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How Much Experience Is Enough? | The 60% Rule

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Have you ever read a job description and been intimidated from the sheer qualifications listed? You’re not alone: according to the Harvard Business Review, more than 40% of job seekers say they didn't apply for a job because they felt unqualified.

When you find a job that peaks your interest, do you meet every qualification listed in the description? Probably not, but here’s the thing: no one else does either.

It’s important to know that the vast majority of job descriptions are written for the ideal candidate, not for the person who is actually hired. However, if you meet 60% of the qualifications, don't move on to the next description so fast! This one could be a perfect fit for you.

Job descriptions are written for the perfect candidate

Take a look at this excerpt from a real job description for a development coordinator at the American Museum of Natural History, as posted on


  • Research and compile profiles on donor prospects.
  • Perform data entry and maintain accurate records in Raiser's Edge database.
  • Oversee technical aspects of prospect management reporting system.
  • Proactively create prospect lists for exhibitions and special projects.
  • Analyze data from wealth screenings to strategically segment donor populations.
  • Track team workflow data.
  • Manage prospect research and management subscriptions and budget.
  • Manage periodical reviews and routing, including compiling daily news alerts, for the Institutional Advancement department.
  • Support the Director with other Research-related projects, as needed.
  • Staff Institutional Advancement events in the evening, as needed.

How do you know if you’re qualified to apply for the position? That’s where the 60% rule comes in.

Consider the main requirements and responsibilities

Let’s look again at the job description posted above. What is the focus of the position?

  • Working with the director
  • Working in the donor database
  • Conducting prospect research

If you have prospect research experience, you’re more than halfway to being a good applicant for the position. If you don’t, do you have donor database experience, and/or have you worked closely with your director? If you answered yes, that means you fit 60% of the main requirements of the job and should strongly consider moving forward with the application process. You’d be a great candidate!

Have you worked in development but not in the Raiser’s Edge database? It’s still worth applying—you’re already technologically savvy, have managed a database, and you’ll likely be able to get up to speed quickly on Raiser’s Edge.

A word of caution: if working with donors is a big part of the job and you don’t have experience and don’t want to gain the experience, you should probably skip this one. It’s not a great fit for you and you probably aren’t a great fit for it.

Consider your experience

If you don’t have direct experience, don’t let that deter you from applying!

As long as you’ve kept up with the trends, you’re still a great candidate (and you can always do some quick self-education on the topic or the platform).

Don’t have database experience? There's still a good chance that you have, at some point, managed information (think project, calendar, or budget management). Spend some time brainstorming ways to communicate how you utilized this large amount of information to complete a task.

For example, if you have experience in working on a grant but not grant writing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply. If you're able to explain how you were involved with the grant application and reporting process, you may still be able to show that you have what the hiring manager is looking for.

Don’t have experience working on a grant? Think hard about all of your past projects and employment. As you go through all of your professional experience, can you recall a time where you worked with a budget? Have you ever had to keep track of spending and did you have a process to do so? That is absolutely relatable experience that you could use to show that you have the organizational and budget management skills necessary to work on a grant.

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About the Author | Caitlyn Sanderson has worked in many areas of nonprofits, from health and human services to museums and a career center. She is a business, finance, and technology writer and consultant, specializing in nonprofits and small businesses.

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