35

I would really much appreciate advice on this. I have been selected for an interview within an industry I have never worked for, and this is a new role for me. The job description says it requires a skill that I do not have (this skill is not listed in my resume).

How should I approach the interview for this?

I am going to be honest, but how should I sell myself if I lack the skill?

3
  • 45
    Very much depends on the skill
    – Kilisi
    Apr 8 at 11:24
  • 3
    Welcome to The Workplace :). Please, take the tour and check the help center to start to get to know your way around here
    – DarkCygnus
    Apr 8 at 13:59
  • 1
    I'm not clear on the exact sequence of events. Did they approach you based on your resumé or did you apply? If you applied, did you write an additional letter and if yes, did you address that skill? Have there been any interviews or assessments yet? Apr 9 at 12:13
68

Since you've been selected for an interview, it would appear that the company is flexible in the skills it requires for this role.

So go ahead with the interview process as normal and speak honestly about this gap in your experience when the subject comes up. You might be offered training to bring you up to speed on this aspect.

Depending on what the skill is, you may be able to upsell yourself on any related skills or experience you might have.

In the meantime, put some research in so that you're not completely clueless when it comes to interview time. Show that you're willing to ramp up on this.

6
  • 21
    Typically employer will post the "dream wish list" knowing they cannot get it all. Sometime employers are a bit smarter and will separate desired versus required skills.
    – Neo
    Apr 8 at 14:48
  • 11
    Be honest, yes, but not pro-active. They have your resume, they know the skill isn't on it. You don't know why they are still interviewing you. One possibility may be that they're going to train you. Another is that they already have someone who can do that skill, barely, but they were hoping for a new experienced hire who could take over that particular skill. There might be more reasons - perhaps that skill is just a timesaver and not essential. Don't speculate, don't talk yourself down. If the company brings it up, that's the time to talk about it, and not before.
    – MSalters
    Apr 8 at 15:19
  • 6
    I've followed this exact advice even for programming jobs where I lack experience with one of the major technologies that they use. Being honest in the interview and showing that I am willing and eager to learn new skills generally seems to make up for the missing skill
    – Kevin
    Apr 8 at 21:48
  • 14
    Also express interest and excitement about learning it, especially if it's a large part of the job. Apr 9 at 6:19
  • 1
    @Neo All true; but if there are more positions open than qualified workers to fill them, then even "required" skills become a wish list. It's a function of supply and demand.
    – employee-X
    Apr 9 at 20:30
29

Newsflash: there is no such thing as the "ideal candidate that meets all requirements, lives next door, and can start tomorrow"

Requirements are mostly a tool to weed out the obvious non-fits quickly. Once you are in the right zip code, things can get more nuanced and flexible.

You should indeed be open and up front about a missing skill. You can and should actively bring it up: "Hey, I saw you wanted someone with XXX, which I only have very limited experience with". The workarounds/outcomes are

  1. Compensate with an adjacent skill
  2. Credible plan to learn it within a reasonable amount of time
  3. It's not so important to the job after all (nice to have, not "must have")
  4. It's a showstopper.

If it happens to be a showstopper, you are better off finding out right away, so everyone can move on. Perfectly normal and acceptable outcome. The WORST thing that can happen is you getting the job despite lacking a critical skill: it will make both you and the company miserable.

4
  • 17
    There is such a thing as the ideal candidate. It's generally the person who just left the position.
    – Mark
    Apr 8 at 20:24
  • 6
    @Mark Not always... sometimes that's why they left... or "left".
    – JeffC
    Apr 9 at 5:47
  • 1
    That'd also only be for positions in which someone left. Many positions are created new, grabbing bits from many different roles, or expanding for responsibilities which have expanded.
    – daboross
    Apr 11 at 8:27
  • Another reason would be to advertise the technologies used. Apr 11 at 16:21
18

To quote Star Wars: A New Hope:

OWEN: I have no need for a protocol droid.

THREEPIO: (quickly) Sir -- not in an environment such as this -- that's why I've also been programmed for over thirty secondary functions that...

OWEN: What I really need is a droid that understands the binary language of moisture vaporators.

THREEPIO: Vaporators! Sir -- My first job was programming binary load lifter...very similar to your vaporators. You could say...

OWEN: Do you speak Bocce?

THREEPIO: Of course I can, sir. It's like a second language for me...I'm as fluent in Bocce...

OWEN: All right shut up! (turning to Jawa) I'll take this one.

He got the job even though he was not the ideal candidate and did not fulfill all the requirements, but he managed to convince the interviewer that:

  • He had experience in a very similar skill to one of the listed requirements and that he might be able to build on that skill.
  • He possessed the one skill that actually mattered for the job.
  • Despite his shortcomings, he was still a better fit for the job than the other candidates who applied.
2
  • 9
    You could always try a handwave and "This is not the skill you are looking for".
    – numenor
    Apr 9 at 10:56
  • 13
    @numenor We made bad experiences with force-sensitive employees. We once had a force-sensitive assistant manager who was nothing but trouble. He once force-choked another employee, and got out of that by playing the religious discrimination card (apparently the victim insulted his religion just before). The final straw was when he and our CEO had a disagreement while conducting a job interview with another candidate, which resulted in him throwing our CEO down a reactor hatch.
    – Philipp
    Apr 9 at 13:00
10

The best approach in an interview is always to be honest.

To honestly sell your skills to people when you don't have a skill they're looking for, you need to convince them that you'll be able to learn it, and/or that you have experience that is transferable.

Talk about how you would deal with situations that require the skill, given that you don't currently have it.

1
  • As someone who has interviewed a LOT of candidates in my career, I can assure you that honesty is very important... and the worst kind of dishonesty is to list skills that you cannot converse in (it happens ALL the time). Someone with strong adjacent skills is a better fit than someone with ONE skill in nearly all circumstances. Apr 10 at 23:09
7

Do not worry that much about the exact requirements. The process of creating a job/position offer is the following:

  • the job description: screwing screws
  • the actual requirements of the manager: ability to twist your wrist

Since this does not sound cool/expanded enough in the job posting, so we add some more requirements:

  • experience with a screwdriver
  • business acumen to understand the implications of the strategy of the company
  • fluent English, German and Swahili - in case the purchase order for the screwdriver was from there
  • ability to convey an idea, in case one would need to do a PowerPoint on the usage of screwdrivers

Then come the candidates, usually interested in Liberal Arts or Musicology. None has seen a screwdriver.

Then come you, and say that you are very good in production lines and screws, and have seen videos on how to use a screwdriver, and that it honestly does not look hard and you are willing to work hard to understand the subtleties of the job. Heck, you have even purchased a screwdriver to get some experience ahead of time.

The jury has not even seen the job posting, they know what they need and you look like a reasonable candidate.

There is of course the chance of the screwdriver maniac who has been doing this for the last 10 years, enthusiastic about the business consequences and having published a paper on that in Swahili (and then presented in with PowerPoint on a conference). Bad luck, he is a better fit but at least you tried.

(Copied with minor changes from my answer to a similar question in Academia SE)

1
  • ^^ Excellent advice. The larger the company that makes the posting, the more expansive the "skill requirements" tend to become. The OP should be cognizant that larger companies often have mechanical processes in front of candidate selection - and a negative in one "required" skill may result in never getting the chance to speak to the actual hiring chain because the recruiting staff are not knowledgeable themselves. The good news, is that usually the recruiting staff also have a "must have" list - so that second call usually means a "passing grade". Apr 10 at 23:19
5

Don't focus on weaknesses or constraints

I have gone through a few interviews myself, and have had the opportunity of "recommending" previous coworkers and seen "both sides" of the interview session through them. One thing that has stood out to me is how incredibly different the interview situation can be experienced between interviewee and interviewer. I have seen why some strategies I chose in the past, clearly was the wrong choice.

I used to believe that, you should state constraints as early as possible. (i.e: "Not willing to travel" or "I would require this much salary"). I was wrong. You appear then as a person not at all interested in the position, as if it was a 4 day old fish - not a savoury meal. There is a time for this, the last interview. That is when you can probe for how to make the job fit you the best - and make the actual case (do I want this job?). But if that is your opener you'll probably be released into the job-recruiters pool as unwanted bycatch.

I used to believe that I should focus on making a strong case for how to handle weaknesses. I was partly wrong. It is way more useful to leverage your strong sides! I mean, they are strong for a reason. You know this stuff. You can discuss it, you can explain how you would use it. Returning to the edibles image; who'd order a meal that had a "foul smelling sauce, but is good if you pinch your nose"? I mean, focus on the stuff that sells you as a candidate. It's their job to figure out the bad stuff. I am not saying anyone should lie or understate - but for the same reason you are wearing your nice shirt, not the coffee stained one, select the best. The only thing that needs to be said about the weaknesses is that you'd need to set up a plan for how to come up to speed on those items as soon as possible.

So, I recommend, don't make a big plan for how to explain your shortcomings. Fine, have an answer ready, but don't go thinking about that the whole time - it'll make you focus on the wrong things.

3

There are two possibilities in this situation:

The Skill Is Desired, But Not Required, For The Job

Sometimes a company will list a skill under a job listing, with the understanding that they would like to have a candidate with that skill, but it is not a requirement. This may be a skill that is needed only irregularly that you could be trained in, or a skill that is tangentially related to the work you will be doing.

In this case, you will want to sell yourself on your ability to pick up this skill quickly, and apply the part of it needed for your job. If you have skills that are adjacent to it, that helps to convince them that you can learn it easily.

Which brings me to the second possibility...

They Believe You Have Skills Equivalent To That Skill

It's possible that because you listed a different skill that is related to that skill, that the company believes you are able to perform that task as well.

Only you can determine if this is true - if you think you are capable of performing the task that they have outlined regularly, you can go in and tell them that, because of your related skill, that yes you can do it - or that with some training you could do it as an expert.


If you believe you are not capable of that skill, or not able to be trained in it properly - this is a judgement call I would not make lightly. If the company is willing to train you in that skill, it is beneficial to you to take that training.

But if you truly believe that skill is outside of your ability to learn on a fundamental basic level, you should consider letting the company know that, politely. It's possible they did not realize it was outside of your wheelhouse.

Again though, explore the possibility that it could be an adjacent skill to something you do know first. They picked your resume, so they clearly saw something in there that they believe shows you have the talent they want.

1

Don't sweat it too much.
One missing requirement is not a big deal where recruiters consider a candidat with 70% of skillset required is a good one.
If I was in your place, the first I can do is to learn the basics just in time for the interview this way I can cover the bases & learn new skill (at least something better than nothing)

2
  • I like this answer. Just to add a little, just picking up even the tiniest basics of the skill would be useful. You don't have to be an expert or even competent, just understand the basic terminology.
    – DaveG
    Apr 10 at 16:57
  • "Cover the bases" - I would NOT attempt to do this without being clear that you have just begun acquiring the skill. The worst faux pas you can make as an interviewee, in my opinion, is to try to convince an interviewer that you've obtained some mastery in a skill that you clearly have little understanding of. As a hiring manager, I strongly prefer a candidate who knows what she doesn't know over one who thinks she knows something she doesn't. Apr 10 at 23:25
0

They know what your resume does and does not say.

They want to interview you anyway. 👍

Good luck!

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .