Why You Should Apply To Engineering Jobs You Aren't Qualified For

"Less experienced" doesn't mean "under-qualified."

Experienced engineers have an easier time finding a new job than almost anyone else. The keyword in that sentence, however, is “experienced.”

Junior engineers, particularly those fresh out of college or bootcamp, often struggle to find a role that doesn't require several years of experience. As evidence of this, roughly 90% of the engineering roles on AngelList ask for at least one year of work experience to qualify.

But here's the truth: If you're an inexperienced engineer, the market isn't stacked against you. In fact, it couldn't be better. If you have the skills and the competency to take on a role, don't be distracted by the requisite years of experience in a job post. Demand for engineers is sky-high, companies don't have the luxury of passing on a perfectly capable candidate just because they're one year shy of the ideal resume.

Regardless of your experience level, you should be applying to every role that:

  1. Excites you
  2. Seems realistically within your capabilities

To understand why, you need to see some broader trends in engineer hiring.

Experience requirements are guidelines, not rules

If you bucket every engineer on AngelList by their total years of experience and compare them to the average experience requirements of the jobs they match with, it looks like this:

The average engineer with no formal work experience will match with a startup requesting more than one year of experience. Right away, this shows that most startups won't hesitate to hire an engineer lacking all the experience requested in a job listing—as long as that engineer is capable of doing the work.

Just as interesting, candidates who've grown beyond minimal experience (more than one year, in this case) tend to apply to the same jobs, in terms of experience requirements. For example, whether a candidate has two or seven years of experience, they on average will match with a job that is requesting 2-3 years of experience.

Why does this trend exist? It comes down to how startups use experience to vet potential hires.

Startups care about competency

In general, experience requirements are shorthand for competency. They're not contractual obligations. If a startup is asking for three or fewer years of experience in a job posting, it's really asking: “Are you competent enough to ship the code we need and work in a professional environment?”

You can see some evidence of this when looking at the distribution of jobs on AngelList:

According to the above chart, 72% of engineering jobs posted to AngelList ask for three or fewer years of experience. The number isn't much different if you search for job postings that specifically ask for “senior” engineers in the job title:

Even among senior engineering roles, over 70% require four or fewer years of experience. Does that mean these roles are as easy to land as more junior roles that request a similar amount of experience? Of course not. Senior roles, more often than not, will have more requirements—either experience with specific technologies, leadership experience, or just a higher quality of code. But, even in senior roles, it is your level of competency, not your number of years spent working, that will ultimately qualify or disqualify you.

As an inexperienced engineer, this is fantastic news for you. It means if you are competent enough to fulfill the role, you have a chance to get your foot in the door.

Don't be hesitant—just apply

The grind of landing engineering jobs early in your career can get chaotic. You're constantly sifting through job postings that you're both interested in and qualified for, while juggling phone screens and take-home projects.

Applying to a job that requires three years of experience can feel like a waste of time when you're just starting out. Why go through the effort if you likely won't hear back? Apply anyway. It sounds trite, but the worst thing a company can do is ignore your application.

The market has never been more in need of competent engineers. Startups only care if you can handle the responsibilities of their role. If you can prove you're capable of executing—either through code samples or interview performance—your cumulative work experience won't matter one bit.

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