Required Skills in Job Descriptions

by Steven J. Owens (unless otherwise attributed)

So what do you do when the job requirements for an interview you're going for list a "required skill" that you don't have?

Don't try to claim knowledge you don't have, of course, but you shouldn't just forget about the job because you're don't have every single bullet point. After all, they have a long list of requirements; they've - quite reasonably - listed everything they might want in a candidate. They might not get what they ask for, but they'll certainly never get it if they don't ask for it. If you're an otherwise good fit, especially if you have some experience relevant to the requirement, go for it anyway.

My general rule of thumb is not to have more than one X factor in any given situation. That is, an unknown technology, or an insane schedule, but not both.

In interviewing for a job, you have to think about four things:

  • How much you know about the required skill.
  • You probably underestimate your competence
  • You don't need to be a perfect match.
  • Be careful not to discount your own skills

    If you have a basic idea of what it is, and have even spent an hour or two looking at the technology in question, you can say "I've worked with it once or twice, but I wouldn't say I'm familiar with it."

    Study up on whatever you can get on the topic before the interview, of course. Don't do this to fake it, but to get your bearings and to demonstrate your diligence and your ability to learn on the job.

    In the interview itself, combine some humility with intelligent questions.

    To use an example I'm more familiar with: "Treasury management? You mean where companies dump their petty cash funds into short-turnaround portfolios between close-of-business and the next morning? I'm not really familiar with it, but I've heard about it a few times in prior projects I did for financial institutions."

    You're using words that tell the truth, but you're using nuance that suggests to them that you might know a little bit, and will probably reassure them that you will learn quickly.

    Another tactic you can use is to demonstrate how quickly you will learn; when they ask you about it, you don't just say "No", or "What's that?" Instead, you turn the interview around and interview them for five or ten minutes about that topic.

    If you're planning to learn as you go, if you're dealing with the business folks, you have to basically reassure them of three things.

    1) that you're on the ball. 2) that you can learn quick. 3) that their ego is safe.

    So, for example, you do the things I recommended above. Then you finish up by saying, "But, of course, you're the expert on the financial business, my job is to work with you to make sure I build the solution you need."

    i.e. the general point to make is that you will not be a drag on the process, you will keep up, but you will also expect/allow them to lead, in the business knowledge area.

    Make sure you do all four:

    1) study up what you can find.

    2) realize that you're probably underestimating your own level of skill and knowledge.

    3) Interview them about the topic, but don't explicitly mention that you researched it; this will give them a good comfort level in your ability to learn.

    Don't hide the fact that you researched it, but don't point it out; the goal is not to demonstrate that you went and did your homework (though that's also nice), but that you can learn quickly and effectively.

    4) Point out that they are the experts on business, and that while you will learn all you can in order to effectively work with them, you expect to follow their lead, but won't need to be dragged.

    See original (unformatted) article


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