Discussion: June 22, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

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A reader says:

What 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?

How indeed? In today’s Q&A column in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader didn’t meet the employer’s list of requirements. Is the job interview over? I think it can be salvaged.

What’s your advice to this reader? Better yet, has this happened to you? What did you do to convince the manager? Did it work? If you’re a manager, can a candidate compensate for job requirements?


  1. Being prepared to tell the hiring manager how you will do the job is also an excellent diagnostic tool for determining if the job is right for you. When you do this you are presenting the core work values and experience you bring to the role with the company. If you get a lot of push back, and it isn’t just inate skepticism designed to test your ideas, then get up, shake hands, and keep looking.

  2. I would think that if you’re interviewing, then the employer (hopefully) thinks there’s a possible fit and the one missing qualification is not a big deal. Otherwise, if it’s one of those places where every box *must* be checked, well, they’re wasting your time, aren’t they?

    I’ve found the best way to handle this is to do some research on whatever it is you’re lacking, see if you have some exposure to it (even if only tangentially), and then figure out how you’d educate yourself on it.

    If it comes up, be honest. “True, I don’t have that much experience in warp phase induction coils, but I’ve done a bit of research. Scotty’s Handbook of Miracles seems like the go-to reference. I figure I could get a copy from the library and read up on it.”

    What you’re doing is using Nick’s techniques; you’re showing how you’d educate yourself. It could be anything: getting a book, practicing on some software, taking a class, utilizing such things as MITs free course materials, even watching some tutorials on YouTube. (Don’t laugh. If you look hard enough, some people have put very, very good tutorials on it. We’re talking multiple sessions, an hour long each, by experts.)

    It’s been my experience in technical fields that a good interviewer will realize that you won’t know everything. What he/she is looking for is someone who can figure out how to figure out what they don’t know. If you’ve demonstrated how you would do the job, then demonstrating how you’d fill a knowledge/experience gap only helps you.

  3. Expanding a bit on Nick’s secret is that manager’s aren’t very good at nailing down requirements in the 1st place. Often they have little thought behind them, serving mostly to meet in turn HR requirements to generate a req. Even if well done, in an energetic enterprise they are only a snapshot
    For example in the hi tech industry there’s always something new. that’s what they do create new things with new methods and technologies. As a matter of course, you’ll be faced with job “requirements” that didn’t exist when you came aboard and part of your normal job life to address them. And that’s likely to be true where you interviewed.
    I strongly agree with Chris. I worked in a technical field with goose stepping computer scientists. But I credit myself with enough common sense as a manager that it was a waste of time to find Mr/Ms perfect, who knew all things. If they were smart enough to know what they didn’t know and knew how & where to find out, that was what I was looking for in a person.
    As Chris noted you are interviewing so it doesn’t appear that hitting all 4 requirements is a deal breaker. And by your own assessment you don’t hit all 4 and you still strongly feel you are right for the job. So that suggests you know how to address unknowns.
    So nail down in your own mind why you feel the 4th requirement won’t stop you from adding value and as Chris said how you’ll deal with your lack and get that on the table and over with and move on. It likely will help if you ask yourself how you acquired the experience to meet the other 3. You weren’t born with them.
    With this preparation you can point out you meet the two really key requirements of any job..to make the boss/department/company successful and the ability to adapt to the changing requirements of the enterprise. Give some examples, then as suggested address this particular gap and rise above individual requirements by talking about a real assignment.
    As noted, if you’re talking to a manager who can’t rise above parsing your ability to contribute to individual bits of the job, you’re talking to the wrong person and won’t be happy there.

  4. Wise advice by Chris above.

    Another technique is citing others with quals similar to yours who have learned on the job and succeeded.

    In my case, I’m a little light on fundraising, a sine qua non in upper management in nonprofits. I’ve asked this question of people who lead such organizations — how did they learn to fundraise on the job?

    Their answer is that it’s basically conviction and persuasion. If you’ve been an advocate in other roles, it will easily be transferable here. So I say this.

    Then I add: “Myron at Back the Bactrian Camels had never done fundraising before the Mongolians on the board hired him. He’d been a manager in a private business where he did a lot of public speaking. He read up on the subject, learned from his one part-time fundraiser (a Mongolian exchange student) and he’s been so enthusiastic about it that donations are up 13% this year. Don’t take my word, call Mrs. Thumpahump, Chairwoman of the Board at 212-2121.

  5. Good advice from Chris.

    With the internet at your fingertips there shouldn’t be any topic listed in the requirements that you know nothing about. When they ask about X the last thing you want to say is that you just don’t know it. Maybe you haven’t done X for an employer yet but you should know how to talk about current issues in X and how to get started doing it.

    This doesn’t apply if X is building nuclear submarines or something like that, but if you hear about X a lot in your job search you may want to go ahead and do a little of it for your own projects or a nonprofit. Fundraising or copywriting or web site development, for example, are always needed for charities or your kid’s sports team.

  6. What is particularly bothersome is that in many cases, the requirements are put out there by HR, presumably by randomly selecting buzzwords from some master list. Talking to the hiring managers reveals now inaccurate the job postings often are. There are sometimes postings with deliberate requirements which are impossible to meet, allowing the employer to reject anyone they don’t happen to like.

  7. I was never fully qualified for any of the jobs I got. Used analogies and transferable skills to cover perceived deficiencies. As stated, in the fast evolving field of tech, to learn as you go is the most important skill. Doubt I ever interviewed for a job I couldn’t do; problem was always convincing wary or unimaginative employers.

    I’m more interested in how to get to the interview when you can’t meet the laundry list requirements that are so prevalent these days. Seems if you can’t meet all the checkboxes (however silly or overblown), you can’t get anywhere near an interview.

  8. I am running into the same issues in that I don’t meet every single requirement to get the interview, but I know I can do the job. So, I am asking the same question as Skeptic–how do you get the interview when you do not meet every qualification the employer wants.

  9. @Mayor Bongo: Your suggestion also helps to reveal what I call a broken job… if the manager can’t discuss the job on the level of you showing how you’re going to do it, then the job may not be clearly defined (or even real). Good tip. Judge the job and the boss!

  10. Another good tip from Chris – be honest about what you’d need to learn in order to do the work. A smart manager will do a calculation: “Can this candidate learn to do the work faster than I can find one who walks on water?” Which reminds me of David Hunt’s excellent article, The Perfect Fit, Isn’t. http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/gv060106.htm

  11. Ray Saunders hits a key strategic bugaboo that the board of directors needs to be looking at in every company: Misrepresentation of jobs in the recruiting process. This hurts the company more than it hurts applicants. Huge sums of overhead $$ are wasted because managers (and HR staff) wind up sorting, interviewing and otherwise wasting their time with the wrong candidates – because the job specs and ads are simply inaccurate.

    The candidates don’t know this; often managers don’t know it; and HR merely doesn’t realize it. Everyone “expects” lots of “noise” in the interviewing process. “We just can’t find enough qualified candidates.

    Of course you can’t, Putz, because you’re not recruiting to fill the jobs that need doing. You’re inviting buzzwords.

    The money is never accounted for – it’s “overhead” from the HR budget.

    Anyone wonder why companies go out of business?

  12. @Skeptic: Thanks for the opening! “I was never fully qualified for any of the jobs I got.”

    I love this wisdom from an under-appreciated man:

    “What is ‘qualified’? What have I been qualified for in my life? I haven’t been qualified to be a mayor. I’m not qualified to be a songwriter. I’m not qualified to be a TV producer. I’m not qualified to be a successful businessman. And so, I don’t know what ‘qualified’ means. And I think people get too hung up on that anway, you know?”

    – Sonny Bono [quoted in Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1995]

    Bono was also “unqualified” to be a U.S. Congressman. But he did all those jobs.

  13. @DLS: Take a Zen approach. To get the interview, don’t apply for the job.

    Get recommended for the job by someone the manager trusts, who tells the manager up front that even if you lack X, you’ll make up for it with Y, and with your incredible ability to learn quickly. (I’m not kidding.)

  14. To the point about HR writing requirements. Doesn’t happen, at least in my world. What does happen is in order to hire, a hiring manager needs a hiring requisition (req), to get a req you need a job description and requirements. think of it as a ticket to play. At this point you get some good ones from managers who actually try to describe what they want, and junk from those to busy to bother and just cut and paste a bunch of BS that takes up space. The title will be real. In this case the recruiting process goes to hades with recruiters sending resumes that don’t really hit the mark, and the hiring manager revealing the real requirements if they have any at all as they go.
    The best way is the one Nick just mentioned, get recommended by someone the manager knows and trusts and as such also knows what works for that person. To get that recommendation you should be networking or rather have been networking so that person who knows the hiring manager believes in you.