Thursday, July 08, 2010

Interviews: Gaps in Your Knowledge

Sometimes interviewers want to know whether you meet minimum requirements, but sometimes they just want to know what bonus skills you might have that would give them greater flexibility or that might interest another hiring manager. addresses the best response when a hiring manager asks a question about an area in which you lack knowledge.

Margolin advises saving your time and theirs by answering plainly that you don't have that answer but have a plan to learn about that area. That's OK as far as it goes, but you need a bit more.

Use discernment about how hard to sell yourself. Are they asking you about required, desired, or non-advertised skills? Time pressure might force them to choose between candidates who meet 80% of the requirements, so your can-do answer may give you the edge.

A better answer...
  • admits that you don't have that knowledge
  • shows that you are interested in the topic
  • relates how you previously delivered value in a new area.
My first two bullets match Margolins' answer, although I generalize the point about interest. Having a plan is only one possible way to demonstrate interest. You might demonstrate interest by asking a question about the topic or by stating that you have studied it but not developed experience in it. My third point drives home your credibility with respect to the second point. It turns a dry, hypothetical answer into a concrete narrative.

For example,

"I haven't worked in [topic], but I enjoy reading about [related issues] and would LOVE to get my hands dirty in it. One time, my director needed someone to deal with [relevant topic], which none of the departments covered. My supervisor asked me if I could help, so I hit the internet and the library that night, and came back with a tutorial the next day that the director liked so much, he expanded our department's charter; and naturally, my boss put me in charge of it. I know you'll be pleased with how I can help you."

Obviously, you can't give long-winded answers like this if they ask about multiple knowledge areas you don't have.

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