Awkward interview moment #409:
You’re relatively green for a position you’re pursuing, yet you somehow landed the interview anyway. No sooner than the pleasantries have been exchanged, the interviewer goes right for the, “So, you seem to be a bit light on experience for this role. Can you tell me how and why you think you’re a good fit?”
What now? How should you respond? Is there a way out of this moment? Why were you even brought in?
Admittedly, this is a tricky moment for any job seeker, especially if you’re not prepared with a darned good explanation of why you make perfect sense for this role, in spite of the lack of experience.
Here are three things that you’ll be tempted to say, and why you should refrain:
1. I’m a Super-Fast Learner
Oh, if I had a dollar for all the times I’ve heard someone (who wants a job outside of her experience level) bust out something like, “I can pick that up really fast” or “I’m totally trainable.”
Unfortunately, more often than not, employers aren’t looking for someone who can pick that thing they need you to do up lightning fast; they’re looking for you to walk through their doors already knowing how to do it. Even if you argue this, and insist that the employer’s going to miss out on an amazing employee by not being open to training you, the fact remains that most hiring managers want people who can hit the ground running.
What Can You Do Instead?
If you lack experience for the type of role you’re pursuing and you keep coming up against this question, consider either looking for a similar role that’s maybe one rung below the one you’re eyeing, or specifically seek out companies that pride themselves on training and grooming people. The more solid a company’s training program, the better the odds that they’ll be willing to invest in you.
2. I’ll Work Really Hard
This one reminds me of those American Idol auditions, when the performer gets three “nos” from the judges yet still continues to plead with them to take a chance on him or her.
“I’ll work harder than anyone you’ve ever seen if you just give me a chance.”
“Please give me a chance.”
“No, really. Please. I’ll work so hard. I’ll show you.”
And so on, and so forth.
Now, let me ask you. How often does this appeal work for the contestant? That’s right, zero percent of the time. That’s because the judges have already decided it’s not a fit and, when that person starts groveling, it comes off as desperate and unappealing.
Same goes for interviewing for a job. If the person across the desk from you has decided your lack of experience is a deal breaker, it’s probably going to do you little good to insist that you’ll work hard.
What Can You Do Instead?
If you think the interviewer’s ruling you out on account of experience, consider asking her what role(s) she might recommend you pursue at that organization, given your background. Enlist her as an ally and ask for advice.
The worst that will come out of it is she has little to offer. The best thing that’ll happen? She’ll point you toward a couple of other options (and maybe make an introduction or two) at that same company. She brought you in for a reason, so there’s no harm in digging into a conversation and trying to find where she sees you excelling.
3. But, I Have Better Experience Than ____
This may be the granddaddy of them all. The employer is asking for one thing (that you don’t have) and you walk in and swiftly announce that the experience that you do have is, in fact, superior to what they are seeking.
I see this happen with some frequency among corporate people trying to transition into nonprofit roles. They alienate the decision makers in 10 seconds flat by informing them how, even though they haven’t worked in a nonprofit before, they’re going to take their business experience and light things right up at the joint.
Now, don’t get me wrong. These candidates may well have perspective and experience that would be incredibly valuable to that organization. But if you hit on this too hard and fast, the interviewers may think you’re saying that they don’t know how to do their jobs. And that’s never a good first impression.
What Can You Do Instead?
If you feel like you’ve got transferrable experience that the interviewer maybe isn’t factoring in, start by asking questions. Inquire about that organization’s biggest challenges, top goals, and immediate priorities for the person they hire. Be genuine and curious.
And then, if appropriate, present your background or ideas in a way that doesn’t make people feel like you’re ripping on how they operate. Instead, it gently leads them to that spot at which they can see how your tangential or complementary background may be of genuine value to the overall organization.
Of course, you’re not always going to win when an interviewer calls you out on lack of experience. But the more elegantly you can navigate your way through this line of questioning, the better the odds are that you’ll move on in the process or—at the very least— leave feeling like you gave it your best shot.)