This is an extension of another more general question on job applications that I just posted. My question here isn't about applications so much as interview etiquette. I'm an engineer and trying to change fields to get into sales or business admin. I recently interviewed for an internal sales position with the company I work for. I spent an afternoon shadowing the internal sales team, and most of what they do (here at least) involves logistics, account management and customer service. I was told by the woman I was shadowing that this is a pretty good example of what the job entails on a daily basis, so I'm not just conjecturing. A week after the interview, I was notified that I wasn't selected to continue with the process because I didn't have enough relevant experience.

Now this question is not about job skills or experience. I understand that they probably had many other applicants with far more experience than I do, and it makes sense that I wasn't the strongest candidate. However, I also know from personal experience that based on what I was shown and told about the job, I could probably learn 70% of the job in about a week. (I'm sorry if that sounds arrogant, but I'm very quick at picking up new skills and I don't believe it would take me long at all to come up to speed with the required tasks and software.)

I knows it's petty and childish, but when I was told that I wasn't qualified for this position, my internal reaction was "I can do controls analysis and work with programs like Xilinx and Sonnet. I'm pretty sure I can type numbers into Microsoft Excel and reply to emails." I know this is an unfair simplification of our sales reps' jobs and I don't mean to imply that their work isn't challenging, but I really don't think that what they do is beyond my abilities, even though I have no prior experience as an account manager or sales rep.

So I'll be better prepared if something like this ever comes up in a future interview, how do you communicate that you have the ability to learn the job (despite lack of experience) without appearing overreaching and asinine?


4 Answers 4


You mentioned Xilinx and Sonnet so I now can speak in your terminology... (Skip down to the paragraph that starts off bolded if you don't want to read about some backstory of when this situation happened to me.)

When I interviewed with my boss, he asked me about my experience with Verilog scripting. This was a job requirement. I was honest with him. I said that I didn't have any experience with Verilog or any hardware description simply because the opportunity never arose. Furthermore, I mentioned that it was never taught in my university's degree program.

However, I did mention that I did take a class in digital logic and we made combinational and sequential logic so our class consisted on making ALUs and clocks and that our final project was making an alarm clock using counters and flip-flops. I said that while I never learned a hardware description language, I was very keen in digital logic design. If I learned the digital logic design without necessarily the scripting language, he knew that I could pick up Verilog or VHDL very easily.

To answer your question: I believe it is important to review your skills and try to relate them to what you're actually capable of doing. If you don't have the required experience then try to think of something that you're good at and see if it's relatable. Show the people that even though you don't have job experience in XYZ, you can relate to it as much as possible so that it makes you look like you're capable of learning it quickly. Just because you don't have experience in something doesn't mean you don't know how to do it nor capable of learning that concept. You've probably never had the opportunity to obtain that experience and you might need to mention this. Maybe you could say, "I've never had the opportunity to do gain experience in XYZ but allow me to explain my skills that could allow me learn how to do XYZ." You should really brainstorm your development of skills and what prerequisite skills you needed to develop that skill.

So it is possible to compare Xilinx and Sonnet with Microsoft Office tools like Excel? Sure. Try to think of something.

  • My first thought is that with your experience with FGPAs, you had to keep track of important information like making sure your logic design was consistent and making sure that your outcome was expected. Consistency for Excel is important.
  • You also had to organize your digital logic (into blocks perhaps?) because it had certain functions in order for the whole design to make sense. Organization is important in Excel.
  • When you write a script, you plan out how to properly convey information to anyone who reviews your code. Clarity is important for Excel.
  • When you're finished writing your script, surely you simulate it to make sure it behaves properly. Simulation is important for Excel.

Good luck!


If you have no experience, how do you say that you're capable of filling a position without appearing arrogant?

Your best bet here is to tell the hiring manager you are willing to show that you have what it takes, and would be willing to start in some soft of assistant position until you prove your worth.

This obstacle is really hard to over-come, but not impossible with the right situation from the hiring manager's perspective and your attitude.

  • +!: When I interview people, I try to find out how they approach learning new things. I ask for specific examples. A good attitude towards learning and some good ways to learn are surpassingly valuable. In interviews, be prepared to answer questions like "tell me about an task where you had to learn a lot to get it done."
    – O. Jones
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 10:45

I've been in similar situation before, I had a series of "for now" jobs that were not really related to my degree or intended career path in any way. I usually tried to spin it by relating the required skills to something I already have done in my personal life, and jobs where I may have done some elements of those tasks. For instance, when I interviewed for a management position in a video game retailer I talked about how I'd led teams before, and how I recommended games to friends. Emphasize you don't know everything, but you know enough to hit the ground running and you're good at picking up more as you go. That was enough to get me in the door.


In your specific case I actually wonder why you want to switch into a field that you consider to be that easy. For most people the sense of professional development is important, so why switch into a field you feel would require no additional skills from you? I would understand it if you had no chances to find a job with your current professional profile but, at least in the countries I've lived in, it's much easier to find a job as an engineer than as a "business admin".

To answer your question more generally:

  1. Don't say, show (if possible). When I wanted to switch into IT, I prepared a portfolio. The response was so much better than when I applied for jobs without a portfolio!
  2. Prepare nice stories in the STAR format. One should be about how you wanted to learn something quickly.
  3. Simply don't be arrogant. By shadowing a person for one (!) afternoon you don't get to learn about the job much. Even if you learn a bit, it's not said you would be able to perform the job well. Especially in sales, soft skills normally matter a lot. It's not what you do, it's mostly about how you do it. Not to mention that every job can be super easy or super difficult depending on your standards and goals. Show that you understand it and don't consider your possible new job as a certain win, since you really can't know how you will be doing.
  • to learn. I'm interested in starting my own company and I'd like to see the other side of the business. I think that there are plenty of challenges in such a position, I just don't think they're the kind of challenges that disqualify a person because they haven't been trained for them. The challenges seem more decision-based rather than technical.
    – CMB
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 2:32
  • But your attitude is not one that shows you want to learn. You stress in your first post that you would be able to perform the job already now, without any experience in the field.
    – BigMadAndy
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 2:35
  • my apologies if was confusing. I don't have experience and I would like to gain experience. Most of the basic work I think I would pick up very quickly. It's the other 30% that I would like to get practice at. Either way, I think I could start pulling my own weight very quickly, even if it took time to learn everything.
    – CMB
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 3:03

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