Preparing for an interview with a thin resume
August 16, 2012 1:08 AM   Subscribe

How do I prepare for an interview for a job that I want, but am most likely not qualified for?

I'm one year into a 2 year master's program in International Relations/Economics, and I'm currently doing a summer internship. There is a fairly successful internet company in the same city that I'm doing the internship which I was planning on applying to when I finish my degree. They take applications once a year and hire a few people from what I assume are thousands of applicants. I'm 30 years old and have spent most of my "professional career" doing a variety of teaching English as a second language jobs, with an additional 6 months or so at lesser known internet/web services company, which is where I'm currently interning again this summer, and so I don't think I'd have a very good chance of making it through the front door application process and actually landing an interview. My resume is pretty thin on actual project results, deliverables, etc.

As it would happen though, someone who I recently met through my current internship happens to be fairly well connected with some of the senior management of this company that I'd like to apply to, and has secured me a meeting with a headhunter who essentially serves as a gate keeper for the president of the company. If this meeting were to somehow go well, there is a decent chance that it could lead to a meeting with the president of the company, which, at least in theory, could lead to a job offer if that second meeting were also to go well.

However, as I've previously mentioned before, I have a very thin resume. This company is interested in expanding into foreign markets, and the job would involve doing market research in foreign countries and possibly doing valuations of foreign companies to assess their potential as buyout targets, which I have in theory been learning about while working on my master's degree, however in practice it turns out that the pace of my program is so ridiculous as to render any actual learning more or less impossible. I work my ass off to complete an assignment on one topic and then have to quickly move on to another topic, usually not having enough time to process exactly what it is that I've supposedly learned. What I have learned has been very academic, and I don't really see how it could be put into practice in the workplace. And actually, the most important thing I think I've learned through this entire program is that real life work experience is a lot more valuable than time spent in class working on a degree.

Beyond that, I have about 4 years of teaching English as a second language under my belt, and the time at the aforementioned smaller internet company, where put together bids for research projects between this company and other companies abroad, and I've worked around the edges of some research projects with some very major multinational internet companies (currently working on something for a very large search engine/advertising company) but the actual work I've done hasn't been very substantial, and doesn't require any kind of special technical expertise.

I would very much like to get this job though, and at least not come off as a total moron, so do you have any recommendations for how to approach this meeting, how I could best present myself as someone who would be a useful addition to the company? Obviously, I'll try to play up the usefulness of what I'm studying, try to play up my limited work experience, but other than that, any ideas?

Also, the more I study, the more I think that wherever it is that I end up, I'm going to have to be trained from the ground up in terms of how to do what ever job it is that I get. I am becoming less and less convinced that what I'm learning in school is going to be very applicable to a real job. Obviously I wouldn't share my opinion of my classes at the meeting, I'm going to try and put as positive of a spin on what it is that I'm studying as possible. However, given that I know I'm going to have to learn the job from scratch anyways, and that I'd actually prefer to start working as soon as possible, if it seems like things are going well in the meeting, should I somehow mention that I'd be willing to quit school and start now if a position happened to be available?
posted by tokaidanshi to Work & Money (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Also, when I say "not qualified for," in the question title, what I mean is, I don't have experience doing this kind of work in the past, so I don't have past successes that I can point to for reasons that I should be hired. I am really interested in this type of work though, and I think, given the proper training, it's something I could be good at.
posted by tokaidanshi at 1:45 AM on August 16, 2012

I would be up front and honest; your degree, however academic it is, is relevant to the work and you have experience in living and working overseas, which is a plus.

I would also find some way to segue into stories of you being a quick learner, a self-starter and your work ethic, which leads to the experience you do have. A lot of people hire perceived work ethic more than relevant experience for an entry-level position, knowing they're getting someone they can mould.

I would also be up front, know as much as you can about their business (i.e., areas of work they're headed into, opportunities you see in markets, type of thing) to let them know you both understand what they're trying to do and are an ideas person.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 4:54 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have any experience whatsoever in your field, but I've done something similar (get jobs in places with minimal experience, only had the educational background but not the "in the field" experience), so I'm writing from that experience (mainly to help you think about it differently, if it helps):

• How to prepare -if you can, find someone (optimally a few people, but if not that,one or two people) who were hired for your exact job. Perhaps it will be through linkedin or someone from your undergrad institution or current university. Write a very polite email explaining how you would like to enter the field, have a background in X, and put a few bullet points about yourself. Offer to cap it at 20 minutes max, in person, phone, or email, their preference. When you get there, ask about their background ....I suspect that you will find peoplel who had your background. If they have more, then figure out what they did. But I think tha this action 1) help with confidence if you find everyone else had your background and/or 2) give you the same advantage if you find that everyone took course Y and then take it.

• Even if you don't de well at this interview -- you did fine! Why? The first interview is practice. Then NEXT time you will be prepared for the questions and impress them. Try to learn about daily work life, expectations from the people in the field that you talk to...but it may happen at your interview.

• Be proud of what you have done. Ifyou have lived 4 years in another country, you are already exhibited adaptability for one of the skill sets they want (don't they want you to do some of the work in another country?). Also, academic training counts for something. I never realized this until after graduate school, but it is (or should be) training you how to think and ultimately teach yourself. So if they through an unknown problem at you, you will know where to look, have read other journals, know what to ask vs. some schmo like me who has absolutely no exposure to your field. Don't believe me?I was hired years ago to teach university courses...but get this, I had never even taken half of them. No worries, the employer's expectation is that you studied the field for X years, had a little bit exposure to doing Y, teach yourself and in this act, do the job. The same thing happened at other jobs when they required degree X. You are expected to be able to teach yourself to some degree - they show you a sample or two, and of you go. They will have coworkers who have done it before, so you can ask them,too.

• One thing that you may not be thinking about ...if you have a newly minted degree,no experience, this is an advantage to them, too. They want you to have exposure to the field (lower learning curve). They also want to pay you less, so they are likely to not expect you to have done 1,2,3,4; they can see that from your CV or resume (usually).

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 5:09 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Treat this as an informational interview. Ask lots of questions, be engaged. Listen. Be as honest as possible about EVERYTHING.

Read up on typical interview questions and have decently rehearsed answers to them, highlighting your skills, flexibility and initiative.

Example: What do you do when there's someone on your team that you disagree with?

Response: I believe that disagreements among team members can be healthy as long as everyone remains respectful and open-minded. I listen to the other team member and discuss my point of view with him or her, and then we work together to come up with a solution. Sometimes if you're really convicted about something you have to insist. Sometimes, if it's not a huge deal, you let the other person prevail. As long as everyone feels heard, even if the decision doesn't go their way, we still get something accomplished.

So many jobs are new to the company, they don't even know exactly what they are looking for. Let the Recruiter discuss every aspect of the job. What you'll get are some vague qualities that they look for in an applicant. Ask as you sit down if you can take notes, then take them. Make bullet points of skills and experience that are emphasized. Jot down how you have those qualities, even if they're in a non-traditional way. When it's your chance to talk, circle back around to those points and affirm that you meet them.

Read the job posting and come up with an answer to everything in it.

--Has Master's Degree

--I am in my second year of obtaining a Master's Degree in this subject.

--Five years of relevant work experience.

--I have four years experience working abroad in a varitey of educational settings.

No one gets 100% of what they want in an applicant, and if you seem like a good cultural fit, that will count for WAY more than a year of experience or a completed degree.

A great question to ask is: "What qualities do you find that your most successful hires have?" Then listen to the answer.

Another question to ask towards the end of the interview is: "How do you think I would fit in the organization here?"

Then ask, "What are the next steps?"

The follow up would be, "Thank you for taking the time to consider me for the position. I'd very much like to work here, I'll look forward to hearing from you."

If you progress in the process, awesome. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you don't, don't worry too much, get back in touch with the recruiter and say, "I understand that another candidate was selected for this position. I enjoyed our conversation and I'm still interested in joining X company. Please keep me in mind for further openings."

Go to and see what other interview with that employer have been like.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:13 AM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

Hi. I am someone who spent a loooong time studying, and got my first "real job, job-job" when I was 29, almost 30. I am a bit confused about whether you have an interview already, or are just preparing to send in an application. If you have not yet approached the company, funnel my suggestions into a maximum 1-page cover letter.

So, first of all, don't focus on what you studied. That is in your resume. And honestly, it doesn't mean that much. Focus instead on specific projects that you did while in school, or specific things that you did outside of school that are relevant. Then translate that into why you want to work for them. Example "Our final year project on Topic X, where as a team we did Thing A and Activity B made me want to get into this field. Your work on similiar Thing A and similar Activity B, which are particularly appealing to me because I can see them going in XYZ direction".

Since you can't be too convincing about where you have been, show them where you want to go, and how you need their job to get you there. "It is my career objective to be in position XY in the future, working in field AB. The activities X, Y, and Z of your company are exactly what I am looking for". This makes you sound truly motivated and up-to-date on who the company is - much more so than the generic "I am a dedicated worker, who studied the right things". Also, instead of "I learn quickly", list some things from your academic or personal life where you had to quickly learn something, and did. (Preferably somehow - even vaguely - related to the job you want to apply for).

Now, if you already have an interview lined up, then congrats! Get happy! You passed the hardest part, and should focus mostly on seeming eager, but not needy. Try to generally friendly and pleasant, but not fake. Remember, an interview means they think you are qualified. All you need to do in the interview is try not to convince them otherwise, and prove that you are not an asshole who is impossible to work with. Good luck!
posted by molecicco at 6:29 AM on August 16, 2012

Short and sweet b/c I know I can be long winded - figure out how what you've done, both in classes and previous jobs, can and will relate and how those skills will transfer over to the new job and work. If you got the interview you've already passed one of the harder pieces of the puzzle - now they want to see if you've got what it takes.

And sometimes that's what it is - showing them how you, as an employee, have the skills that can transfer over and bring something new to the table.

I went from working in risk management and consulting to data management and governance, pretty much b/c I figured out how my skills could apply to my new work. I didn't have a background in data management, but I convinced them that I'd be able to bring something new to the table being from the outside. And so far, I've done a fabulous job taking the skills I had, and translating them over.
posted by bleachandink at 11:21 AM on August 16, 2012

Don't go into the interview with a list of apologies and show how you don't measure up to their requirements. Instead, focus on all the positive things that point toward your qualifications and let them be the ones to decide if the gaps are insurmountable or if you have enough already to get a good start on this job and the rest you can learn as you go.
posted by CathyG at 11:29 AM on August 16, 2012

"And actually, the most important thing I think I've learned through this entire program is that real life work experience is a lot more valuable than time spent in class working on a degree.

I am becoming less and less convinced that what I'm learning in school is going to be very applicable to a real job.

I'd actually prefer to start working as soon as possible"

Sure, your program might be less hands-on, but try to think of your degree as a gateway - you may have to be "trained from the ground up" yet you automatically start higher up (with higher pay) if you have a Master's vs. a Bachelor's degree.

I understand that it can be tiring sometimes to stay in school for years, nevertheless you only have 1 year until graduation -- please think hard if it would really be worth it to quit. Maybe use another week's question to get some input from people in your field about the value of a Master's degree.
Good luck for the interview.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:32 AM on August 16, 2012

I have never been technically qualified for a job I've had. I taught without a teaching degree. I have a very specific job now that usually requires a very specific degree and certification.

I asked my boss how he felt about people who had the "right" background, and he said he'd much rather have someone without credentials who was willing to work hard and learn humbly then someone with 10 years of experience who either thinks they know everything or doesn't work hard enough.

Be honest about what you know and what you don't know yet. And be excited to learn.
posted by jander03 at 10:15 PM on August 16, 2012

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