The Secrets to Interviewing for a Role That's Slightly out of Reach
So, you applied for a job even though you didn’t quite meet the requirements, and your fabulous cover letter landed you an interview. Nice job!
At first, you feel pretty awesome—it’s nice to know that someone recognizes your potential! And then it dawns on you: There will be an interview. Meaning, you’ll also need to interview for a role that’s slightly out of reach.
Step 1: Know (and Nail) The Basics
Secret Weapon: Find an Inside Source
Even if you’re a little light on experience, your application can squeak by to the interview round if it has “something special.” (I know: I’ve been there.) But the interview is the time to “put up or shut up.” Yes, there was something in your letter that told the hiring manager not to rule you out, but in order to be ruled in, you’ll need to demonstrate that you could perform the tasks required of someone in this role.
How can you prove you’re up to the challenge?
Well, you’ll need the scoop on what anyone in the position would know—and you’ll need it from an insider. So, you’ll want to find someone who’s established in the field who is willing to answer three to four questions over email or hop on the phone for 15 minutes. Don’t look for just any acquaintance: If you can’t find a close confidant, search LinkedIn for second-degree connections of your most trusted contacts and inquire about an introduction.
As with any informational interview, you’ll want to do prep work in advance to narrow in on the gaps in your knowledge. Is there industry jargon you don’t quite understand? Perhaps a landmark study quoted in every article you read, but you’re not sure why it’s so important? And then, your third question should always be something along the lines of: “What would anyone interviewing for this role need to know?”; “Are there any givens that everyone should know?”; or “What am I missing?”
Worst-case scenario, if you don’t know (or can’t find) anyone, try industry message boards or even Googling the answers to your questions. (But still make it a priority to build your network ASAP.)
In a reach interview, you can compensate for being lighter on skills or experience by seeming totally immersed in the company and industry. For example, even if you’ve never used the exact software the company uses to track its emails, you’ll seem capable if you’ve heard of it, and—if along with discussing a recent newsletter (which any candidate could do)—you also discuss how it reflects the shifts in communication recently advocated by a major thought leader in the sector. A little extra research can make all the difference in looking clued in and ready to go, rather than out of your league.
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Step 2: Make the Leap From Transferrable to Additive Skills
Secret Weapon: Come With Actionable Out-of-the-Box Ideas
Transferrable skills are a critical discussion point in reach interviews. They’re the backbone of how you’ll frame your experience for the interviewer. Transferrable skills turn “zero years of formal marketing experience” into “three years in sales and two more in client relations, which inform a unique perspective on marketing.”
But sometimes—especially in reach interviews—transferrable skills are not enough. Even if you can discuss them in a way that sufficiently compensates for the experience you’re lacking, that only gets you into the “could do the job” category. To advance to the “would be incredible in the role” category, you need to make the leap from transferrable skills to additive skills.
An additive skill is something unique that you bring to the table—in addition to everything that’s expected. Think about it: If you’re slightly underqualified, there’s a reason why. If you spent the first two years of your career in a different sector, you bring experience from that industry. If you’re younger than everyone else applying for the role, odds are you submitted an extraordinary cover letter or have impressive networking contacts.
You have something that evens out your lack of experience or technical skills, and the interview is your chance to demonstrate how significant it would be. For example, I once interviewed for a position that would require building a program, and without prompting, I discussed impressive, relevant personal contacts I could tap. I emphasized something extra and individual to me. The other candidates— the ones with more classic experience—might not have thought to do this.
Yes, interviewing for a role that’s a bit out of reach is daunting. But we use the terms “stretch” and “reach” for a reason, because if you extend yourself and put in a little extra effort, you just may find the opportunity in your grasp.
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She also covers topics specifically for working moms who want to excel in their careers. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. Catch up with Sara on her blog Grab A Latte or on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author