need in a candidate, and be flexible for the rest. In the end, there is a gap that needs to be bridged between the employer and the candidates.

So, my recommendation would be: as a company, hire for mindset and not for skills because skills you can train. If the person has the right mindset—and it is relevant especially nowadays, with the distributed and asynchronous working—and who has high integrity, high intelligence, high energy, who’s driven by high motivation at work, and who really wants to contribute to the company.

Also, as a company, please be flexible and open to surprises. If you have a very predictable candidate, how will this person elevate your team? How will they be able to surprise you? Some employers expect initiative from candidates.

But at the same time, the candidates need to be very predictable and to behave according to a certain pattern. For me, these are contradictory expectations! And if you are hiring a manager, please don’t hire a copy of yourself as it will not make any added value for your team. Just be open to people with strong working ethic with qualities of a good employee!,

Ontology Of Value Maura-Declercq-Madrila-1024x1024 Subverting Expectations In Career Management: Recruiters On Hiring Employees For White Collar Jobs All Posts Job Applications and Interviews Job Interview Tips and Tricks

Maura Declercq – Mîndrilà is an entrepreneur, and an owner of STAFF, a network-based, international STEM recruitment company providing staffing-, employer branding- and consultancy services. 


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The Summary: White Collar Jobs Are For Passionates With Strong Working Ethic Not For Machines.

What is the general picture that comes out of these interviews? It might be wrapped up in four points:

1. Hiring Someone Who Doesn’t Fit The Description Happens Quite Often!

Recruiters univocally recall situations in which they recruited a person who didn’t comply with all the requirements listed in the job offer. Some of them even modified the job offer specifically for that person. OR, they even created a brand new position to hire a promising candidate.

Some recruiters even prefer to hire a candidate who doesn’t fit in 100% with the official requirements for white collar jobs, so they may work on their professional development! They believe that it can bring a valuable, new point of view and creative spirit to the company.

Also, remember that most job offers online are created using a semi-automated template, for instance via the LinkedIn job offer creator. In fact, what the recruiters seek might differ from what you can find in such a standardized job offer. 

We described this phenomenon in our article “The Barnum’s Effect In Job Applications: How It Can Make Your Career Development Hard and How To Tackle It.” 

2. Take Risks In Your Career Management!

If you are excited about a particular position, you should apply. However, if you don’t fulfill some of the requirements, it is not a good idea to wipe the fact under the carpet and give up the opportunity. Do the opposite: be as transparent as you possibly can.

Go through all the requirements listed in the job offer, and specify which of them you currently fulfill, and which of them you don’t-yet, you are planning to acquire the necessary skills and experience in the future. Explain how you are planning to work on this soon! To the recruiter, it will be a sign of a strong working ethic.

3. Today, Employers Are Looking For Loyal and Self-Motivated Employees With Strong Working Ethic.

Employers are looking for loyal and self-motivated employees with a strong working ethic for white collar jobs. Therefore, they focus on finding the best fit in terms of mindset rather than in terms of skills. They look for candidates with an ambition to grow, learn and work on their professional development.

Therefore, in your career management, it is good to also look primarily looking for the placements that will give you the inspiration to improve and transcend yourself, and not necessarily for the job in which you will be able to use all the tricks and routines from your previous job. Remember that your professional development is crucial for your career path.

4. An Applicant Who Wants Exactly The Same Job As Before Is Suspicious To The Recruiter.

We often believe that the safest and easiest way of changing the employer is to apply for another job that requires the same competencies and is associated with the same scope of responsibilities as our current job. 

It seems obvious that in that case, we will become the top candidate. However, from the perspective of the recruiter, this is a strategic mistake!

Namely, when the recruiter realizes that you have applied for a position that is the almost exact copy of your previous job, then in their eyes, you clearly don’t have an ambition to grow. What is the reason for you to apply then? 

They can suspect three things. The first possible reason for your application might be that you had conflicts in your previous workplace, and you felt an urge to leave. 

The second possibility is that, you are a type of a traveler and a complainer who changes jobs like gloves without any deeper planning or philosophy behind it. 

Lastly, it might be the case that you biggest driver is money-you noticed a similar but better paid position, thus, you decided to apply. And it that case, anyone can buy you over at any moment. In all these scenarios, it’s better to skip such a candidate!

5. The Rule of Career Management #1: Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths!

Lastly, the rule of career management number 1: turn your weaknesses into strengths! If during the job interview, the recruiter asks about a particular skill or experience that they wish you had—yet, you don’t represent it at the moment—obviously, you should declare that you are willing to acquire this skill in the near future.

But at the same time, mention that you have experience with other, synergistic methods and techniques—those that were not mentioned in the list of requirements—that you can bring to the table.

And that in that way, you can increase the know-how in the company and help in building the Intellectual Property within the company in new ways. Pitch the fact that you have strong working ethic and that you are different. It’s a chance for them to get a good employee with extra competencies at the same price and not as an issue!

Would you like to better prepare for the job interviews? Please also check out our articles:

Good luck with your job interviews!

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, April 12th). Subverting Expectations — Recruiters On Hiring Employees Against All Odds. Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/subverting-expectations-in-career-management-recruiters-on-hiring-employees-for-white-collar-jobs/

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