How do I handle an interview for a job that I may be underqualified to do?
February 2, 2012 10:47 PM   Subscribe

How do I handle an interview for a job that I may be underqualified to do?

I recently reached out to a friend/acquaintance of mine who has an influential role in a well-known and very large company, who forwarded my resume to a recruiter. Today the recruiter sent me an email to set up an interview. All of these are good things.

One problem: the job description they sent me requires "at least 8 years of experience in an [x] role..." In reality, I have about 2 years of direct experience in this role, and a few more years of exploratory and indirect experience. I've been working for about 9 years in the so-called real world, but have changed careers/industries and moved around a bit for the first several.

It's cool that I'm being considered for this job, and I'm willing to take on the challenge, but I'm afraid that my lack of experience will be a non-starter. How do I bring this up to the recruiter, who said that she and a team already reviewed my resume? Do I wait until the interview, or do I send an email, or don't I bother and just try to get the job?

It should be noted that they have a variety of positions open for people who are a little more junior - ie, where I'd expect to be.
posted by MsMartian to Work & Money (25 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If they've seen it on your resume, then they know. If they want to ask, let 'em ask. If, after the interview, you feel that you can't do the job, don't take it, but take the interview.

I'm reminded of a tweet from "Sh!tMyDadSays" (pre-Shatner):

"That woman was sexy...Out of your league? Son. Let women figure out why they won't screw you, don't do it for them."

Same with employers.
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:18 PM on February 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

Never sell yourself short... there are plenty of people out there in the world ready to do this for you, you hardly need to help them. If the junior-level jobs make more sense, they will, aim high for now.

Always consider the opportunity to punch above your weight class. Everyone is equally fucked on day 1 of any job. The exact job you are looking to do does not exist anywhere else. It involves new people, new systems, new products, new policies, new (and or different) everything. 8 years rarely means 8 years. There is nothing magical that anyone learns in their 7th year of doing a job...

Go in there, chin high, and speak with confidence. The situation will resolve itself.
posted by milqman at 11:20 PM on February 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would gracefully decline the interview--I would feel like it would make both myself and my friend look bad, and sink my chances at one of the more junior roles.
posted by pullayup at 11:20 PM on February 2, 2012

Hi! I think you should wait until the interview. This is because it might be worth a shot. You can express your willingness to the challenge and your enthusiasm. Also since they said that they reviewed your resume, this means that they already know your experience. Take the interview and from there, see what happens! Be confident! You won't know what happens if you won't do it.
posted by Micole at 11:21 PM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

If they already reviewed your resume, then they would obviously seem to think that your work experience qualifies you for the interview, no?

Go to the interview. If they offer you the job, you can consider then if it's a challenge you're ready to take on. But don't talk yourself out of it before you even try.
posted by scody at 11:38 PM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Today the recruiter sent me an email to set up an interview.

Recruiters work for a living, and they consider their time to be as valuable as anyone else's. They don't do this crap for no reason. If they have offered you an interview, that means they think that they can place you in a role. You are already in with a chance.

So, go to the interview. Don't 'bring up your lack of experience'. You don't have a lack of experience. You have plenty of experience in a variety of working environments, all of which have helped you develop valuable skills which have assisted you immensely in your current role, which is directly relevant to the role on offer.

Focus on your skills (which are totally transportable between industries), your ability to acquire new skills and expertise quickly, and the fact that you are eager to learn and challenge yourself.

Perhaps you'll get the job. Perhaps you won't, but you'll get offered one of the more junior positions. Or perhaps you won't get anything. But if you don't go, then you only assure yourself of getting nothing.

You have literally nothing to lose. Good luck!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:23 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you should just try and get the job. They already looked at your resume and there is a reason you are in the interview stage, like scody said. You don't need to specifically mention you're short of experience, as they'd be able to tell from your resume. Good luck!
posted by ichomp at 1:25 AM on February 3, 2012

This is what is known as a self-selection requirement. It is designed to get individuals who might not be a good fit for a role to 'self-select' themselves out of the recruitment process, by going 'oh, I don't have that much experience'. You ignored the requirement, applied anyway and they liked you enough that you have been invited to interview. You are clearly not a self-(de)selectee.

Have some confidence in yourself and your ability, don't bring it up and do your best at interview.

As my sage father once said, don't ever talk yourself out of someone else's decision.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:26 AM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you're called for interview chances are they already think you're capable of doing the job. The interview is a chance to dig deeper into your CV and see whether, personality-wise, they think you'd be a good fit for the team.

Just do your best, and be honest about your experience, but always positive and never self-deprecating.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:07 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nth'ing the advice to go forward with the interview and assume that your interviewers are well aware of what is on your resume. Early in my career I was given a chance to interview for a position that was well above my experience level. I had all of the same reservations as you but went ahead with the interview. It turned out that I had great chemistry with the executive I would be working for and that made all of the difference. He was willing to give me a shot in the role, it all worked out, and fast forwarded my career by about ten years. At the time, it seemed like a gift, but I came to realize that for that particular leadership team, finding someone with enthusiasm and the right chemistry was more important than stellar qualifications. They knew exactly what they were doing when they hired me.

The worst case scenario here is they are inviting you in for a "courtesy interview" to satisfy your influential friend. But even courtesy interviews can lead to job offers if you impress the panel -- the clue this is happening is if the recruiter calls you back about another position more in line with your experience.

The best case scenario is they are more interested in intangibles like personality and attitude for the role and the experience level is less of a concern.

Either way, n'thing the advice to go to the interview and be prepared to discuss why you have compensating qualities or experience and can do the job. Good luck with the interview.
posted by kovacs at 4:02 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, yes, as others have said, don't sell yourself short.

About a year ago my sister put in for a very important job with our local court system. The job required a bachelor degree, something she does not have have, and years and years of experience doing this kind of work, which she was lacking as well. They interviewed her and two other applicants, both of which met the requirements. My sister ended up with the job -- they said she was the bubbliest of all three applicants and that was something the people who had previously done this job had lacked. They were willing to trade degrees and experience...for a sweet personality?! Yep. She loves her job now and is wonderful at it.

All this to say, perhaps you have something that previous job doers and applicants do not. Do not discount this! If they're willing to take a chance on you, let them!

Good luck!
posted by youandiandaflame at 4:33 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I will give you a scenario which happened to me while I was in a bad job with bad company...

I had originally applied for a position that I thought was out of my league as some parts of the descriptions seemed beyond me. Much like you "8 years experience" line. Well for me, the description included a "Entry level for Masters degree" and a "Focus on Math and/or Computer Sciences". Both which did not include me. I was a marketing major with a B.S. But, I said what the hell I will apply anyway.

A few weeks later they send a follow up and ask me to fill out some questions. I do this and they eventually want to schedule an interview. Well, I looked at the job description again. It looked like it was fun, but the requirements seems a bit too much for a little guy like me. It was in a completely different industry which I had little experience. Sure I had transferable skills - but I was not confident it would even be worth my time. So I never schduled the interview.

Fast forward a year and a half later, the same job from the same company was posted again. I said what the hell again and applied a second time. This time I interviewed. What I found was that though I didn't have much specific experience they were looking for, I was able to convey transferable skills rather well. Then they had a math test. Its amazing how high school math suddenly gets hard after not doing it for so long. I thought I failed the math part and wrote off the interview as just practice.

I get a call 2 weeks later with an offer and am currently employed by the company.

Don't write yourself off! You have to understand that the generic job description probably came from someone from HR with little imput from tha actual manager you will be working under. Its the manager who chooses whether you get hired or not, not the person writing the job description. So just listen to some pump up music before the interview. Smile, do your thing with confidence, and thats that for better or worse. That's all I did. I didn't sweat if I got the job or not and thought the worse that could happen is I had just gotten some interview practice.

Where did I end up? With a good job and lots more money.
posted by amazingstill at 6:11 AM on February 3, 2012

I've done this more than once as the interviewER and the interviewEE - from both seats, I say go for it, and be prepared to talk about why you still think you're a good fit. They've already pre-screened you - as an interviewer, I will always look at a resume as a favor, but it's extremely rare that I will go through the effort of an interview as a favor if I don't have a great feeling about the person based on their doc and maybe a quick phone call.

On the other side of the table, I've always been very up-front about what I could and couldn't do, and that's almost always a very different conversation than "which boxes on this job description can you check off?" Don't oversell anything that you're especially wibbly about, but otherwise just look at it as a conversation about how the puzzle pieces of your experience can fit what they're looking for. In your shoes, I would look at it this way - if they ARE box-checkers, it would be a bad fit for me.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:13 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

As long as you present yourself in the interview it won't make you or your friend look bad. I doubt your friend would have referred you if you were totally unqualified, so emphasize that you are willing to learn and that you feel you can learn x, y, z skills for the job.

Let them decide whether or not they want to hire you. You may be more qualified than you think.
posted by fromageball at 6:13 AM on February 3, 2012

You have the number of years experience, overall. 2 years direct experience, and you know the function from working indirectly with it.

Focus on the skills. "Ability to ...." "Understands process x..."

Showing coherent knowledge of the subject matter is more important than actual time spent in the specific role, since you probably have exercised the needed skills in other roles, and have had to have the knowledge needed for the specific role by dealing with people in that role before.

Without more description, other than your concern about the "at least 8 years experience in role x", I can't really focus you more, but hopefully you understand where I'm going.
posted by rich at 6:14 AM on February 3, 2012

Yep, what everyone else is saying. I've never put all that much stock in the requirements section of job listings since I began applying for web jobs in 1997; half of the job listings at the time would say ridiculous things like "Must have a minimum of 5 years experience building web sites" despite the fact that the web didn't exist in 1992. If the actual description of the job seems like a match for your skills then go for it, and like everyone else says don't sell yourself short! The interview should be the step where both parties determine whether this is a good fit.
posted by usonian at 6:20 AM on February 3, 2012

If they said they read your resume, they know how much experience you have, and they're interested anyway. If they want to bring it up, let them bring it up, but I doubt they will. Why would an employer waste their time having you come in for an interview they wouldn't hire you for?
posted by empath at 6:37 AM on February 3, 2012

(Although, if you don't match the experience requirements, you might expect them to low ball you a bit on salary)
posted by empath at 6:38 AM on February 3, 2012

To add a data point, I was unqualified on paper (by several years and by area of expertise) for the job I currently hold. But as others have said, I went to the interview with my head up. I hit it off with my now-boss and I made clear that I was ready to work hard and do whatever I needed to be worthy of the position.

By the time of the interview, I think most employers are beyond the resume and are looking to match personalities. But you should still be ready to explain why your more limited direct experience is actually bigger than it looks and why your indirect experience is valuable for the role.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:07 AM on February 3, 2012

"X years required" just means "we're looking for someone that has some idea what they're doing". Don't overthink this.
posted by wrok at 7:07 AM on February 3, 2012

I've done some hiring. I have yet to meet the perfect candidate. I met one that was pretty close once, but before I could make an offer, they were snapped up by someone else. It's a two-way street. I think we get suckered by the unemployment statistics into believing that the market is perfectly efficient and that some 8% of the US workforce could be applying for the job you want. In reality, factors like location, pay range, and you name it limit what the employer can catch, and thank God, because otherwise all of us imperfect people would be out of work.

TL;DR - go for it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:26 AM on February 3, 2012

I'm going to go a little bit against the grain here. I would definitely encourage you to go to the interview and do your best, but remember that an interview isn't just about a hiring manager deciding whether they want you. It's also about YOU deciding whether you actually want the job. (Incidentally, maintaining this attitude can help mitigate some interview jitters, too.) They're going to ask you a lot of questions, but one of them is going to be "Do you have any questions for us?" At that time, you should have questions ready that will help you figure out if YOU feel like you could handle the job. Figure out if you actually want to learn the new things that will be required of you.

I interviewed for a position a while back that I felt vastly under-qualified for, but I'm a quick study and the guy I was replacing was going to stay on as a contractor for several months to help train me in. The manager offered me the job, so I figured they didn't actually need quite as much experience as the original posting had mentioned. I took the job, and I learned tons of new stuff, but I was miserable. It literally took years before I didn't feel like a fraud, before I wasn't scrambling to deal with problems that came up regularly. I realized after a year or so, a big part of the problem was that I just wasn't interested in learning all the details I needed for that job. It wasn't a good fit for me, either where I was in my career when I was hired or where I wanted to go over the years.

I don't regret taking that job, because it paid the bills and the misery accelerated my decision to jump into an entirely different field, but yeesh. It was not fun.

TL;DR: Definitely interview for the position, but don't get blinded by "Wow, they must think I'm more awesome than I knew!" if they offer it to you. You have to consider whether the things you'll learn in this potential job will move your career in a direction you actually want it to go.
posted by vytae at 9:31 AM on February 3, 2012

Of course go to the interview. I can't believe someone up there suggested not going. They invited you in based on the resume so obviously you're not out of bounds.

Do remember that personality fit is 80% of what they're going to base their decision on. Do your research before you go in; smile, be confident and appreciative, and listen. And like vytae says, if they do offer it to you make sure it makes sense for your career plans before you take it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:56 AM on February 3, 2012

Anecdata point: I'm in the position I am now because I answered a Craigslist post by a recruiter for a more senior software development position with the company than I was probably qualified for. The recruiter was interested in pushing me anyway because, hey, it's money in his pocket if I land the job.

The interviews went as well as can be expected. I was honest about my experience and skill level. At the end of the process I didn't get that job but the company asked the recruiter if they could talk to me about a (much) more junior position. We came to an agreement and I took that and ran with it. Within a year I proved my worth and was promoted to a more senior (but still junior to the original position) based on performance and initiative. After three years I'm in a place where I'm in consideration for a similar level position now having the requisite credentials. I'm also familiar with the particular field the company plays on and have a proven track record with the company.

It's been my experience that the hardest part of any job seeking process is getting someone to see you apart from the generic resume/cover letter noise. It sounds like you've got that now so run with it. At the end of the day you've got very little to lose and everything to gain.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:11 AM on February 3, 2012

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a job that says "must have 4 years basket weaving experience" and all the male candidates come in saying, "I've only done basket weaving for 2 years, but I have some other related experience" and the female candidates say "I have 7 years of basket weaving, but it doesn't count because of [arbitrary reasons here]".

It's okay for that situation to be reversed for once. Go get the job, don't say no before they do.
posted by anildash at 9:24 PM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

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