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I have been a freelancer for about 3 years now in web development, SEO and PPC. I have spent the last 18 months honing my skills in SEO & PPC.

I have now come to the realisation that I need to be an employee in a larger company for a while. The reason for this is that I would like to learn from my betters how to succeed, and also because I dont make enough money on my own.

My question is I do not know if I am juinor or intermediate.

Can I interview for both positions (say at different companies) and rely on the hiring manager to not let me pass the intermediate interview if I am not on an intermediate level? Or is there a chance that I will get the job, and then see that I am not actually qualified for the job. If this happens my boss will probably be upset, and also I will never have learned how to progress from junior to intermediate.

So can I rely on a hiring manager not to let me qualify for a stage that I am not ready for?

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No, probably not, unless your experience is clearly below the boundary. Some people are natural speakers, or are very convincing: those people are able to (either dishonestly, or accidentally merely by virtue of being confident) talk themselves into a role above their level. I'm sure in your career you've come across someone who "talks the talk" and sounds impressive, but then you realize that they don't really understand what they're seying.

The interviewer may filter you out of the higher level job if they don't feel your experience is up to it, but if you're convincing enough there's a good chance you'll sound capable of it, and how are they to know different?

People tend to get the job based on how confident they sound, how well they explain their current responsibilities and how good a fit they sound for the role.

At the end of the day a recruiter doesn't have that much to go on: your experience (which has to be approximately in the right ballpark to even get an interview), your ability to answer questions convincingly, and your personality/demeanor. Any one of those things can be exaggerated or accidentally over-emphasised, and the interviewer has no way to really know.

Remember, though, that a recruitment process is a two way street: YOU can ask questions too. An interview isn't a competition for the role. Well it is, but it isn't just a competition for the role, it's also a time for a discussion to assess your suitability for the role, and the role's suitability for you. Ask them about the role, the responsibilities and the seniority, and if it doesn't sound like something you're capable of, consider declining it or withdrawing yourself from the process.

And a last thing to note: often the line between junior and mid-level is blurred anyway: companies are fairly used to people over-stretching a little (at the end of the day, you don't always know your limits until you hit them), or finding an under-utilised gem at a lower level. Unless you're going into a fairly solo role or a management position, which doesn't sound like the case here, the company will likely shuffle you within the team to suit your capabilities.

The "junior" and "mid level" roles are really just set up to attract approximately the right candidate, and if you get the position then you're going to be at approximately the right level: you just may find you don't get much advancement for a couple of years while you catch up with yourself, or you may find yourself propelled forward as you (and your company) realize you're more capable than you first thought.

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  • Thanks for such an elaborate answer. Assuming I wasnt totally up to intermediate yet, Would you even suggest I interview for higher levels in case I do get the job? Is it better for me to get an intermediate job and immediately have to pull up my socks and learn from everyone else, or is it better to take a junior where I definitely qualify straight away? Feb 19, 2015 at 10:21
  • That's fairly subjective, and without knowing you nor the role, hard to answer. I'd suggest that you look at the responsibilities in the job description: if they sound like hard work but you think you could get up to speed on them, then go for it. If you really doubt you could do the majority of it, perhaps leave it for next time and go for the junior role. Only you know how confident you really feel about the required skills: if you feel you'd have to significantly exaggerate on any required skill, leave it.
    – Jon Story
    Feb 19, 2015 at 10:26
  • I'd say go for the interview. Then you can really flesh out what they're looking for in a candidate and how your skillset fits in with what they're looking for. Each company is looking for different skills in different levels of positions
    – Brian
    Feb 19, 2015 at 16:45
  • Thanks very much for this advice Jon! Thanks @Brian too. Feb 21, 2015 at 20:34
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You will be hired for a job if the hiring manager, technical team, and anyone else who is involved in the decision-making together decide that you are capable of doing their job. It doesn't matter that much if you had been previously freelancing or employed with a big company.

Any hiring always carries the risk of the candidate turning out to be not good enough after an impressive interview. Companies try to improve their interview processes to reduce such instances, but some risk will remain.

Once you are onboard, though, you will typically receive a fair amount of support from your manager and other senior colleagues to become productive and start contributing. It is also in their interest to help you because they decided to make you an offer, so there is an unofficial obligation to "justify" their decision.

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I think both answers so far are good, but miss on something rather basic.

You will get either job based on the following:

  1. You meet the minimum requirements for that position

  2. You are a better match than all the other candidates who interviewed

Minimum requirements are usually quite easy to determine - if they're looking for a web-developer they will want someone how knows their CSS from their HTML - and these are listed in the job ad. Obviously, the minimum requirements for each job will be different.

Best match for the position - that's a lot harder to know up front. It includes all of the extra skills and experience you may bring on top of the minimum requirements, but it also comes down to the personality of the candidate and the personalities of the existing team. Since there are two positions open at the same organisation, they will almost certainly be looking for similar matches, especially if the positions are in the same department or team.

There's also this to consider:

  1. If a person meeting the requirements for an intermediate position (even if only just) applied for the junior position - the interviewer could very well be asking "what's wrong with them?". They are, after all, looking for juniors in the field.

  2. It is an unfortunate truth that career progression (particularly within development) is actually very difficult within organisations - it seems that most progression occurs when developers move jobs. If you take the junior position, you could be stuck there for a while, no matter how quickly you outgrow it.

My advice: If you can met the minimum listed requirements of the intermediate position (or even if you think there's a bit of give - 2.5 years experience for a job listing minimum 3 years may be okay), then apply for that. You might be a bit at the low end compared to other candidates in terms of the technical, but you could be a better fit otherwise - and if you are a good fit, but not quite there technically, they can always offer you the junior position.

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It's an interesting question. I think it's more of a values call than a question of following the rules. If you and your employer both value honesty and transparency then everything should be ok. I don't think you should worry about any fairness concerns.

  • Honesty: If a company hires you as a particular title, congratulations, you are now that title... professionally! If you have misrepresented yourself though dishonesty during the interview process, that's an offense that can come back to bite you later. By your tone, I will assume that you don't plan on misrepresenting yourself, and it's perfectly normal to apply for a higher title/position/responsibility than you've had in the past.

  • Transparency: Once you have begun working, it's important to communicate clearly, ask for help if you need it, estimate how long it will take to complete tasks, etc to the best of your ability. Similar to during the interview, if you misrepresent what you are capable of or what you have done, then that could be a problem (with or without being in the 'wrong' position). This includes communication with team members and also managers / leads.

  • Fairness: If you fear you will not be up to speed with colleagues, it's probably not worth worrying about.

    • Instead you should consider whether you will fit well with the culture of the team you will join. Also since learning is one of your objectives for the position, will the team/company provide that opportunity?
    • Confidence may also play into this picture. If asked whether you can do a particular task, I think most managers/teams would prefer a confident response such as, "Yes, much of this is similar to something I've done before, but one part will be faster if I get some help." as opposed to "(pause)... I don't know. Perhaps I can do it if someone else tells me how."
    • Most likely you will be a member of a team and the team will be held expected to deliver a particular product as opposed to falling on individual shoulders. I'm a software developer also, and I would avoid any position where I got the feeling that there was direct competition between team members. I don't think that is as productive as a collaborative environment and it's definitely not as pleasant.
    • A final note is that title by itself is not enough information to determine compensation. A lower titled individual with more years of experience who negotiated better could easily be paid more than someone with a higher title.
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