In the October 2, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader can do the job but lacks some job requirements.


job requirementsWhat do you do when the employer interviewing you has four requirements but you meet only three of them — yet you know that you’re the best person for the job? How can I turn this kind of situation into a job offer?

Nick’s Reply

Isn’t this the way it goes? You are certain the job is a great fit, but the manager isn’t. It’s of course possible your judgement is incorrect, and that you are not the best person for the job. Going into a job interview, you don’t really have enough information about the job, the work environment or the manager to know that, any more than the interviewer has enough information about you. That’s the purpose of the interview. But your question isn’t about how you can assess a job; it’s about how to show you’re worth hiring, assuming you can gather enough information to be reasonably sure you are in fact a very good candidate. So let’s proceed with that understanding.

Credentials vs. Show-And-Tell

I’ll let you in on a secret: Managers are not very good at figuring out whether a candidate really fits. Managers tend to give too much weight to credentials on a resume, and not enough to actual evidence that a candidate can do the work. (For more about direct and indirect assessment of job candidates, see 5 Steps to Easy Interviews and Quick Job Offers.)

This actually gives you the advantage. It lets you suggest to the manager that you should do a show-and-tell, rather than just answer questions about what’s on your resume (and in your experience). It gives the manager an opportunity to see you perform.

If you lack something an employer wants, but you’re a fit on other counts, don’t wait for the employer to decide to take a chance on you. He probably won’t. Don’t wait for him to figure out what to do with you – figure it out for him and explain it.

Show you can do the work

Remember this: The key requirement for any job — whether anyone admits it or not — is the ability to actually do the work. This is your opportunity to bring the focus of the discussion to the job in question, and to your relevant skills.

Offer to demonstrate what you can do, and how you will do the work. Show him. Few job candidates ever do that in an interview. A good employer who’s looking for a confident, talented, dedicated worker will react well.

Ask the manager flat-out if he’s hesitating to hire you over that one point. Then explain that you’d like to prove you’re a fast learner and that your other skills will more than compensate for anything that might be lacking:

“May I take a few minutes to show you, right now, how I would do this job? If I can’t convince you, then you shouldn’t hire me.”

This is an incredibly powerful approach because it requires a commitment from you. Of course, it’s also risky and you must be prepared to do such a demonstration. (See “How to Do A Working Interview™,” pp. 22-24, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

Make the commitment that wins the job

How should you demonstrate your abilities? Consider questions like these in advance of your interview, and make sure you have good answers:

  • Would you need to operate a computer or other machine? (Ask to sit at the machine to show how you’d handle it.)
  • Does the job require talking with customers? (Ask for a scenario you’d have to handle, and then show what you’d say to the customer.)
  • Can you draw an outline of how you would perform a task? (Ask what specific objective you’d have to achieve, then list the steps you’d follow.)
  • Can you explain how you’d solve a particular problem? (Draw a picture and show your plan.)

Don’t let a missing requirement be your deal-breaker. Be ready to address challenges like those above. Making this kind of powerful commitment in the interview can shift the manager’s decision criteria in your direction and help you win the job.

When an interviewer begins to lose interest, it’s up to you to turn things around. Stand and show you can deliver. If a manager doesn’t respond to that, go on to a better employer who will take notice of a candidate who’s ready to put it all on the line.

You can still apply for a job, and do a successful interview, even if you don’t seem to meet all the job requirements — if you can show you can do the job nonetheless.

See: The shortcut to success in job interviews.

Is there a compelling substitute for job requirements and qualifications? Have you ever won a job in spite of not having all the qualifications listed in the job description? How did you do it?

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  1. Depends what you mean by “job requirements”. Some want exact experience literally. Meaning you could be doing Oracle SQL but they’d turn you down because you never used MySQL, despite the two being very very similar.

    Also, some will turn you down without a certain degree, even if you did the job in the past without one.

    You’d have to assume that you can get past the HR goons and to the hiring manager directly for this one.

    I did apply for a job and got an interview when I had PHP experience but not so much WordPress experience. However, I ended up not getting the job. So you can get an interview even without meeting ALL of the job requirements.

    Also, one time I had a friend call in and get me a job at a call center. That one didn’t work out (I’m not that great at phones. I might have been able to pick it up learning about the product and all and being able to field calls successfully enough, but I couldn’t get it all down pat in just 5 days.) However, they did notice I was doing great at learning the product and using the computers (phones are my weakness due to autism), so they interviewed and hired me for a job that lasted two months (it was temp, but finally I got experience.) and I did well at that one.

    So even getting an interview and rejected for not meeting the requirements, if you can demonstrate that you are good at other things, even if they aren’t quite pertinent to the particular job you’re being hired for, can get you hired for a different job at the place if the first one doesn’t work out.

  2. How can you show how you’d do the job on the spot if you’re an administrative assistant? I think there are a lot of jobs where this doesn’t work.

    • @ Lena, I disagree. I’ve hired many admin assistants and always make sure they can organize a meeting, keep confidentiality, type fast (one did 120 WPM, she was fun to watch, she also knew how to take shorthand), proofread, anticipate my responses to pat questions. . . etc. The good ones I hired always asked good questions like, what is your workstyle? What can I do to make you more productive? What are your routines?

    • @Lena: Ask the employer what the key tasks are and what improvements he or she would love to see going forward. Then think fast on your feet and suggest 3 ways you could make those improvements if you were hired. There’s almost always something the employer wants done better or differently.

      Paul offers additional suggestions. Sometimes the best “demonstration” is to ask good questions that reveal you understand the ins and outs of the job.

  3. This is one of big frustrations, if not the biggest one, job seekers have in today’s system.

    In responses to other posts here, I’ve mentioned that actual research shows that simple years of experience or education is a poor indicator of job performance, yet that’s how we generally do the first screen of candidates.

    And the numbers show that if the interview is geared towards determining if the person can do the job (or pick it up quickly), the better the results.

    Instead what we have is the current $@!% show of “must have N years experience W, X, Y, Z” and then asking “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” All this shows that the person isn’t terrible enough to get fired and they give an answer you happen to like, which is a pretty low bar to set.

    • @David: So why do employers avoid asking the applicant to show how they’d do the job? Honestly, I think most of the time the employer/manager doesn’t really understand what the work is. They can’t ask. That opens the door for the candidate to ask the question, then deliver.

  4. How does this work out with a phone interview?

    • Be ready to tell relevant stories of how you delivered results on similar problems the interviewer is facing.

      I was phone interviewed (screened) for a position and the interviewer was very impressed I could walk them through key points on a problem they were facing. What I would consider doing to overcome the obstacles and what outcomes became due to my leadership.

      Studies show 38% of your message is voice. . . 57% is body language (which you have to create unless you’re skyping). Keep a mirror by your phone to watch yourself perform and consider standing while talking, move around the room. Be sure your voice is clear and not muffled due to microphone limitations on big screen hand held smart phones. Minimize background noise (especially with speakerphone on). I still like the old fashion handset when interviewing on the phone.

    • @Askeladd: Paul offers some good advice. But let’s step back — why would you sit for a phone interview at all? It puts you at a disadvantage compared to in-person. So take a chance, since the odds you’re going to get past a phoner are already not in your favor. Tell them you don’t do phoners.

      “Thanks, but I’m interested only in employers who are serious about filling a job. I’m willing to invest my time to meet in person to show you how I’d do the work profitably if you are.”

      No risk, no edge.

      • Actually, there are a thousand good reasons why I’ve got a phone interview…I’m trying to relocate to a distant city ;) so there is little choice at least as far as the initial contact goes.

        I totally agree about standing while talking on the phone…in addition to helping to feel more energetic, I find it helps me with nerves, which I am prone to since I am not a phone person to begin with. I wear a Bluetooth and actually pace/walk about as I speak, to help me think.

        I have a phone interview this coming Monday for a job I am keen on getting, so the information is indeed timely.

  5. Good article, Nick, bit it makes on fundamental assumption that I see, my experience tells me, makes it no-longer valid.

    The assumption is that you can deal, initially, with the hiring manager.
    These days you have to go though HR, quite possibly on-like, and HR are job-specific ignorant.
    They think in terms of ticking off check-boxes and if you can’t meet all the check-boxes then you get no further. BTDT.

    I used to work with UNIX/Linux. It has many scripting languages, but they all have very much the same principles. One you’ve learnt a couple, the rest come naturally. As far as languages go, once you’ve written a few compilers, you understand how compiled languages work and can pick up another reasonably easily. But HR doesn’t seem to realize that one of the great things about experience is that you learn and learn and learn and that means you can learn more.

    Now HR’s POV is great if you are in the business of solving the same problem over and over, and, lets face it, the backward-looking nature of a resume fits in with that outlook. All too often HR is looking for the same-old same-old. But is this what the hiring manager wants?

    • I never had this problem hiring for tech jobs. Our HR didn’t even pretend to understand the tech buzz words, and let us define the filtering criteria. They also preferred to give us more resumes rather than fewer, since they were more likely to get yelled at if we couldn’t find a candidate rather than had to sort through too many resumes.
      I’d have hated to work at a place where the power was with HR, not the engineering managers.

      • Years ago this was never a problem. Managers hired the told the Personnel Department to clean up the employment-related paperwork and deal with the Salary department. HR was there to deal with ‘disputes’ (unions? what unions, this is IT!) and perhaps had a trained nurse on staff to deal with someone who strained his pinky-fnger hitting the shift key too hard.

        That was then, this is now.

        The last decades have seen the growth of the Standards Industry. There’s so much to comply with that it eats into our time and has created new professional niches. You need a array of Standards, -er, make that ‘Certifications’, on your resume too. Another check-list for HR. All the ISO, all the NIST, all the SEC, all the government and banking, and more, regulations to comply with.
        It’s called ‘compliance’ and it’s an industry segment in its own right.
        It’s all marching to the bandwagon of “Best Practices and “Good Governance”.

        And Governance” has got at hiring as well.
        It must be ‘seen to comply” – that is meet various standards and Good, if not Best, Practice.

        That means things like Nepotism, Cronyism and such like are strictly NOT Good Practice.
        The problem is that if the manager wants to hire you on the basis of a recommendation of one of his staff, someone who worked with you at a previous place, then HR can’t tell that from cronyism. if he met you at a conference, impressed with your presentation or the way that you questioned a presenter and your subsequent discussion with him and how you suggested addressing on of his problems, he can’t hire you. You *HAVE* to go through HR and their check-box against a job description.
        BTDT, had the description crafted to my resume but HR still would not let it happen; the manager had made the mistake of trying to hire me, so it _mist_ be some sort of favoritism as far as HR was concerned, and that was *NOT* “Good Governance”.

        It’s a case of “yes, it used to be, but we changed all that”.
        The larger, the more ‘mainstream’ firms have to deal with this issue of ‘regulatory compliance’ more and more.

        • ** BTDT, had the description crafted to my resume but HR still would not let it happen; the manager had made the mistake of trying to hire me, so it _mist_ be some sort of favoritism as far as HR was concerned, and that was *NOT* “Good Governance”. **

          I don’t know about today; but some 30 years ago when I worked for the federal government, this was a common tactic of managers who wanted to hire a specific person for the job.

        • @Anton: I’ll roll the dice with a trusted personal referral before I take a chance on a random “selection” by a personnel jockey. The only reason HR is ever “unbiased” is that HR simply doesn’t know what to look for. Anyone qualifies as long as the keywords are on their sheet.

          Meet people the manager knows and trusts. That’s how to get hired and it’s how to hire the right people.

          • yes but… BIG BUT
            My profession deals wit the very corporate corporations, banks and the like, and they are dripping in “Regulator Compliance”. This applies to HR as well.

            It didn’t used to be, its just come into the forefront this decade. before then all tour advice about contacts and referrals was how I got all my work. The old “Who you know…”

            Now, as you say, it is “keyword-compliance”.

    • @Anton: Your first job is to go around HR. HR has no idea how to screen, judge or assess you, especially if you’re technical. Find a way around.

      • @Nick: you are 100% correct in what you.

        But in the banking systems no HR-droid would let that happen.
        Next year the Auditors would get him!

        I should know! I’ve audited HR for banks.
        (It is one reason I have so little respect for HR people.)

  6. Would you need to operate a computer or other machine? (Ask to sit at the machine to show how you’d handle it.)

    Really? Anyone interviewing for an IT job who does this is going to hear loud laughter just before he or she is escorted out the door.

    Why not try to understand the job before you try to show how to do it? In this case I’d ask the manager for details about what the job requires (which might have nothing to do with the written requirements) and then describe how I can meet them, using examples from my experience. If you can do the job without the supposedly needed skill, fine. But if you discover that the job really requires some talent you don’t have, that is good also, since you are not setting yourself up for failure.
    When I interviewed people for programming jobs, I didn’t ask them to do it – since that would result in a trivial “hello world” program. I asked them about the projects on their resumes, and dove in to see how well they understood their project, or if they were just peripherally involved.
    It worked pretty well.

    • @Scott: I caught myself as I was writing that… but kept going. You’re right, of course. Being able to show you can do the work starts (always) with a discussion to confirm WHAT THE WORK IS.

      In another comment above, someone mentioned being skilled in PHP but not getting a job for lack of experience with WordPress. Perfect example. The candidate can try to get past WordPress experience by asking what the required tasks and deliverables are. PHP might not be involved, but your PHP expertise can be put on display as a benefit since PHP is/can be a significant part of working in a WP environment.

      Use this to stimulate a discussion.

  7. I wrote job requirements for a position once. I sent them to HR to post because they had to post the position publicly even though I’d already identified 3 great candidates. HR threw in a bunch of stuff because that’s the way they always did things. I let my candidates know which were the real requirements and which were the boilerplate HR junk. Bottom line: in many job ads some of the “requirements” aren’t real, they’re just boilerplate junk, and you just need to figure out which are the real requirements. Just ask the interviewer/hiring manager, “which are the most important requirements here?”

    • So true! And most of the boilerplate is about being good at communication, team player, contributing to corporate values etc. How do you assess that fluff?

    • @CTurner: I think HR calls that “adding value.” In some cases, HR spends too much time watching ZipRecruiter commercials that claim the perfect candidate is out there if you’ll just add as many criteria as possible. So HR invents criteria.

    • @CTurner: To ask the hiring manager you have to get past HR.
      That requires satisfying the HR side of the requirements as well.

  8. When the incumbent down the hall left an HR position with my gov’t contractor employer, I applied for the job. I had held a similar position in a prior job and had nearly 20 years experience in the field. The company required an on-line application which they said was needed to satisfy the gods under FAR regulation. The system rejected my application when I truthfully answered “no” when asked if I had a degree in HR. I complained that the requirement was de facto age discrimination because, to my knowledge, e no such degree programs existed when I attended college. My training, like most others going into “personnel-related work” had been from prior employers and industry courses (confirmed by my passing the required exams) supplmented by reading industry publications to maintain my knowledge. The person doing the hiring in HR backed down pretty quickly and I got the promotion. I understood that they somehow fudged it so that it would satisfy any auditor down the road that I met the stated qualifiaction. Several years later, a similar issue occurred when the educational qualifications for two new positions intended to go to me and another person as a result of a reorganization were posted incorrectly. Neither one of us had that degree and no amount of fudging would pass an audtor’s smell test. The position had to be withdrawn and reposted after a suitable wait stating a “degree and/or expereince” requirement that me and the other person could meet.

    Fortunately, I was on the inside in each of these situation. If I had been an outside candidate. I would have been out of luck.

  9. I found this post on city-data. It’s somewhat related to the topic of not meeting all the job requirements and is probably something we didn’t think of. It might be an amusing way of hiring to weed out the liars and fakers:

    “So for giggles and to weed out some fakers, my boss pulled a nice trick and it seem to work. I caught on to it but i didnt say anything. He put the normal requirements for Network Operator and added one extra must requirement. Made up Fake name for a CRM application. TCBY CRM was the name he put as a must have, and see how many applications will put this on their resume. With in a 2 day span, he gotten 20 resumes with this on it as having 2 years experience with this fake requirement. Needless to say, its nice to see some good ones only to be demolish with fake it till you make it syndrome. Anybody else delt with this kinda stuff? Personally I seen alot of places that does this as a common thing, my boss just did it just to see what he gets, and weed out the fakers this way. Is he right?”

    In short, post bogus requirements to see if people will put them on the resume to try and match. Also, it might be amusing at the job interview if the candidate pointed out that they KNEW that there was no such thing as what the requirement asked for or if said thing had only been out for 2 years and there was no way that anybody could get five years of it. At least it would show that the candidate did their research. Of course, it has the potential to turn off job seekers from applying from the job, but does sound like it could at least be worth trying out to see if it improves the quality of hires and can weed out liars and novices who wouldn’t know any better.

    • @Mongoose: That’s a great story! So, what do we make of employers that list a requirement of X years’ experience with a certain programming language — that has only been in existence for X-2 years? I’m talking about cases where the employer’s ignorance is the problem. Then applicants with X-2 years get rejected.

      Guess what I’m saying is, there’s blame to go around. What if an applicant claims experience with LMAO CRM just to catch ignorant employers who aren’t worth working for? Should we do that?

      I appreciate cleverness. But I’d love to see a hiring process where all tricks are banned.