So the good news is that you finally figured out the perfect job for you! Perhaps it offers tons of freedom or even the chance to flex your creative muscles. Now for the bad news…you have absolutely no experience with the skills they are looking for!
Should you go for it anyway or take a pass so you don’t waste anyone’s time? While others might disagree, I land squarely in the “you don’t get what you don’t ask for” camp on this one. Why? Realistically you have no idea exactly what any given employer is looking for. Sure, the obvious is that they want someone fully trained in the identified skills that can start performing their new job on Day One. But their perfect reality may be vastly different.
They may have a unique situation where finding the right person with a desire to learn and great attitude is equally important. Or perhaps somewhere early in their career someone gave them a chance and they are looking to pay it forward.
Regardless, if you find yourself lucky enough an land interview but aren't sure how to handle your gap in experience, give this approach a try:
Speak the Truth
If you’re trying to reinvent yourself and literally have no experience, it’s definitely best to be honest. During an interview, most employers are trying to determine if you’re a good fit for their management style, if they trust you and how well you’ll fit with the existing team.
So trying to sell yourself as having abilities you don’t can be a fatal career mistake. Sure you may bluff your way through the interview and land the job…but then what? Stumbling through your first few months while you try to learn make you look inept and your new boss feel incompetent. This is definitely not the great start you’re looking for. So it’s critical that you’re honest and upfront…and no that doesn’t mean stretching the truth. What it may mean is saying something as simple as:
“No I haven’t done that.”
Show your Strengths
Once you’ve come clean that you don’t have the desired skills, then it’s time to move into what you do bring to the table. Needless to say this transition is huge and getting from one point to the next can be a delicate transition (quite possibly the toughest part of this whole conversation). So make sure to spend some time here with your interview prep.
The trick is let your lack of experience and strengths stand alone. In other words, you want to make sure it doesn’t just seem like your “strengths” are excuses for why you don’t have the skills. Be sure to avoid negative connector words like “but” and “however.” Sometimes it can be as simple as taking a breath and pausing between the two statements. Regardless of how you make the transition, you want to include phrases like these shown below:
I have done….
I’m good with…
I’m passionate about…
I have an excellent reputation with…
Help them Visualize
Once you have admitted your lack of experience and peaked their interest with all of the things you can do for them, it’s time to help them visualize. This is when you want to share real-life examples of things you’ve accomplished in your former positions.
Sure you may not have examples of the job specific skills, but there are core skills that almost every job needs like the ability to be a quick learner and forge relationships. General skills like these are where you want to focus when you’re helping them visualize your abilities. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:
I’m a quick learner. Example: When I worked for XYZ, I learned a whole new product line and become the team specialist in only two months. I’m confident I can get up to speed quickly here too.
I am driven to succeed. Example: I’ve learned that building the right relationships is a key component of my success. When I worked at XYZ, I started a networking group between the junior and middle managers. Not only did it give me the chance to interact socially with wonderful mentors but it provided great visibility and leadership opportunities. I’m proud that I had the confidence and initiative to chase success in an unconventional path. It definitely helped put me on the fast track and provide organizational value more quickly than my peers.
Ask for a Chance
The last step in this process is pretty simple. It’s all about asking for a chance. The words are simple (and shown below) but remember, if you haven’t successfully built rapport and portrayed yourself as a trustworthy candidate, these words will fall flat with potential employers.
Say something like:
I would love the opportunity to be a part of the exciting things happening here.
After chatting with you I can honestly say I think this would be a good fit for us both.
I'm excited to show you what I can do.
I know this is the type of work I want to do and would love to start my new career with you.
Follow it up with the ask:
Will you give me a chance?
And close it out with the confirmation!
You won’t be disappointed.
Understand that applying for your “first” job in a new field takes a great deal of confidence. You’ll need confidence in your abilities to learn and forge those relationships that will help you find success. And of course you’ll need the confidence to put yourself out there and face the possible rejection.
But you truly are confined by the walls you build yourself...what choice will you make?