How to nail the job interview when you’re not 100% qualified
You might not be perfect on paper, but you can still wow them in person.
After hours of searching online, you’ve finally spotted it: The perfect job. It’s so right for you, you’re already planning where you’ll eat lunch with your new coworkers. Then you get to the last few bullet points of the job description and—oh no!—you realize you don’t meet all of the job qualifications. Drat!
But don’t give up on it just yet!
Although a Harvard Business Review study found that 46.4% of men and 40.6% of women didn’t apply to jobs because they didn’t think they had the qualifications to get hired, the truth is, that’s often a false perception. You can land the job even if you’re not 100% qualified.
“Remember, they are job qualifications, not always job requirements,” says Tallia Deljou, co-founder and president New Orleans-based professional development company of Mavenly + Co. Hiring managers aren’t expecting a candidate to meet all of the qualifications, says Deljou, so you shouldn’t expect yourself to either.
“Keep in mind that so much happens during the hiring process that sheds light on other qualifications you have,” Deljou says, “so show them what they’re missing, and explain why you are the best fit for the job.
If you managed to score an interview, chances are the recruiter and hiring managers know you’re missing one or two qualifications, but they saw something special in your resume and want you to wow them. Follow these steps to use your in-person powers of persuasion to convince the hiring manager that you can do the job and do it well.
1. Explain how your existing skills can apply to the requirements
Think of the job description as your guide for interview preparation by doing two exercises recommended by Jaime Petkanics, founder of the New York City-based job search consultancy The Prepary.
“Go through the job description line by line and, for any qualification you don't meet, think of a time from your past where you did something similar or relevant,” Petkanics says. “Then, brainstorm three additional reasons why you'd be amazing at doing that particular task” and practice your responses in advance.
Maybe a requirement is experience training new employees, and you don’t have hard skills for that—but you coach soccer in your spare time, so you know a thing or two about teaching skills to new learners.
So now you’ve got answers in case they ask about these skills. But you don’t necessarily need to bring them up unless someone else does. You can “focus your responses to interview questions on the parts of the job where you can demonstrate your knowledge, experience and expertise, as well as the results that you’ve brought about,” says Alyssa Gelbard, founder of New York City-based career consulting firm Resume Strategists.
2. Get some new skills—fast
Just because you’re not a pro at every program or skill they’re asking for, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn what you need in time for the interview. Getting proactive about professional development now will go a long way.
“If there is a program in the skills section that you're not familiar with, take a tutorial online so you can understand the basics,” says Petkanics. “Then, if you're asked about it in the interview, you'll be able to show that you took initiative and have the knowledge required—double win.”
In some cases, just letting them know you’re learning that skill will be enough to impress them.
3. Show them you know how to rise to a challenge
Another way to overcome a skills gap during an interview is to prove that you’ve come from behind before. Talk about a time you adjusted to a new job or new responsibilities in a role where you previously had zero experience.
“Discuss what you did to become familiar with the problem and how you figured out a solution and plan,” Gelbrand says. “The objective is to show that you are a quick learner and proactively took steps to get up to speed.”
If you’re still early in your career, chances are you’ve had to wear a lot of hats before—hats you hadn’t worn previously. Maybe you were hired to project manage a team, but you were also asked to write press releases. Maybe you were hired as a graphic designer, but you found yourself writing copy taglines, as well. Show that you’re scrappy and willing to do whatever is needed, even if you have to learn some new skills.
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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