Career Link: Career management, Step 2

As a global executive search firm, we review a lot of resumes and job applications. Some of them are spot-on, perfect fits for the position they seek. Many of them-too many of them-make me wonder what on earth the sender was thinking.

Sometimes that's because the resumes are poorly written or the online applications are incomplete. Often it's because the applicant clearly doesn't meet the stated qualifications for the job. For instance, the job description may ask that applicants speak English and Mandarin, but 50 percent of the applicants don't speak Mandarin (nor have ever even been to China); or the description asks for certain specifications or experience in managing a certain size of workforce or budget, and we find that only a few of the applicants have a reasonably close fit to those criteria. People seem to think they should apply for every job they see, whether they are qualified for it or not.

I imagine some of the senders of these resumes may be heeding advice provided for years by well-meaning career counselors: "Even if you're missing a couple of the requirements, you should apply anyway. You might catch their eye, and maybe there's another opening in the company that they'll recognize you're a better fit for." Unfortunately, those career counselors weren't thinking about our current digital age when they gave this advice.

In part because of the ease of applying online, companies and search firms are now receiving hundreds of resumes for a single job, where 20 years ago they may have only received a dozen or two. The contacts you're sending your resume to today may not be focused on carefully reading every application they get to see if the applicant might work in another open position. They're on time and budget crunches and they have to get something done. They are focused on matching the resume to the job description.

When people apply for jobs they aren't qualified for, they are certainly not endearing themselves to the company or the search firm. In fact, they're regarded as spammers. Hiring managers come away with the impression that either these applicants did not read the description carefully (or at all) and rushed to judgment, or that they're full of themselves and believe they should be considered even though they don't have the experience the company is asking for. Neither of these are qualities the company is likely to be looking for in a candidate.

To be fair, candidates aren't the only ones who bear blame for an increase in under-qualified applicants. Companies don't think through what they put in a job description. They don't take the time to define what they're looking for or to identify the skill sets they require. What's worse, they often don't understand our profession and the elements comprising it.

When you're applying for a job, it's very important to be realistic. If you don't have the listed qualifications, don't apply. Or, if you're really interested in the company, take the time to call the hiring manager or recruiter and say, "I don't see anything for me at your organization right now, but I would love to be considered in the future if anything comes up." This leaves a much better impression than applying in spite of your lack of qualification. I'd rather have that conversation, or even a short note asking if a particular element in the description is a non-negotiable requirement, than have the applicant constantly barraging me with resumes and cover letters.

Being realistic also means that if the job is based in Switzerland or Belgium or Kenya, you might want to find out if you can legally move there, or if you really want to. Understand the labor laws in the country you're applying to work in. What about the housing costs there? You may want to live in Tokyo, but when you find out you have to pay $7,000 to $9,000 a month for a small apartment, you may change your mind. Schooling for your kids could cost $25,000 apiece. These are all important things to realistically consider before applying.

As a final point, if your background and experience does match the position description, review your resume and ensure that the reader can find that information.

About the author: Jerry Brennan is co-author of the book Security Careers, and content expert faculty for the Security Executive Council. He is also founder of Security Management Resources, the leading global executive search firm specializing exclusively in corporate security. The new edition of Security Careers includes more than 70 security job descriptions and career paths; up-to-date compensation trends for each position; tips on how to get the best compensation for yourself and your staff; comprehensive lists of certifications, member organizations and job resources; and resume tips and samples.