Got hired for a job that is beyond my skill set
February 8, 2014 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I have a knack for interviewing and yesterday landed a job that pays the most Ive ever earned thus far in my career. The problem is that although most of my skill set is applicable to this new position there is a small subset specifically the portion that pertains to code analysis (this is an IT position)that is beyond the scope of what i know. I'm concerned and nervous going into this position and have been debating whether or not I should decline the offer once the offer letter arrives (its being FedEx'd to me on Monday 2/10). What would you guys do in this scenario?
posted by 0351wd to Work & Money (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How did you come to be aware of the code analysis portion? Was it in the job description or did it come up during the interview process?

If in the job description, I would ask for clarification from the recruiter. If in the interview process, I would ask for the formal job description. If the duty is not in the job desc, the worst you're looking at is potential ill will or awkwardness with your supervising manager.

It's always possible the job requirement is a misunderstanding or that you (mis)understood you'd get on-the-job training for that duty after you arrived.

If this is a matter of misrepresentation it's probably better to come clean before you step into the new job.

In similar cases (not where I misrepresented but where the requirement came up after the fact of interview or during the hiring process) I was almost always able to fudge it or self-train to be adequate or exemplary after I got there.

The one exception was in accounting. They used terminology and methods I couldn't get the hang of. But that was when I was temping so the risk/reward equation was less important.
posted by kalessin at 4:33 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of us take jobs that are a bit beyond the skills we have. The thing is, if you never challenge yourself, you'll never improve.

You wouldn't have gotten the offer if they didn't think you could do the job. You might have a weak spot in your skill set, but you can learn on the job and get better.

You can absolutely do this. It will be hard and working to learn new skills in a new position can be stressful. But: You have the offer. You have the job. Take the chance. Go for it.

You can do this.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:36 PM on February 8, 2014 [19 favorites]

The code analysis came up in the interview and was not in the job posting.
posted by 0351wd at 4:46 PM on February 8, 2014

I suspect in most IT positions that simply choosing not to surf the web at work makes you a decent employee. Not surfing the web and trying to acquire relevant new skills makes you a star.

Incidentally, I'm not sure what you mean by code analysis, but if you mean you have to fix some bugs here or there, that's how a lot of people get started with coding jobs. You'll need a manual explaining the relevant programming language, a development environment in which you can make mistakes while tinkering with it, and a developer to introduce the code base to you.

And even the developer will make mistakes while tinkering--it's very normal to not know or foresee everything.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:52 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Take the job and then scramble like hell to catch up. This is the way. You'll get there. I got a job once on a 100% bluff. It was a tough learning curve but I got it done. Take the job, take the money, don't torpedo yourself!
posted by Askr at 4:52 PM on February 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

If it came up in the interview and you had the opportunity to point out your limited experience in this area, I would not even consider your lack of experience as part of the accept or not decision. If you may have accidentally left them with the impression that you have experience with this part, I would come clean.

If it is just a matter of learning, you are a hard worker and willing to sacrifice in order to get this skill set, so take the job and work your ass off. I don't think you should ever take a job where you are not being challenged and learning a new skill set. Otherwise it is a lateral move. People move up the ladder because they have the ability to learn and are willing to put in the hours and make the effort.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:56 PM on February 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

Yes essentially id be fixing a few bugs here and there however no complete applications. Only resolving small bugs as they arise.
posted by 0351wd at 4:58 PM on February 8, 2014

This really depends on the kind of person you are. If you're the quick-learner type, and if you have the rest of the requirements nailed, then take it. But since you're nervous enough to ask this, you might want to follow up with the person offering you the job to discuss your concerns.
posted by salvia at 4:59 PM on February 8, 2014

He knows I'm not a developer and he stated that they cant afford one so its not a huge factor however I always factor everything into my decisions.
posted by 0351wd at 5:00 PM on February 8, 2014

Thanks everyone! The common denominator Ive derived from the answers is that i should take it and learn via trial by fire for whatever I don't know. Its the only way!
posted by 0351wd at 5:02 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

So long as you didn't overstate your abilities so that they are expecting a resource they won't be getting, take the job and dive into learning what you don't know. The only reason to turn down the offer is if you lied about what you can and cannot do.
posted by cecic at 5:04 PM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Read this. It is relevant to your interests.

(More seriously: you wouldn't have been hired if they didn't think you were capable. I'm not in IT, so maybe it's different, but when I was in a position to hire people it was rare for a candidate to fully meet every single "requirement.")
posted by Wordwoman at 5:04 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Coincidentally, this exact scenario happened to me, or rather, I witnessed both the positive and negative outcomes.

I was hired --alongside another person-- to start on the same day, on the same team, and in nearly identical roles. The only differences between us were that I was hired in a senior role and the other person was hired as a non-Senior. In other words, neither position was entry-level by any means, but I was specifically hired at a higher level (and paygrade) than the other candidate.

What makes that relevant is that during the interviews I was asked if I had any experience working with MS SQL. I explained that while I was familiar with it and understood the basics, my previous jobs hadn't given me any oppurtunities to use it so I had no working knowledge of it.

Apparently the other candidate, possibly out of desperation to get the job, made some pretty big claims about his SQL skillset.

In the weeks before I started the job I downloaded some tutorials and worked through them. I didn't want to flounder on my first day. My colleague did not do this. In fact, his actual knowledge was so lacking he didn't even know how to log in! He had zero knowledge of even the most basic SELECT statements and ended up burning several hours of other folks' time trying to learn it.

He did not get fired for this, but his very clear and very embarrassing lack of competence in a critical area did not endear him to his new teammates. And while everyone did make an effort at being civil, it was obvious by the third week that nobody really cared for the guy. His manager felt duped that he had claimed knowledge that he didn't actually have, and eventually the stress and the not-fitting-in got to be too much for him and he just stopped showing up for work. He was eventually fired for absenteeism and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Contrast this with my experience: In the interview I was transparent about my skillset in this critical area. I was hired at a higher level than the other guy, and in fact at a higher level than most of my teammates. I had a lot to prove out of the gate, but because I had also been truthful about my limitations out of the gate, and because I made every effort to catch up on my own, I managed to stay on and quickly gain the confidence and camaraderie of my colleagues. And because I was totally upfront about my lack, my teammates were more patient and more willing to help me when I had questions (and I only asked questions when I was really really stumped and had already checked Stack Overflow).

In Short:
Be honest about where you're at and where you plan to be, then go learn how to do it and SHOW UP to that first day with your rockstar glasses on.

Also to echo others: I got my first IT job on a pretty big stretch of imagination. I dove in head first and never stopped kicking. My current manager recently confessed to me that the ONLY reason he's in a Director position is because he was asked if he could do something and he said yes, even though he'd never done anything like it ever before. Bottom line, if you're going to talk the Big Game you better fucking BRING IT
posted by Doleful Creature at 5:05 PM on February 8, 2014 [16 favorites]

In my experience, no one is a perfect fit to the job posting. There's always something they don't know or some skill they need to develop. Hiring is selecting the person who can develop into the person you need as quickly as you need them.

I'd take the job without a second thought. If you're willing to develop those skills, then take the gig.
posted by 26.2 at 5:11 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chances are very good that they thought you were their best candidate despite this minor weakness in your skillset. They offered you the job. You can do it. You may have some learning to do in this area, but if you work hard at it then you'll pick it up.

Anyway, there are always aspects of a new job that require some learning. At least this time around you have foreknowledge of at least one of them! Better to know going in that you're behind the curve on this than to get blindsided by it halfway through week two.
posted by Scientist at 5:23 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd go ahead and take it. It's better to be challenged than bored.

There's been a few jobs that I've taken in IT/QA where I didn't know some of what was required, and I've managed to pick it up along the way. I may not have been the best, but it was enough to do the job at hand well.

The only case where this backfired was when the job I got hired to do radically changed about 2 months in; what was supposed to be software testing and technical writing turned into maintaining a server farm and systems administration - both of which I had absolutely no experience with, and was horrible at doing at the time. It was a contract gig, so when I was let go a couple of months later, it was no big deal - and I was able to find something much better suited to me a week later.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:44 PM on February 8, 2014

This has been the story of my life for almost every job I've had since graduating from college. Many of them had domain-specific knowledge. If they hired you anyway, and they were aware your skills in this area weren't great (sounds like that may not have been clear during the interview) it means they think you can pick it up in a reasonable amount of time.

Take the job and learn the new skills on the job. If possible find a co-worker who can help you to enlist as a mentor. Study on the web.
posted by tckma at 7:36 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Study in advance. Go in prepared to note you're ramping up on that aspect of the work, if it comes up in context; otherwise hunker done and get it done as well as you can and get better as you go.

I have yet to have a technical job where I knew everything; I just admit what I don't know, advise that I'll ramp up on it, and inevitably my ramp up is much faster than what people expected (and I'm no genius.) Hell, just this year I've ramped up on five different technologies, three of which were barely related to my core competences. Don't sweat it, just don't lie and claim you're an expert when you're not: you're a tech, and a core expected tech skill is ramping up rapidly as needed.
posted by davejay at 7:58 PM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I'm a sysadmin that currently probably does more coding than sysadmin'ing at the moment, having started from near scratch in a new language when the last time I touched code was at least 15 years ago (I learned in post to expand what I could do). A basic skillset you can pick up with a relatively small amount of practise and learning, particularly if you're already of a logical mindset - which presumably you are if you're already skilled in other IT areas.

You didn't represent yourself as a skilled/experienced developer, and its not the main job requirement, so you haven't misled them. I'd definitely take the job.

If you've already done any basic scripting, you already have some of the basics. The rest will follow from picking up the specific language you need to learn; online tutorials, books, possibly even a paid training course if your employer is into official training. It is easier to debug or tweak an existing code base than start a project from scratch, as all the architecture and big decisions have already been made, though refactoring or making big changes isn't. It will be daunting at first, and it will take you time to get familiar with the structure and style of the existing app, and THAT applies even when you're already a coder.

Definitely start working on learning the language you'll be working on, from as a basic level as needed.

I've been in IT for 20 years. There's never a point at which you stop learning new things and expanding your skillset if you're any good. It's a constantly advancing and changing discipline. You'll be fine. Good luck!
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:47 AM on February 9, 2014

Also, here's some good links to get you started, if the language you need happens to be on the list.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:56 AM on February 9, 2014

Here's a couple of dirty little secrets about hiring and job descriptions:

1) 70-80 percent of jobs are filled before they're advertised, generally by internal candidates whose resumes just happen to match the job description perfectly or who are close enough that "Bob is a good fit!" and "That other applicant is overqualified!" will override any random people who happen to fit the job description by accident.

2) For the other 20-30 percent, the job description is almost always intentionally aspirational, especially these days: the company would love to get someone with a level of experience and skills that's up here who will accept a level of compensation that's down there. However, they realize that the truth will be somewhere in the middle, so they're willing to save a few bucks by getting someone who's maybe not quite exactly what they want in one field but who exhibits willingness and ability to learn.
posted by Etrigan at 7:03 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't panic! If you already knew how to do everything this job required, you'd frankly be overqualified and it wouldn't be worth taking. You're in a fantastic position - you know you won't be bored and you'll get to learn new skills on the job. Push yourself, learn, and enjoy.
posted by 168 at 8:47 AM on February 9, 2014

I've always been in over my head - willingly jumping into the deep end - and have always turned myself into a top performer. ...seriously. Just make sure your life preserver includes a bunch of good reference books, a mind that knows where to look for something that you don't know, a desire to ask a lot of questions, an ability to discern who the experts are in the room, and a mentor.

Always have a mentor. They don't have to know that they are your mentor, but if there's someone you use as a sounding board that when you talk to them is helping you figure out how to get to the next stage in your career - that's your mentor.

You know being honest about being behind on something is the next step. ONCE you have the signed letter in hand, that's when you want to make sure things are transparent - and that you and them have a plan from day one on getting the missing skill set necessary for the job.

As a mental strategy, I found that when I lacked something, I benefited from doubling my time at it - and that generally meant a combination of increasing the length of my day and doubling down on the other stuff, so the 5% of my job I didn't know got at least 10% of my time. Of course, that also means my 95% of my job I did know had to also be stellar. Don't lose sight of the fact that you were hired for a lot more skills than just the one mentioned in the interview... that's just part of the whole package.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:11 AM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just spent 14 months learning an incredibly difficult job, and the whole system got chucked out and I just spent two agonizing months learning the new thing. Some skills transferred, some didn't. My review was great because I was evaluated on my ability to shift gears and roll with it, and try to help keep everybody else from losing their minds. It was hard. We did it anyway.

I suggest you do likewise; the results are worth it. Since you were conscientious enough to ask this question, I feel that you will do very well.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:18 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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