More than once I have talked my way into a job, even without the right experience. Does it always work? Can you always overcome lack of experience or skills in an interview just by having the right attitude or chemistry? No. Of course not.
As nice as you are, jobs may require specific skills than are hard to imagine from the outside, even with a good job description. (And not all job descriptions are written well.) Also, while some hiring managers are more open, others are by-the-book sticklers — and there’s no way to know for sure.
So when is it worth taking a chance? I’m glad you asked.
How I got a job offer without required degree or experience
There was a time when I decided to switch from for-profit to not-for-profit. I was especially interested in homelessness and housing issues. So I first found some volunteer work in a non-profit that helped build temporary housing for the homeless, even though I had never worked in that sector.
Some months into volunteering, I saw an ad for a policy analyst for a major New York City agency that dealt with those issues. It specifically required (not suggested) a Ph.D. as well as direct experience. I had neither. But I was excited by the idea, and determined to talk my way in if given the chance.
So I turned to my experience as a business analyst, and other transferable skills, and used my cover letter to make the case for why I absolutely was qualified, perhaps even more so than others with direct experience. I used personal success stories to help make my point. And, long story short, I got the job offer.
Another example of talking my way into a job
I have a similar story from law school. After the first year, a well-known constitutional lawyer at our school advertised that she needed a summer intern. Only problem was that I was going to school part-time while working and hadn’t yet taken Constitutional Law. She told me that was a showstopper. I told her I didn’t see it that way — and I kept trying.
Now, I had to stay as charming and pleasantly determined as possible, without completely annoying her. I also quickly boned up on Constitutional Law basics, and used what I had taught myself to discuss some topics of the (paid) internship. I even threw in a few related cases on the issue to bolster my attempts to impress.
While I had not made myself a constitutional scholar in a couple of weeks, and while not everything I said was brilliant, she admired my spirit and thought process. Even though she still said “no”, she smiled more when she saw me. And finally, although it took a while, I convinced her.
[P.S. I decided the law was not for me, but that’s another story.]
Why I hired someone without (supposedly) required skills
I’ve also helped hire many people. In one case, despite the seemingly closed minds of my colleagues who wanted to see very specific experience, I thought about what the job really requires — and the very special qualities and unquantifiable skills that would mean success for our project.
And after receiving a good number of replies to our advertisement, even though some appeared to hit the mark (at least on paper), I just wasn’t getting that “aha!” instinct. Luckily a cover letter and resume arrived that had me smiling, despite the lack of enough specific experience.
More on that story here:
A few more thoughts
As I said, you can’t always get past the requirements for a job, especially in organizations that use tight rules and/or a “no human eyes” automated process to screen resumes on the first round. And so if you are wildly off the mark, it probably doesn’t pay to apply.
Then again, if the job really speaks to you, and you think you can make a strong case for yourself, other than annoying some screener who wouldn’t call you in anyway, in most cases you have nothing to lose.
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