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How To Prepare For An Interview When The Job Is A Stretch

Don’t worry if you feel slightly underqualified. If the job isn’t a stretch for you, it’s not worth applying.

How To Prepare For An Interview When The Job Is A Stretch
[Photo: monkeybusinessimages/iStock]

First things first: Your job interview is going to stress you out—even if just a little bit, and even if you think you’ve got it in the bag. You have one shot to impress people who don’t know you that well, and it’s a fact of human psychology that we just aren’t naturally comfortable in situations like that. Plus, you’re competing against a number of other people for the same position, and if you really want the job, you’re already emotionally invested in getting it.

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If only it stopped there, but it usually doesn’t. On top of all that, you might feel like the job is a bit of a stretch for you. You may not be completely qualified to step into the role on Day 1 and do a stellar job. That’s actually completely fine, but it can make preparing for your interview even more anxiety inducing than it already is. Here’s how to stop freaking out and nail it anyway.

It’s Not Worth Your Time If It Isn’t A Stretch

Of all the reasons to stress about a job interview, your qualifications to do the job should not be one of them. The first rule of career advancement is that if you’re completely qualified for the job you’re applying for, you’ve aimed too low. New jobs are an opportunity for growth, and good employers know that. They aren’t hiring you for your ability to do the job completely from the start. They’re hiring you for your potential to become great in the role.

So if your resume accurately reflects your prior experience, then the people interviewing you already have a sense of your qualifications. Keep this in mind while you’re preparing for the interview, because it can significantly change what you focus on: You don’t need to convince them that your experience makes you worth considering—they’ve already decided it does by inviting you in chat.

A big source of stress in these situations is imposter syndrome. Many people assume that everyone else is highly qualified for the roles they occupy, and that they’re the only ones who might not be. This is a really common worry, and one reason why it’s so dangerous is because it might lead you to hide your weaknesses. Squaring off with a hiring manager, you might hesitate to reveal what you don’t know and discuss the mistakes you’ve made. This might be interpreted as overconfidence and could hurt your chances.

Scour Your Resume For Proof Of What You’ve Learned

So your first step is to make an honest list of the things you don’t know—the ones that are likely stressing you out by making you feel underqualified. Itemize all the ways you’d have to grow in the role. Now practice talking forthrightly about these deficits, not as “weaknesses” but in terms of your potential. Not sure how? These tips can help you reframe the narrative.

Everyone is learning on the job. Nobody has the entire skill set they need to do their job perfectly; there are some things they do well and others that they’re still getting the hang of.

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That means you want to emphasize your ability to learn on the job—and share proof that you’re really good at doing that when given the chance. Look over your resume and jot down a few anecdotes you can tell from past positions. You want to be prepared to give examples of situations where you made a mistake and learned from it—or where you didn’t have enough information to do something right, so you went out and gathered it. You want to show that you’re willing (and excited!) to be mentored.

Your goal isn’t to convince an interviewer to hire somebody who’s “underqualified,” to dupe them into gambling recklessly on you. It’s to show your prospective employer that their faith in your potential is well-placed.

Ask About Training Opportunities

Once you’ve lined up some examples of how quickly you learn on the job, you’ll want to line up a few questions to ask your hiring manager. After all, one of the best ways to turn a stressful interview from an interrogation into a conversation is to interject questions of your own.

And as recruiters at companies like Amazon and Spotify recently told Fast Company, one of the questions they love to answer but seldom get asked is about training opportunities. But you don’t have to pose it bluntly like, “What training opportunities do you offer employees?” You can ask the hiring manager how they personally have learned and grown on the job. One exec at a health startup suggests putting it like this: “What growth opportunities and changes have you witnessed at the company level that have been most exciting?” or even asking how their own role has changed since joining the business.

The fact is that some companies don‘t want to train the people who work for them—they only want employees who can execute tasks perfectly without supervision. So in order to find out what type of employer you’re dealing with, you’ve got to ask.

Ultimately, if you honestly reveal what you can and cannot do and the company chooses not to hire you, that’s probably a good thing for you. No matter how qualified you are for a job, you’re eventually going to be given some set of tasks that are beyond your current skill set. If the company isn’t willing to help you grow and develop, then your career there won’t advance anyway.

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