“Tell me about a time you….”
When you are considering a career change, you may be nervous about getting asked direct questions in an interview about experiences you haven’t had. However, knowing that an interviewer will likely address any obvious gaps in your background, the best thing you can do is prepare in advance.
Essentially, HR managers want to feel confident that the person they hire will be able to handle the role. So the first step in convincing them that you are qualified is first being convinced yourself. Confidence breeds confidence, so believing in your own abilities may be the most important part of convincing others.
Next, identify the experience gaps that you perceive may be addressed and map out your strategy for responding. For example, it might be that you’ve not worked with outside customers before, or maybe you’ve done similar work, but in a different industry. Perhaps you haven’t scaled projects to the size the new employer is expecting or you’re missing a specific technical qualification.
While your strategy will vary based on the specific circumstance, you can start here:
- Offer examples of how you’ve been successful in equivalent projects/situations. Maybe you haven’t worked with external customers, but you’ve worked with internal customers. Many of the same skills will apply, so share examples with outstanding results that relate most closely to the challenges of the new company. Or perhaps you’ve transitioned industries twice in the past and have a successful track record of learning quickly and building a repeat customer base. Relaying concrete achievements in this area will help your hiring manager understand that you can handle the learning curve and produce results.
- Speak about situations where you overcame major adversity or quickly handled an ambiguous situation by being resourceful. Chances are, as you reflect on your work history, there were many times you had to figure out how to handle unexpected challenges, quickly shift priorities in an emergency situation, or change direction after a customer or boss reprioritised. While you may have forgotten these situations, that’s likely because they ended well and faded into the back of your mind. However, these can be great stories to relay to an employer who may be wondering how you can handle something you haven’t done before. Pick one or two that show your resourcefulness, agility and creativity to demonstrate that you can hold your own in new environments.
- Demonstrate your “softer” side. Recent research is showing that companies are struggling to find individuals who have the necessary “soft” skills to be successful. These include influencing others, collaborating across functions and diverse groups, solving ambiguous problems, and building strong networks. If these are strengths of yours, many employers may be open to overlooking a few technical shortfalls (which can likely be learned) to hire an employee who brings these coveted abilities. Today’s market is shifting so quickly, employers need professionals who can keep up. And while the “hard” skills will continue to morph or be automated, the ability to cultivate relationships will continue to be in demand.
In addition to what you share in the interview, how you talk about these experiences is just as important. When responding to questions that highlight potential gaps you have as a career switcher:
- Don’t apologise. No candidate has every qualification, and neither will you. Focus on your strengths and what you bring versus spending time talking about what you don’t have.
- Avoid over-explaining. If you’re nervous, your tendency might be to go on the defensive and ramble. Prepare a brief response that addresses the concern, and then move on.
- Start responses on a positive note. Never begin a reply with “No, I haven’t…” Remember that an interviewer is taking notes and will write down the first thing you say (you don’t want a big “no” on the paper when she is reviewing the notes later). Instead, first explain what you have done that is related.
- Get backup. Offer to share a reference who can speak to your resourcefulness and ability to successfully tackle new challenges. A third party endorsement can go a long way in convincing a skeptical HR manager that you can handle yourself when faced with the unknown.
- Put yourself in their shoes. The higher the level of the job, the more important it is for a company to avoid a hiring mistake, which can be incredibly costly. So, it makes perfect sense that a HR manager is being careful. Don’t take it personally, but rather see it from their side. If you were in their shoes and were responsible for making this hiring decision, what would convince YOU that you were the right fit? Chances are, your answer lies there.
Lastly, remember that you’ve made it this far. A busy HR manager wouldn’t waste her time speaking with you if she didn’t feel like you had something substantial to offer. While you may have a learning curve ahead of you, trust in your abilities and envision yourself in the role at the 6 month point when you’ll be wondering what you were so worried about.