You're sifting through the latest batch of job listings when you spot something that catches your eye. It's your dream position, and you can't wait to apply -- until, that is, you read through the actual description and realize your skill level isn't up to par with what the company is looking for. So you're stuck with a dilemma: Do you apply anyway, and hope for the best, or move on and keep looking?

Truthfully, there's no right or wrong answer. In some cases, it pays to push the limits, get your foot in the door, and work your way up, even if you're coming in as a self-proclaimed underdog. On the other hand, applying for a job you're not really qualified to do can backfire in many ways. Here are some of the consequences to factor into your decision.

A person at a desk fills out a job application on a laptop. To the left of the computer is a small plant; to the right, a pad of paper, pen, phone, and reading glasses.


1. You might get hired, but struggle

Let's be clear: Just because you're underqualified for a job doesn't mean you won't get it. Perhaps you're a rock star on the interview front; or maybe you're willing to stretch the truth just enough that it gets you an actual offer. But while it's always good to be challenged at work, if you take a job where you're clearly in way over your head, you might quickly come to find yourself miserable in many regards.

For one thing, it's never pleasant to walk around feeling clueless about what you're doing. Furthermore, if you're constantly asking your coworkers for help, they may come to feel burdened, thus straining those relationships. Finally, if you have a hard time keeping up with the demands of the job because of your lack of experience or knowledge, you may find yourself working long hours in an effort to compensate. And virtually living in the office is enough to make anyone unhappy on the job.

2. You might get fired

Even if you don't blatantly misrepresent your skill set on your resume or during an interview, if you're hired for a job you're not capable of doing, there's a chance you'll end up getting let go once your manager comes to realize his or her mistake. Of course, this isn't a given, but it's a possibility you'll need to prepare for nonetheless. And while you might argue that it's better to get fired from a good job than to never have had it at all, your dismissal is something you'll then need to explain to the next person who considers hiring you.

3. You might damage your business relationships

Perhaps you networked your way into a job you weren't really qualified for, or even landed an interview because one of your contacts was willing to vouch for your capabilities. If you end up falling short, whether on the job or in an interview alone, you could end up wrecking that person's credibility, and thus ruining your relationship. If you're going to ask a business associate, or even a friend, for that matter, to help you land a job you're not qualified for, be honest about what you're doing from the start, and give that person a chance to bow out. Otherwise, you risk putting your contact in a bad position, and destroying a relationship you may have worked hard to build.

Making the call

Now that you understand the risks of applying for a job you're not really qualified to do, the question remains: Should you go for it anyway? Again, there's no correct answer, but one point to consider is how underqualified you actually are. If a job posting lists seven distinct criteria for applying, and you know you're solid on five of them, your skills might be strong enough to compensate. But if you can't honestly say you meet well more than half of the basic requirements, then you're better off applying elsewhere.

One final thing: Regardless of the type of job you're applying for, be sure to read the description carefully and understand what the company in question is looking for. If it states point blank that all candidates must have an MBA to even be considered, don't pursue the role if all you have is a regular undergraduate degree. If you apply to a job you're not qualified for, thus wasting a recruiter's or hiring manager's time, that person might hesitate to give you a chance in the future should a position come up that you're actually right for. And in that sort of scenario, nobody wins.