Ask The Headhunter: How to Overcome Missing Job Requirements


When you see a job description for which you are an almost perfect fit, there are many ways to overcome any shortcomings. Headhunter Nick Corcodilos advises that you take control during an interview and explain what separates you from the crowd. Photo by YinYang/Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: In a recent column, “The Only Interview Question That Really Matters,” you talked about showing how you would do the job in the interview.

What do you do when the employer interviewing you has four requirements, you meet three of them and you know that you’re the best person for the job? How can I turn this kind of situation into a job offer?

Nick Corcodilos: Isn’t this the way it goes? The candidate is very sure the job is a perfect fit, but the manager isn’t sure enough.

This problem often arises because the manager doesn’t see “the required experience” on your resume, and so rejects you without going any further. (The manager might not even read your resume until you’re already in the interview!) This is where resumes cause real problems, and this is one reason why I don’t like resumes. They can sink you — and you’ll never know it. For more on this, please see my article, “Don’t Defend Your Resume.”

I’ll let you in on a secret: Often, managers are not very good at figuring out whether a candidate really fits a job. Many managers are not good at interviewing, and they don’t know how to select the best candidates. This gives you the advantage, because it creates an opening to change the interview entirely.

This is where I will pick up on what we discussed in the column you referred to. Some people get this immediately, but others reject it because they believe it’s up to the manager to extract the information during the interview.

An interview is a two-way street. Don’t be afraid to drive the conversation where you want it to go.

If you lack something an employer wants, but you’re a match on other counts, don’t wait for the employer to decide to take a chance on you. She probably won’t. Don’t wait for her to figure out what to do with you. Instead, figure it out for her and explain it.

Use the interview to demonstrate what you can do.

Few job candidates ever do that in an interview. (They are content to field interview questions.) A good employer who’s looking for a confident, talented, dedicated worker will react well to an assertive applicant. Ask the manager point-blank whether she’s hesitating to hire you because of the one missing requirement. Get the problem out on the table. Then explain that you’d like to prove you’re a fast learner and that your other skills will more than compensate for anything that might be lacking.

“May I take a few minutes to show you, right now, how I would do this job?”

This is an incredibly powerful approach. Of course, it’s also risky and you must be prepared to do a demonstration. But, if you aren’t prepared to do this, then you have no business in the interview. If you attempt it, and you fail, you’ve lost nothing because the manager was ready to reject you anyway.

How can you demonstrate your abilities? It depends on the job. Here are some examples from different job scenarios:

  • Show how you would operate a computer or other machine.
  • Explain how you would talk with a customer.
  • Draw an outline of how you would perform a task.
  • Explain how you’d solve a particular problem.

Then explain how you would come up to speed on the one thing you’re lacking:

  • What materials would you need to read and study?
  • What kind of tutoring or training would you require?
  • How long would it take you to come up to speed?

Help the manager balance the job requirements. “I can immediately deliver three of your four requirements. And I just showed you how I’d quickly come up to speed on the fourth. Meanwhile, the job wouldn’t be sitting vacant.”

If all candidates lack one requirement, but you’re the only one who offers a plan for dealing with the learning curve, it might be the deal-maker you need to land the job.

When an interviewer begins to lose interest, or suggests you’re lacking a key qualification, don’t give up, but don’t argue. Instead, make an offer. It’s up to you to turn things around. Stand and show you can deliver. Show that you know what you’re lacking, and indicate a clear willingness to ride a fast learning curve. If a manager doesn’t respond well to that, move on to an employer who will take notice of a candidate who’s ready to put it all on the line.

Of course, if you just can’t prove you can do the work after all, you must reconsider how you are selecting job opportunities. For more about this, please see “The Interview, Or The Job?.” It’s possible you’re pursuing the wrong kind of job.

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sen$e readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sen$e. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions