Barack Obama. Elon Musk. Bill Gates.
None of them were qualified to do their jobs.
Barack was a young and so-called inexperienced politician when he became the President. Elon is toppling three established and heavy-duty industries after cutting his teeth as a software entrepreneur building…of all things….payment systems. Bill Gates started Microsoft as a college-dropout creating an operating system for the far more experienced and “qualified” executives at IBM.
Me? Well…I’ll share a few stories about my own background to make it clear that I’ve never been overly qualified for the jobs I’ve done.
In fact, the notion that anyone is qualified for the job they do is laughable. By definition, anyone starting out in a career is unqualified. Also, those further along in a career who are continuing to progress and see promotions, are continually feeling challenged.
I vividly recall Mike, one of the Executives I used to work for, giving me a golden piece of advice shortly after my promotion to being a manager (I was in my mid–20’s). When I asked him for advice about leading a new team and feeling out of my league, Mike said, “Ravi, no-one really knows what they are doing! Don’t let them fool you!”
I’ll never forget that advice.
I believe that not only is it POSSIBLE to get a job you aren’t qualified for, I think those are exactly the type of jobs you SHOULD go for. These are the jobs that will stretch you and challenge you. If you are a shoe-in candidate for a job, unless the job responsibilities can grow over time, you will quickly be bored.
This is a counter-intuitive, but comforting notion for those struggling to break into a new field, come back to the workforce after a break or otherwise “punch above their weight” when it comes to getting offers for jobs that are exciting but seem out of their league.
It’s my goal to inspire you in this blog post to aim high when looking for your next job. Not only that, I want to give you practical tips and will help you make it happen.
But first, a personal story…
1) Make your own luck
My first full-time job at Microsoft was as a Business Development Analyst working on product growth strategy and acquisitions.
I had no business doing this work as a 21-year-old as my first job right out of college. I worked on a small team and made things up as I went along. Most of the other people on my team had 10–15 years of work experience and MBA’s from Harvard, Oxford, Wharton or similarly name-brand schools. I didn’t even have my undergrad degree at the time, I was hired before I graduated from a state university (go Penn State!) and finished my degree part-time after starting my job!
I got this job because I was an intern in the Finance Department, and had worked on some impactful and strategic projects during my time there. In speaking with the division leader toward the end of my internship, I was clear that I wanted to continue working on that strategic stuff. I let him know that I thought my intern project would be a great full-time job and I would be excited to do it.
Shortly after that, I was given a job offer to come back full-time and do exactly the sort of work I wanted!
I’m not sharing the story to say that everything you ask for will come true. However, if you do great work, and want to find a new job in your company, why not ask your manager? It worked for me and might work for you!
The lesson here is to not wait for others to come to you with opportunities. Do your best to make your own luck but asking for what you want.
2) Who do you know?
I was in my Business Development job for almost three years.
I learned a ton and got the chance to engage with senior-level executives (from Microsoft and other companies) as part of it. One thing I was missing out on, however, was feeling like I was building and shipping products. Strategic jobs are excellent, but in my early–20’s, I was missing the feeling of ownership that comes along with being part of an actual product team.
Therefore, I started looking for a job change.
I wanted to move towards a “Product Management” role. I found such a position (at Microsoft, the job title was “Product Planner”) in a neighboring team. There was a problem, however, since the available job (posted on a job board for internal employees) was a senior-level role. They were looking for someone with a technical undergrad degree (I didn’t have that) an MBA (didn’t have that either) and 5–7+ years of experience (I barely had 3!).
In the end, I ended up getting the job and beating out the other internal and external candidates.
How did that happen?
Here’s how…the people who were doing the hiring (my new boss and skip-level manager) had worked with me on previous projects. It turns out, they actually thought I was more experienced than I was! When I shared the truth about my low-level job status (and pay grade) – they almost didn’t believe it! In the end, they took a bet on me, and I got the job.
Yes, I needed to go through a round of interviews and demonstrate that I could do the job. However, I never would have been considered for this job if I was an unknown quantity. I got the job because the decision makers knew me and trusted me.
When you are looking to get a job you aren’t qualified for, look for jobs where you are known and trusted by decision makers. Use your network and connections to open up doors that would otherwise stay closed. This might take some time and effort, but it will pay off in the end.
The best jobs always come through your network.
3) Invest in yourself
Confidence and soft skills are crucial.
When you intensely study what it takes to build a successful career (as an Executive and Career Coach, this is my job!), you start to notice that it is rarely the lack of technical skill or intelligence (e.g. hard skills) that keeps an individual from advancing their career. It’s almost always soft skills and emotional intelligence that are the limiting factors.
Yes, EQ trumps IQ.
“How well you do in your life and career is determined by both. IQ alone is not enough; EQ also matters. In fact, psychologists generally agree that among the ingredients for success, IQ counts for roughly 10% (at best 25%); the rest depends on everything else — including EQ.”
This isn’t to say that a software engineer doesn’t need to learn the latest coding processes and frameworks to be great at their job, or that a product manager doesn’t need to know how to do market research. What I’m saying is that beyond the baseline technical skills, EQ-oriented soft skills make the difference between operating at the level of a “Jr.” team member and a “Sr.” team member.
I’m referring to things like self-confidence, social skills, empathy, motivation, self-control, innovation, adaptability.
How do you learn these soft skills?
You could learn on the job. You can also learn through workshops, books, courses, and classes. Ideally, you would work with a coach and also build a set of trusted mentors to guide you.
I’ve discovered that some companies offer free skills development training to employees (Microsoft did). If your business offers training classes, take advantage of them! However, the best training I always sought out and attended on my own, and paid for them out of my own pocket. While my company had some great training options, the training I really needed was the type of training that would push me way outside my comfort zone.
If you are looking to get a job you aren’t qualified for, make a list of the top skills (hard and soft skills) that you need to work on and invest heavily in yourself around these areas.
During my 14 years corporate career, I invested over $40,000 (estimate) of my own money into personal development and growth oriented training. This includes epic training like this as well as various workshops and coaching experiences. Even when I was very early in my career, without much in the way of savings, I invested a large chunk of my income in personal development.
The ROI on this investment was immense!
Now that I’m an Entrepreneur running my own coaching business, I’m continuing to invest in my self-development. It’s the critical edge.
4) Why should they hire you?
Yesterday I coached a junior Product Manager who was looking to get back into the workforce. He worked as a PM at a startup for two years but was laid off.
His confidence was shaken. He didn’t know what to do.
He loved the Product Management role but didn’t feel like he was ready or skilled enough to get a PM job at a larger tech company. He didn’t have a technical background. He didn’t know how to code. He didn’t have experience with any formal Product Management processes. His startup was flying by the seat of their pants, despite his best efforts at creating some processes to guide the engineering team.
After hearing his story, I asked him a simple question. “Why should someone hire you?”
He didn’t know what to say.
Then, with some time and coaching, he was able to articulate a handful of experiences he has had at his startup, that many companies would highly value. Pinpointing these elements changed his perspective from one of him hoping that businesses would take a bet on him, to one of seeing how much he could be of help to other companies.
If you can’t articulate precisely why a company should hire you for a particular role, figuring that out should be your focus!
If after deep thought and exploration, you still cannot come up with convincing reasons, you should question if you are the right fit for the job you are targeting! Perhaps there is an interim step between the job you hold and your dream job that would help you learn and put you in a position to succeed?
Connor McGregor isn’t afraid to punch above his weight.
However, you’ll note that he didn’t fight someone who was 250 pounds and armed with weapons! He punched one weight class above where he was at, in a sport where he knew and understood the rules of the game.
It takes an incredible amount of self-awareness to know where the edges of your skills are. Dancing around that edge is what creates growth and puts us in flow states in our lives and at work. Pushing slightly past the edge of our capabilities is important.
However, if you go too far beyond your growing edge of skill, you will be in deep water and struggle. Even if happen to get a job that is far beyond your skill level (e.g. perhaps you are attracted to the fancy title…) you will then face the challenge of succeeding in the job! The worst possible outcome is to get a sexy looking job and fail due to lack of skill or competency.
It’s for this reason that your own self-awareness is key.
Where are you skilled? Where are you not? How quickly can you learn what is necessary to succeed in the new job? Are you willing to do what it takes to be successful? How long will that take? How long do you need to ramp (and will you have enough time if you get the job)?
These are all important questions to ask yourself.
If your answers tell you that you are ready to go for the job that (on paper) you aren’t qualified for, then, by all means, go for it.
On the other hand, if you answers indicate that you are biting off far more than you can chew, perhaps it’s best to pick a job that isn’t so big of a stretch.
The starting point for your job search should be to aim high.
Use the tips in this post to help you build up greater confidence and progress as you move through the process of finding your next job.
If at any point you feel stuck, and would like me to coach you on this topic (or any other topic relating to your career), click here to apply for a complimentary coaching session.