Applying to a Job You're Not Qualified For

Have you ever applied for a job you’re not qualified for? If you got an interview, did you just try to BS them or were you open about your deficiencies?

I’m asking because I was talking to a friend about how I was applying for a new job in my own dept, and he told me that there was something opening in his department (we work at same company) that he thought I should apply for also. Except it’s in tech security, which is something I have zero experience with. (I have worked the past 8 years in IT, mostly minor web dev. and helpdesk-type deals, so I have been around computers.) He is pretty high up in his area, and I flat out told him that I have no security experience - he said apply anyway.

I asked an old coworker about it, and he said that in tech jobs like that, just the fact I have any IT experience is what they’re looking for, and they’ll train me to do what they want.

I am suspicious of this - I don’t want to play the fool and waste everyone’s time, but it’s a significant step up. Tomorrow is the deadline, and I’m applying just for the heck of it, but I really don’t see how I can get through an whole interview on a subject I know little about. (The referring friend did tell me how they interview in two parts, one a basic questioning period, then I have to give a presentation, so I do have that going for me.)

So tell me about times you’ve done this yourself. What was the job for, and how did it turn out for you? Is it crazy? Any tips?

I actually have the opposite experience. I’ve had interviews for jobs I was over qualified for due to shortages in my field, education. I think interviews just want to hear you know how work and are commited to the job. One thing you could do, that seems to be a crowd pleaser, is say how interested you are in that field. Maybe say you plan to go to school, or back to school, to work with tech security.

That is a good idea, but I don’t know how long I can stretch out boundless enthusiasm for the field in an interview. :slight_smile: I will keep it in mind, though. I really am starting to believe getting jobs is just about knowing the right people and not drooling on yourself. I envision my presentation starting: “So this morning on Wikipedia when I was learning about exciting developments in system security…”

Remember: it’s not your responsibility to decide if you’re unqualified; it’s the interviewer’s responsibility. Don’t lie, of course, but do sell yourself – in particular your IT experience and proven ability to learn different IT issues. If they invite you for an interview then go, and do your best to convince them you can do the job.
For what it’s worth, if I was hiring for a tech security job, I’d look for a good security mindset, general computer experience, and overall smarts way more than I’d look for any particular computer security experience (in fact, some helpdesk type experience might be really useful, to know the difference between what a corporate policy says and what end-users actually do).

Now go and read a bunch of Bruce Schneier. Then spend the first few minutes of the interview trying to get a feel for the interviewers and whether they’re looking for boring corporate-droid answers or for a big-picture discussion about how the real challenge in computer security isn’t the techical issues, it’s creating a solution that efficiently meshes with how real humans actually work.

As far as enthusiasm goes, well, if you don’t want to do the job then you certainly shouldn’t apply.

One challenge is getting it by HR screeners, who are, according to common wisdom, just looking for keywords.

HR drone: This position requires 5 years in Java, 5 years in “Application Support”, 2 years with Jira, knowledge of “Web Services”, and 1 year of ColdFusion. I don’t see any of these words on the resume. <tosses in circular>.

The worst that can happen is that they won’t hire you and you stay where you are (or you get the other job you applied for, in your case). I wouldn’t BS them and lie, but highlight the areas you are familiar with. The most important attitude to bring with you is your desire to learn a new skill set. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in that you’re a quick learner…

I agree apply for the postion and be honest. Don’t sell yourself short but only apply if you think the position would really interest you.

A lot of times a person willing to work is what they want. AND they can offer you less money and get a person that will work harder and take direction. When I worked in IT, one of the things I saw that disqualified a lot of applicants was a “know it all” attitude. And they know A LOT but the job was with hotels and this attitude kept them from getting the job.

Some IT jobs require you relate to people. I worked in a computer store over the holidays and the techs received bad comments for “talking down to the people.” As techs they did fine, but they insulted and were rude to people. I don’t believe they did this on purpose, they just couldn’t understand why anyone couldn’t do what they did. They thought computers were simple and felt everyone else should see it that way.

So apply for the job and be upfront and state you’re willing to learn anything and if they don’t want you, that’s their choice. The thing is people will look at your application and H/R is pretty good at weeding out junk, so you won’t even get an interview unless they want you.

In my experience, they just want to confirm that you have some IT experience and that they wouldn’t have to train you on the most basic of basics. (eg: “Okay, now this is a computer. They plug into the wall like this.”)

If you show that you aren’t a complete idiot, most people will bring you on and train you up.

You are competing against whomever else applies. If you are the most qualified, they may decide they can teach you what you are lacking.

Don’t lie, you may be surprised.

I did this for my first immigration paralegal job, and was very upfront about what I did and didn’t know (I was generally familiar with the various agencies involved in immigration, I could string two sentences together, and I used to be a court interpreter. I did not, however, know a damn thing about work visas.)

They offered me the job anyway, doing nothing but employment-based visa petitions, and I took it and worked my way up and learned a lot. That was almost 12 years ago, and it turned out to be a road to an entirely new career for me.

Thanks everyone for all your input! As the deadline was tomorrow, I went ahead and submitted my app/cover letter and definitely emphasized my IT experience and willingness to learn. I feel a little less anxious about it now that I’ve gone through with it, and I am telling myself that he probably wouldn’t recommend I apply if he didn’t have some sort of faith in my abilities. Plus I’m not unemployed, so it is no big deal if HR thinks I’m unworthy - so I am going to choose to think of it as an adventure. I’m glad the Dope let’s me vent my anxieties. You guys and gals are great.

Anyway, if anyone does have their own stories, feel free to share - this didn’t have to be all about me.

ETA: Oops, Eva Luna beat me in - That is great that it you got the job! Sounds like you ended up doing really well. I’m glad to know it is possible.

Man, if you can get a job you’re not qualified for, let me know how you wrangled it. I can’t even get a job I am qualified for.

Two things I want to comment on:

(1) You asked what people did if they got invited in to interview for a job they were not qualified for. It has been my experience that if you get invited in for an interview, you ARE qualified, at least on paper. The interview is to determine if your personality and work habits would be a good fit for the company environment.

(2) Regarding your comment that getting a job is “just about knowing the right people and not drooling on yourself,” I think that statement needs to be qualified. It has been my experience that knowing the right people can put you at the top of the list. Your resume gets reviewed right away, you are put in contact with recruiters and hiring managers right away, and are treated with a lot more promptness and respect. However, merely knowing the right person will not get you steady employment unless you indeed are qualified to do the work. It’s business: if you’re a liability, they’re not going to want to keep you around.

Of course, I am twenty-four years old and only have three years experience in corporate America, so I’m not exactly a seasoned expert myself.

Sure, I’ve applied for jobs I was less than qualified for and been hired for ones I was very minimally qualified for (twice). You never know, maybe nobody better qualified applies, or they get lazy and just let you have it, or they decide your attitude makes you a better choice than someone who is technically better qualified or… whatever. You never know when you might get lucky.

I don’t lie but I also do not emphasize my shortcomings. Answer questions honestly, but focus on how you are a fast learner, excited about the job, useful skills that you do have, etc. Research as much as possible before the interview so that you can ask a couple of well-placed questions that make you look good. Also, look sharp.

You have absolutely nothing to lose.

If you imply that it’s a job no one can be qualified for, then you’ll most likely be hired.

Yes, and it was a disaster. I’m glad it was a phone interview, because they asked all kinds of technical questions I didn’t know the answers to and I could just hang up in shame instead of driving home in shame. I even said 2/3rds of the way through the interview (after saying “I don’t know” for the third time) “I’m just not doing very well, am I?”

Well fuck them, they wanted a genius that could fix all their IT problems with zero training for less than what I was making before. It was still very demoralizing.

I actually did apply for a job I wasn’t qualified for. I was a magazine editor and there was a business magazine in Miami that was looking for an editor. I got called in for an interview and made my way to the Cuban section of town (called “Little Havana”) to their offices. I was perfectly qualified as an editor, but they were looking for someone who either had an MBA or a lot of experience with business writing/editing. They were also looking for someone who spoke fluent Spanish. I was not qualified on either count. (No, you cannot learn Spanish by osmosis just by living in South Florida. I tried.)

I thanked them for the opportunity and for considering me, but it was clear I was wasting the interviewer’s time and mine as well. I felt really foolish for thinking I had a shot at that gig when they probably had 10 other candidates who did have the business background and the bilingual thing going on.

My advice to the OP is to not bother if you’re really sure that you couldn’t hit the ground running if you were hired. This is a very, very tight job market right now and you will be wasting your time because there will be 100 other candidates who do have the qualifications that you don’t. If there was ever a time when employers were desperate and had trouble finding people, then I would say you’re in a position to present your eagerness to learn and get yourself up to speed asap. In this market, I can’t see it happening.

Where I work now, we just had an editor position open up. We got 40 resumes. Previously, when the job market wasn’t quite so desperate as it is right now, we’d have probably interviewed 4 or 5 people and perhaps 2 of them wouldn’t really have all the qualifications on paper. This round, the managing editor found about 8 people who were all completely qualified on paper and had to eliminate several really promising candidates because she could only do 4 interviews. Any one of the 8 would have been capable or better at the job.

So I vote for don’t waste your time or the company’s.

[Deleted inexplicable double post]

Things were clearly looking grim for the local office of the first company I worked for, and I’d been scanning the employment section for nearly a year. I saw a few jobs here and there that looked like possibilities, had had an interview or two, but hadn’t seen anything really promising. Finally I saw an ad for a job that looked just right… except it said that a Master’s Degree was required. Just a B.A. for me, so I was screwed.

That day, or maybe the next, a co-worker quietly asked me if I’d seen the ad. (She was reading the Want Ads too.) I told her that I’d seen it, but the Master’s requirement knocked me out of contention. She told me I should apply anyway. So I did.

The person doing the hiring apparently just held the dubious belief that having a Master’s meant you had good writing skills, which is really what they were looking for. Well, hell, that was no problem for me, and in fact I’d emphasized it on my resume. They liked my experience and educational background. I got the job.

I worked for, and befriended, the two terrific people who ran that office for a couple of years, before they left to start their own company. When they were established enough to need help, I was the first one they called, and I happily rejoined them. I’m still working for and with them almost 12 years later.

I owe most of my career to that almost offhand prompt from my co-worker way back when.

So how did you choose which four to eliminate?