Today’s question is about how to show you are perfectly qualified for a job opportunity. Stop worrying about potential age-discrimination and focus on the value you will deliver and why the company needs you on their team.
This week’s Question
I get a good number of interviews for jobs, but then they hire a young man (or sometimes a young woman). I am a woman in my 50s.
So far, I haven’t been able to close the deal! My perception is that employers don’t know what they want (new graduate or experienced professional) or in some cases that they are interviewing me out of courtesy to the people in my network who have referred me. This kind of favor I don’t need! What I do need is better tactics for a) converting an interview into an offer and b) rebounding after the investment of time and hope I’ve made in an interview that doesn’t lead to an offer.
Thanks to this job seeker for submitting her question. It is one I hear a lot! I agree, many employers do not know what they want or need. But let me ask you this. If I asked you to identify the perfect life partner, would you be able to provide an exact description?
Hiring is warm and fuzzy. It isn’t (nor should it be) a robotic skills match-up, an impersonal interrogation or a popularity contest.
Years of Experience
The first clue about what an employer is looking for is usually indicated in the job description. If it says 1-3 years of experience, guess what? They are looking for someone without a lot of experience. If you do have significant experience, you have two choices:
1) Prove you are willing to step down to a lower level. This means less money and not saying “this is how we used to do it at my old company.”
2) Don’t apply. Unless it is a dream company and you are dying to get your foot in the door. If so, go back to #1.
It sounds like in the case of this job seeker, she needs to do a better job of proving she is perfectly qualified, not over-qualified or under-qualified. How?
Learn Everything You Can About the Company
Speak to people who currently work there and who used to work there. This type of intelligence gathering is critical because it provides the insight you won’t find on their website.
Sure, scour the company’s website, know what its mission is and learn about projects, clients, customers, and everything else. However, there is no replacement for a person-to-person conversation to gain the inside scoop on what is really going on inside the company.
Use LinkedIn to find people you know (a lot or a little). Call them on the phone and explain why you want to talk with them.
Use the information you gather to prepare STAR stories that show how you are perfectly qualified and how you have fixed similar problems before in previous roles.
Prepare Answers to Difficult Questions
If you are over-qualified, you must be ready to answer why this isn’t a bad thing. Chances are, the interviewer will never say, “Gee, I think you are over-qualified”, but they are probably thinking it! Be ready to dispel the notion you are too senior and give examples of times when you’ve happily and successfully taken on projects below you.
Don’t oversell yourself. Remember, you want to present yourself as perfectly qualified. For example, if the job description says you need to be able to answer the phone and relay messages, DO NOT say you’ve overseen and managed people doing this job. That makes you look over-qualified. You need to tell them how you answered phones in your last job (not 15 years ago).
Act Like a Consultant
View the interview as if you were going to be consulting for them. This means you will have to ask a lot of questions! Never ASSUME anything.
As a consultant, you would ask questions that would help the company realize, clarify and/or identify what they really need.
Steve Levy wrote an excellent post on Interview Like a Consultant. These questions come from his post, which I recommend you go read! These are the questions you need the answers to.
- What are the company’s problems that you hope to resolve/solve?
- What are they presently doing to resolve/solve the problems?
- What has been previously tried and why did these methods succeed or fail?
- What resources – internal and external – will be available to resolve/solve the problems?
- Do they have a vision for the work that you will perform?
- What are the time constraints to resolve/solve the problems?
- What budget has been allocated to resolve/solve the problems and what factors would cause this budget to deviate?
- What risks are you and the company willing to take in resolving/solving the problems?
- Who are the customers and how do they measure satisfaction?
Dig deep. Keep asking “why” so you can truly understand the interviewer’s true needs!
Every Interview Is Worth Your Time and Investment
There is no such thing as wasting time in an interview. Consider the interview as a first date.
Get to know the interviewer and the company. Be likable! The person you are interviewing with knows people in other divisions and other companies. If they like you enough, but don’t see you as perfectly qualified for their job, they may refer you to someone else. But, only if they like you. Or, they may keep you in mind for a future job.
Even the most qualified candidate can get eliminated if the interviewers don’t like him or her. What can you do to be sincere and likable?! Here is a post with suggestions on how to increase your “like-ability”!
Salespeople have heard this term before. It is a way of finding out if the buyer has any concerns about buying. You will want to adapt this in your own language/style, but test it and see what happens. This must be delivered with a sense of true curiosity, not arrogance.
“Can you think of any reason why you would not invite me back for the next round of interviews?”
“Are there any concerns you have about my qualifications or fit as a candidate for this position?”
If the interviewer answers your question honestly, which may or may not happen, you have the opportunity to address their concern and prove you are perfectly qualified!
If the interviewer clearly states, “YOU ARE NOT A FIT FOR THIS JOB” or something similar (and I mean they really say those words) to indicate you are no longer a candidate for that job, then you may consider asking them if they know anyone who may need your skills and talents.
You have nothing to lose. They know lots of people in your industry and may know of either another position within the company or perhaps at another company you may be a better fit for! What do you have to lose?
Send me your job search question!
Here are some examples of what I mean…
- What do I do when the receptionist ignores me when I come in for an interview?
- How do I get Human Resources to return my calls and emails after I’ve applied for a job?
- What is the best way to get someone to agree to meet with me?
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.