You may never be the perfect candidate for the job you’re after—but there are always ways to cover the gaps in your application.

In job postings, employers lay out the requirements for their golden candidate. Requiring certain degree classifications, types of experience and characteristics allows them to narrow the field—and no matter how qualified a graduate you are, it’s unlikely that you’ll tick all their boxes.

Even if you satisfy most of the criteria, there will still be questions marks on your application when you get to interviews and assessment centres. Employers may probe into the gaps in your CV, and you need to be prepared to show the strongest account of yourself when the cracks in your application are exposed.

Question Mark One: Time

Depending where you are in your career, the question of time can come in a variety of forms.

Graduates who have been looking for work for a while may be asked what they have been doing since they left university. If you are in this position, it is wise to find ways to show you’ve been productive in the time since you left full-time education. Even if you’ve been doing some part-time work to make some money, you still need to ask yourself how the experience is contributing to your wider career aims—because your potential employer will probably want to know.

If you are fresh to the job market, employers may inquire how you are keeping yourself busy. You may be asked "what are you doing at the moment?"—and they want answers beyond "looking for a job." Pro-active graduates will be working out ways to align themselves with the industry they are interested while they go through their job search.

Current students may well be faced with similar questions in interviews for internships and graduate schemes. So while you may think it’s a tick in your favour to be a part-time member of a society, try and think of even more impressive ways you might spend your time to show that you have been thinking about your career—for example, taking on an organisational role in that society.

Question Mark Two: Dismissal

Graduates starting out in their careers may struggle to adapt to certain industries or roles. Employers often have probationary periods to assess if new hires are right for the job, and if it doesn’t work out you may find your contract is not renewed, or you may simply be let go.

It’s a difficult choice whether to exclude this blip from your CV (see Question Mark One) or be open and honest and list your terminated employment on your application.

While it may seem risky, it is not necessarily a bad idea to leave that experience on your CV—as long as you are able to show you’ve learnt why it happened and that you have taken steps to be better prepared for this new role.

Question Mark Three: Skills deficit

It is wise to apply for jobs for which you meet most of the requirements. But sometimes you might come across a job you think is totally right for you, but for which you are not totally qualified.

It’s important to understand that some of these skills are absolutely integral to the role, and you need to be prepared for employers picking apart the holes your application in an attempt to root out weaknesses.

So how do you show something you haven’t got? There are three options to cover this gap in your application:

  1. Lie – Not recommend. Firstly, it’s dishonest and you will ruin your chances of getting hired if you are found out. Secondly, depending on the skill, it may be incredibly hard to keep your head above water if you do land the job.
  2. Misdirect – Not quite a lie, a misdirect involves crowding out the hole in your application by emphasising the skills you do satisfy while transposing and repurposing anything you can to make it seem like you meet the criteria. While a little less deceitful than a lie, a misdirect may still leave you struggling if you are offered the job.
  3. Honesty – Sometimes bold honesty pays off. Come clean and admit that you do not possess this particular skill—but (and this is a big "but") show the employer that you are taking strides to develop it, and have the evidence to back it up.

The same options are open to graduates who might not have achieved top grades. While more employers are taking a holistic approach to employing graduates, some still disregard any applicants with a 2:2 or lower.

Graduates with lower classifications should make efforts to build up the experience and skills side of their application. You may have dossed all of second year, but if you can show employers you’ve made decisive strides to make yourself career-ready, they may be willing to overlook it. Experience and effort is more impressive than academic achievements for many employers.

With each application you submit, you need to be aware where you might not meet the requirements and you need to be ready to be quizzed on those gaps. If those holes in your CV are the reason you are unsuccessful in that application—you know what to do next.