Dear Sam: I read a job posting and think, “I can do that!” I don’t have formal experience performing in a role like that, but I know I can do it. I apply for the position and never hear back. Why? – Confused

Dear Confused: I was talking to a client this morning—I’ll call him “Joe”—and here is how our conversation went:

Joe: “I know I’m an Athletic Director, but I was thinking of doing something different.”
Me: “What would that ‘something different’ be?
Joe: “I’m not sure. I applied to be a Purchasing Manager as I know I could do that job.”
Me: “Did you hear back?”
Joe: “No, I never heard back. I don’t understand why.”

I hear this same story over and over again. I understand you don’t want to “close any doors,” but there is a critical need to target to get a response. We only need one job, so why “keep the doors open” and apply to 200 positions each week to get 1 or 2 interviews when you can target your candidacy, apply to 5 or so postings each week, and get the same 1 to 2 interviews or possibly more based on your messaging strength?

Let me explain why applying for a job you think you are qualified for but have never actually done doesn’t work unless you target. You must, of course, be able to meet the requirements for the role, but even more important, you must be able to speak the language of the job posting. Can you talk about your experience in the same language as the job posting? Can you outmaneuver your competitors who may come from a very similar line of work to what you are applying for? Remember, it’s not about your thinking you can do something; it’s about your being able to paint a picture of how you are the most qualified for the role based on your background’s uniqueness and relevance. I’m not saying you can’t be competitive when transferring into a new field, but you must target to promote your candidacy’s most relevant skills and experiences.

In another example, I spoke with a lovely young lady recently. On inquiring what her career target was, it became clear that her primary goal was to get a job, and therefore she would apply to anything and everything. Given her eclectic mix of experiences, lack of robust experience in recent years, and “all over the map” image being painted on her existing resume, I explained how keeping her options open was doing the opposite. On explaining that she must focus—otherwise, a hiring manager would be left to judge her based solely on her past experiences and not the transferability of those experiences to something different—I showed her how that by not being targeted in her approach, she would only receive a positive response from audiences seeking someone for the roles she had performed in the past. Given that was not what she wanted, I explained how important it is to target and see her experiences through different colored lenses to transition the way she talks about her background to create relevance for the reviewer.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking you are qualified and hoping a hiring manager will see it. Instead, target your candidacy and show hiring managers how you are qualified so there is no question you can do the job. Career changes are possible; you have to be a little more strategic about presenting your candidacy.