Job interview help -- how to address inexperience in a particular area?
June 9, 2021 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I have a job interview tomorrow and I'd say that I hit most of the requirements for their "knowledge and skills," but not all. The position I'm interviewing for asks for a 1 year minimum of supervisory experience, which I don't quite have. How do I address this "deficiency" during my interview? How do I spin this?

I've been preparing for the interview, but I really don't know how to address my lack of supervisory experience and still sound like... a strong candidate?

I'd be supervising about 2-3 people in this position (I think, I'm not 100% sure yet). I don't have much supervisory experience at all, well... I did supervise a "virtual" summer student the library I was working at last year had. That was about 4 months. It went well, I think. I've supervised parent and student volunteers at the school libraries I've worked at in the past, but aside from that I've had no other supervisory experience yet. (Maybe the occasional weekend shift at the public library, where the "librarian" there (i.e. me) was kind of the "top" authority on Sunday/Saturdays as well).

Anyway, aside from this. I think I match all the skills for the position. My references (previous supervisors) all think this would be a great fit and have told me not to worry about the management skills too much. However, I'm worried. I just can't figure out a good way to address my lack of experience in this one particular area. Any advice? How can I lack one specific skill the position requires and still sound like a good candidate?
posted by VirginiaPlain to Work & Money (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
FYI, all job "requirements" are a wish list not a list of demands.

Please don't undersell yourself. You've had direct supervision of a summer intern, supervised parents and volunteers at multiple school libraries, and supervised weekend shifts at a public library.

Why are you trying to minimise this experience into something you don't have?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:19 PM on June 9 [35 favorites]

Can you think about it less as addressing your *lack* of experience and more as demonstrating your actual experience, which although it might not add up to exactly one year, actually sounds fairly significant? (Seriously, I'm not sure you lack this skill any more than the average person who *does* have a year of supervisory experience.)

Think of times that you had to do supervisor-like things (prioritizing and delegating, managing disputes, giving feedback, hiring/disciplining/firing,) and have some nice little soundbite stories to tell about them.
posted by mskyle at 12:20 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]

I don't think you need to spin this at all -- you supervised a virtual summer student, you've supervised parent and student volunteers, you've been the person in charge of the library on weekends. That's supervisory experience.
posted by jabes at 12:20 PM on June 9 [7 favorites]

Yes you absolutely have supervisory experience. Launch right into your volunteer management at the libraries--if you had a success or created a new process, lead with that. Go on to explain a problem that came up, technical or interpersonal or whatever, go ahead and milk it even if it was tiny, and how your leadership helped guide the team to a solution. Talk about the challenges of supervising a virtual team (student. whatever. no one cares) and also what you liked about it. Talk about the additional responsibilities of being the lead weekend librarian.

I am going to assume you are a woman because I can't imagine a man downplaying literal supervisory experience as not having supervisory experience. Women manage tons of shit, typically by default, all the dang time. Just because you haven't been appropriately financially compensated for it or had a title to reflect it doesn't mean you didn't do the work.

Own it, amplify it, and cram it down your interviewers' throats. You know. Nicely.
posted by phunniemee at 12:22 PM on June 9 [17 favorites]

You've had direct supervision of a summer intern, supervised parents and volunteers at multiple school libraries, and supervised weekend shifts at a public library.

DarlingBri has this exactly right. The supervision you did last summer is even more meaningful because it was remote and you had to adapt to the challenges of supervising in a different context. Supervising volunteers is meaningful because it's not a traditional employer-paid employee relationship. And supervising weekend shifts is a big deal, too: you were fully in charge in case of emergencies, along with being responsible for staff.

These folks already believe you have this experience or you wouldn't have gotten an interview, so you have an opportunity not to compensate for a weakness, but to talk about your approach to supervision in several different contexts and how you would bring that into this new position. Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 12:43 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]

I think it's unlikely that in the interview they will quiz you on the exact length of your supervisory experience. If they were going to be pedantic about it, you wouldn't have an interview. Just have confidence that what you have amounts to the same thing. And it does, one year of experience is not an absurdly high bar to meet and you sound like you've cleared it.
posted by plonkee at 12:46 PM on June 9 [3 favorites]

They're not actually going to ask you about this in the way you seem to fear. Most likely they are going to ask you to describe a situation in which you [did something supervisory]. If they ask about it at all. There's a slim chance someone would say, "I don't really see the title Supervisor in your resume," and then you could simply explain that despite your titles, your roles involved supervising students/parents/etc.

If they called you in for an interview they think you're a good candidate. The interview is where you show them that you're able to arrive somewhere on time, that you can conduct a conversation without being wildly unprofessional, and that you are who you've represented yourself to be. And, I guess, to get a sense for how you work (or at least, how you THINK you work).

That's all you can do in an interview, and then cross your fingers.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:58 PM on June 9 [6 favorites]

Oh! Also be able to talk about what interests or excites you about supervising and what strengths you think you would bring to a supervisory role, even if you can't point to exact things you've done in the past.
posted by mskyle at 12:58 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

Don't acknowledge that you lack the desired level except to at some point say that this is an area where you're really interested in learning and developing your skills further. As someone else said, you probably wouldn't have the interview if they were going to add up the months of experience and find you to fall short.

The tougher part is to sound like someone who does have experience when you don't. They might throw a "what would you do if..." question your way. A good "go to" for those is to preface your comment with an acknowledgment that every staff member is different, so you'd want to adjust your approach based on what you'd been able to learn about them. That's the kind of thing that really stands out to me the longer I work in management. That and the value of communicating super clearly myself.
posted by slidell at 1:01 PM on June 9

Two things to note:

1) The so-called requirements are more of a "wishlist". A candidate that fits EVERYTHING listed in the requirements is like a unicorn: probably doesn't exist. As long as you have the rest of the stuff, missing one or two items should NOT put you out of contention.

2) You probably already have the experience, just not as a part of your job title, but it was probably a part of your job responsibility. Team lead is a supervisory position. Supervising interns or volunteers is a supervisory position, and so on. Doesn't matter if it's in person or remote, as long as you guided them to a job well done, it goes on the resume.

So don't panic and add too much self-doubt on yourself. Marinating in that just makes you feel icky.
posted by kschang at 1:15 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]

I got hired for my first manager position with only "unofficial" supervisory roles. I think I said something like "I didn't have official manager duties [over the people I supervised], but I did act as their supervisor, doing X, Y, and Z (guiding their day-to-day work? weekly checkins? mentorship? whatever it is). They never cared that it wasn't a Manager role, and I got hired, woo.
posted by brainmouse at 2:01 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

This advice all sounds good, just: when I was younger, the people giving me advice were *so* insistent that I not undersell myself that in a couple cases I told potential employers things that didn't feel honest to me, and it made me deeply uncomfortable. I don't think anything I said was literally a lie, and possibly nobody but me cared, but it kept *me* up at night, and that matters too.

So, definitely it's good to be optimistic and enthusiastic, and to take questions as an opportunity to bring up relevant experience, but, to me, it's also incredibly important to just be myself, and to leave the interview believing I've given the most accurate idea of my experience that I can.
posted by floppyroofing at 2:16 PM on June 9

To offer an opposing view to floppyroofing, someone I've known since I was very young and who was my first "real" boss had the following wisdom: "Lie like hell, and then work like hell." It sounds like you may be more temperamentally similar to floppyroofing than to him (I am, too), but knowing when not to be overly honest is definitely a skill too. You can express what experience you have had (which sounds more legit than you give yourself credit for) without saying to the interviewer "well, actually, I don't meet your requirements."
posted by Alterscape at 3:50 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

They are asking for one (!) year supervisory experience. Being in my late 50s (and as a guy), I cannot tell you how little that actually means. What I interpret that to mean is, is this person mature enough to handle supervising a small group of people. They EXPECT you will have to grow into the job. I would go in to the interview with your very relevant (I might add) supervisory experience. Talk about the difficulties of supervising someone virtually. Talk about herding volunteer parents. Talk about how you handled any sticky situation.

You be you. You sound like a conscientious person. You will do well in the interview. Your previous supervisors are RIGHT.
posted by AugustWest at 4:37 PM on June 9 [4 favorites]

"Lie like hell, and then work like hell."

Hah! Yes, that's another factor to consider: I just don't have that kind of ambition at this point. I've got major interests outside work. Working like hell is totally unappealing to me, and working like hell because I've managed to guilt-trip myself into it by over-promising.... No thanks.

Anyway, none of that applies to the OP. As others say, requirements in job postings can be on the aspirational side. And if the biggest problem is that you *maybe* (depending how you read it) miss one of the requirements by a little bit, but nevertheless have some relevant experience towards that requirement--you're in great shape.
posted by floppyroofing at 5:49 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]

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