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What Do Required, Preferred, and Desired Skills Mean?

When you read most job postings, you probably notice that employers place different "weights" on the skills they want in a candidate, based on how critical those skills are in getting the job done effectively.

For instance, you might see these three phrases in a typical posting:

  • Required skills, which means "You'd better have this, or don't bother applying."
  • Preferred skills, which means "We'd really like it if you know how to do this because it's important."
  • Desired skills, which means "It would be cool if you knew how to do this."

In most cases, especially in today's tight job market, you'll probably need all or almost all of the required skills, plus at least half of the preferred skills in order to land an interview. Then, if you have one or more of the desired skills, your chances are even better.

So, if you have something from all three groups on your resume, are you a cinch to get the interview?

In a fair world, yes. But life isn't fair, and many times the job search isn't, either. For example, you may be more qualified than another candidate, but if he knows someone inside the company who can vouch for him - and you don't - you may not get the interview. (Never underestimate the power of networking!)

But let's assume we're dealing with a level playing field. Nobody knows anyone inside the company, leaving you to make your best initial pitch with just your resume and cover letter. To grab the hiring manager's attention, your resume's Summary of Qualifications and your cover letter must emphasize as many of the required, preferred, and desired skills as possible.

So, when you find a job posting that grabs your interest, examine it, highlight the skills in the job posting that match your skill set, then use this table to help you decide if it's worth the effort to apply. 

   Ideally, you need:
If you don't have them, should you still apply?
Required Skills
All, or at least most, of these
 

No. 
Don't apply if you lack the required skills. Focus on jobs you're more qualified for.
 
Preferred Skills

At least half
of these
 
Yes. As long as you have the required skills, it's worth a try.
 
Desired Skills

None of these, but having at least one can't hurt. 
 
Yes. These are not a big deal, but it's a bonus if you have them.
 

Use this table only as a guideline. You may like a job posting or the employer well enough that you'll still want to apply, and in that case, you should. Even if you don't have enough of the skills they're looking for, enthusiasm and a strong desire to learn can sometimes make up for that. You can also try to find someone in the company who can put in a good word for you.

But if you have what they're looking for and you can get someone to advocate for you, then you can improve your chances at being called for an interview.

Do you like this method? Or do you have another way of linking your skills and experience with those the employer is looking for? Tell us in a comment below.

RELATED LINKS

Translating Job Ad Jargon into Plain English
Job Search Virgin's Guide to Finding Jobs Online
Are Your Skills on Employers' 'Most Wanted' List? 

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