Discussion: January 26, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader’s query: In today’s newsletter, a “less than qualified” job applicant wonders how to shake the interview up.

Is it ever proper to tell the interviewer that looking for “exact skills” will result in hiring someone who is likely to get bored easily and move on when the economy improves? Or that the best hire may be someone who doesn’t have the exact skills, and as a result may “see” something an experienced employee won’t? I feel like I’d be saying Boo! and scaring the employer off!

How should I say it?

What’s a good way to say Boo! to a nervous employer who wants to hire only the perfect person? How do you startle him into thinking out of the box and hiring you?


  1. If you haven’t looked at some of the principles within, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” that has some ideas for how to change someone’s thinking.

    I’d likely ask the employer, “How many people do you believe have exactly these skills?” where the key is to be honest and curious in asking. If there is a response like, “Well, I never thought of that,” don’t try to make it seem ridiculous but rather try to point out that an alternative may make more sense and this is just a suggestion to consider changing the requirements a little. If you can make it seem like that is a tall challenge and that the alternative may work out better, that may give you the chance to ask some other questions and see if you’d like this job as just because it may be offered, doesn’t mean you have to take it.

  2. You, the job applicant can say, “I see you have listed some required skills. In my many years of experience in this field, I have found that the best people I have worked with did not necessarily have the full skill set when they started. Hiring skilled people is more important than hiring skill sets. I am a highly skilled person. Let me tell you about the skills I have and how I acquired them.”

  3. If you’re actually IN an interview, it means that there is something they see in your qualifications, or they wouldn’t be having you in to visit.

    So… attack it and turn it around. When they question your qualifications, reply “I will concede the point that I don’t have X years in doing Y. But if I could ask – what in my background so intrigued you that you’re investing the time to talk with me?”

    That does two things. 1) It makes them think “Gee, I’m spending an hour talking to this person – there IS something that I liked.” AND 2) Gives you a direct shot at, precisely, what that strength is. Which you can then hammer on as a counterbalance to your lack of whatever.

    And perhaps you have something in your background that is analagous. For example, for years I tried to get into medical devices, and met with the “you don’t have an FDA background”. But when I countered that I worked in automotive lighting, which IS a safety device and IS regulated by the federal government, I could make the point that I had experience in being regulated, just by a different agency.

  4. In computer jobs, I’ve had success by pointing out how fast things change. It makes perfect sense to hire short-term contractors and consultants based entirely on current skillset–but for a permanent employee, their present skills will be meaningless in two years anyway. What you need is someone who has demonstrated that he/she can pick up skills quickly, and has other requirements like understanding business processes or industry standards.

  5. @David Hunt:

    I only wish what you said was true, that “If you’re actually IN an interview, it means that there is something they see in your qualifications, or they wouldn’t be having you in to visit.”

    Sorry, in some cases, the people conducting the interview just want to make it seem that they’re interested in you when they really aren’t. The position may already be going to an insider or to some other preferred candidate. They just have to make it look to their bosses and EEOC counterparts that they actively searched for somebody.

    This is especially true of the “professional interviewers,” the kind that work in HR departments as gatekeepers. They interview people all day and make themselves look more important to their employers by writing detailed reports about candidates, some of which is fabricated. Bringing you in as a body is to justify their existence.

    Of course, in regards to the original subject, you can ask the kinds of questions that help determine how interested they really are in you. They are the kind of question that reveal without saying it that you are not desperate for the position, and that you have to be courted more. If they’re not willing to play along, neither are you.

  6. Nick – I trust you are on Mark Cenedella’s email list, and have received this morning’s pep talk from him… er you… seeing as its a copy of this post.

    Now we know that Cenedella reads this website…

    Hey Mark, I want a job that pays 100k give or take!!!!