How to interview for a job when you know it's not really the right fit?
November 9, 2018 9:20 AM   Subscribe

How to interview for a job when you know it's probably not the right fit?

Hi all. So an old employer of mine from years ago has a new venture and called me up saying he'd like me to interview for a position there. It's a small operation, and the job does sound pretty interesting, but I'm like 90% sure it's more entry-level than I am and won't pay anything near what I currently make. BUT I'm interested in the project itself and I'd like to meet everyone in the case as the project grows they would need and be able to afford someone with my skillset and think of me.

So I'm setting up an interview next week, but how do I navigate the conversation when I know the role is probably not the right fit, especially if they get to the point of asking for desired salary? I don't want to knock them over with number that they would balk at and then just have them shoo me out the door.

Basically what I'm asking is, how do I have a productive 'networking' conversation without making the interviewers feel like they have wasted their time.

posted by greta simone to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Tell them ahead of time what you're hoping to accomplish - "although you don't think you are a good fit for that position", you still want to learn more about the company and what their plans are, and ask if they'd still be interested in talking to you. Which they may not be. But they sought you out, not the other way around - there's obviously some goodwill there that you might be able to leverage.
posted by Mogur at 9:36 AM on November 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

Hmm. I think if you're going to do this, you need to treat it like any other job interview. That is to say, you should gun hard for the position, make a strong case for your qualifications and fitness for the job, and advocate for a pay grade that would make you happy to take it. If it's a poor fit then it's a poor fit, and since they are the ones who asked you to do the interview (rather than you seeking out the position and applying on your own initiative) hopefully they'll realize that it's on them.

I can't see why they'd hold it against you if you turn out to be overqualified. The fact that you expect higher pay than maybe they're willing to offer isn't a personal insult, it's just business. Job interviews are not networking opportunities; just participate in good faith and do what you'd always do in a job interview—do your damndest to talk your way into getting the job at a pay rate that you like.

Now, if you don't actually want the job then you shouldn't do the interview. There is such a thing as an informational interview, where you are just talking to folks at the company on the basis that while there isn't a good opening for you right now, you might be a good fit for another position that may well open a little further down the road and you'd like to get to know each other a bit so that they can tap you later if something more in line with your abilities opens up. Those are much more about networking, and maybe you should try to redirect your old boss toward something like that.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:37 AM on November 9, 2018 [13 favorites]

I would tell them that before you interview for the job, you want to have an informational meeting first to learn more about the company and your role in it. Then meet, listen, ask questions and decide if you want to pursue it or not.
posted by AugustWest at 11:59 AM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Disclaimer - my perspective is from a sought after technical role, your industry may vary. I would personally have a candid discussion about job duties and pay rather than going through a full interview. It doesn't have to be hugely detailed but getting a salary range would be enough to help determine whether a full interview is worth the time for both of you. If I felt that a candidate had no intention of taking the job if offered, I'd be annoyed, not inclined to offer them a more advanced role down the line.

If this job isn't the right one for you, you can certainly ask to catch up with the friend over dinner to hear more about the company and talk about where you might fit in down the line.
posted by Candleman at 12:32 PM on November 9, 2018

Is this a phone interview or on-site? Also, who reached out to you - hiring manager or someone from HR/recruiter? I think these two data points would lead me to different approaches, personally.
posted by sm1tten at 12:37 PM on November 9, 2018

I'd treat it like a regular-ish interview and not overthink it. Job ad text often doesn't mean that much, and if someone knew you from years ago employment and reached out about you interviewing, they're probably not assuming you're looking for entry level work. It's possible they know they're hiring someone but there's more flexibility on what level the new hire comes in at than the job description suggests.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:45 PM on November 9, 2018

My old boss who is a partner at this [currently I think 6-person] business contacted me by phone and gave me a pretty full rundown of the project, which is why I have an inkling that it might not be the best fit for me as I asked him a lot of questions. I would be going in person to interview with the rest of the team. I do wish to meet with them, because as they expand, I would like to be thought of for future positions.

Also, there is no job description or even title exactly yet, it's a new role that seems mostly a support role, but this has been the nature of my career thus far. (I tend to have new roles created for me bc people don't really know what they need but they know they need my skills. It has actually been kinda good for me so far to be in these kind of hybrid, do-everything positions, but I'm looking to move away from that. I totally would take this job if the money were right, but I just don't think it will be, judging from my knowledge thus far.) The old employer actually knows me from a totally different industry, so I'm not sure he's reeaaally all that cognizant of where I am in my current career, but he knows my current connections and knows I'm a smart capable person, and that my skillset is adjacent to what he's seeking, but might think I'm more junior than I am.
posted by greta simone at 1:51 PM on November 9, 2018

I personally wouldn't interview for a job (that I was as certain as you sound) that I didn't want. On the other hand, the fact that they haven't yet written a JD makes me wonder if there's some flexibility for you to be able to come in closer to the level you're currently at -- with the caveat that they might not be able to come up with a salary in-line with that level.

However, I think you should talk more with your old boss about this opportunity before committing anyone's time to what they think is a hiring interview and what you're treating as more informational/networking.
posted by sm1tten at 3:36 PM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hmmm, if the company is this new and small then you might have an opportunity to shape the position so that it fits your abilities and qualifications. Maybe they have a more junior version of your job description in mind, but if you can sell them on the value of hiring you to a more senior role then they may be willing to go with that. The key would lie in being able to explain what it is that they'd be paying for, but obviously your former boss likes you and thinks you'd be a good part of the team, so I'd say you have a fair shot. Like, maybe they think they need a Warehouse Assistant but you're really more of a Warehouse Manager, and they might be amenable to hiring a Warehouse Manager instead if they can be sold on the added value of Warehouse Manager-level services, and if it's someone (you) who comes with a strong recommendation from one of the partners. Tiny, brand-new businesses don't always have their hiring plan totally set in stone.

I say you should go into the interview thinking that they already want to hire you specifically, and take the opportunity to explain what you can bring to the table and how you can exceed their expectations in ways that will benefit the company. Then, ask to be paid accordingly. Might very well work. Think of it less as a traditional job interview and more as a conversation in which you and the hiring team discuss how you personally can be slotted into their team. They don't want just any Warehouse Assistant, they want greta simone specifically.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:38 PM on November 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

You need to find out what their needs are and pitch what you can do for them and what position would make the most sense. So... you're on a fact finding mission of sorts. This is a totally normal thing, and they may be open to whatever you propose.
posted by xammerboy at 5:51 PM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've interviewed for many jobs that seemed wrong on a few points and right on others. In some cases, they've worked out a compromise that meant I took the job and it was great for my career. In others, it wasn't the right role but I made great new connections. In one, they didn't have anything for me at the time, but then something changed after a good amount of time and I wound up working there later. Don't be afraid to tell them what your minimum requirements are when they ask. That's all they are, if it's not right for you or them, that's ok! Don't count them out (or yourself) so early.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:11 AM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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