How many times have you seen or heard about a promotion at work, but talked yourself out of applying because you don’t have all of the experience or qualifications on the job listing? I can say that I personally did this more than I’d like to admit early in my career. Here’s how I got over that fear and started going after what I really wanted, and how you can do it, too.
You’ve got to throw your hat in the ring
During my tenure as an SE I acquired technical proficiency which gave me the confidence to move into a sales role. My goal in sales was to be responsive, attentive, responsible, and accountable - the type of sales rep people would look up to.
Sales was a good career move for me personally and enabled me to further solidify the foundation for my future positions as a sales manager, in sales operations, and other roles where having “street credibility” is key. It also involved daily contact with customers and partners which has always inspired me. It’s so rewarding to see how the solutions we sell are put into use in solving real-world problems and changing lives.
After selling for a number of years, I assumed the next logical step would be a manager position. A new management spot was opening up, but as soon as I read the job description for the opening, I knew I did not meet the qualifications. The first bullet listed was Management Experience, so I didn’t even look at the rest of the requirements.
After all, when you grow up following the rules and the first rule knocks you out of the running, that’s the end of the discussion. Imagine my surprise when I saw who came into the office the next week wearing suits and ties for the interview: five male peers from my team.
I had every bit as much experience (or lack thereof) as they did, but that did not stop any of them from going for the job. I asked a few of them why they thought they were a viable candidate when they had zero management experience. They largely answered, “Why not go for it?”, “I’ll learn on the job,” or, “Our manager will have my back.”
These comments were astounding to me. It was absolutely eye opening for me to realize that while it never occurred to me to apply, it never occurred to them not to throw their hats in the ring.
Again, my experiences are similar to many women I speak with, and confirmed by Tara Mohr, a consultant who conducted a survey around job requirements. She was trying to determine if not meeting all of the job qualifications held applicants back. She found women to be twice as reluctant to apply for a job, and twice as likely to follow all of the strict guidelines of the posting than men.
In addition to checking all of the boxes, many women need to feel that we have actually mastered the responsibilities of that next job before applying for it.
I knew that my male peers didn’t have any more experience than I did – they just had more guts and confidence – both in terms of going for the role and assuming they would not fail if they got it.
As one of the men told Mohr, “If I really thought I could do the job and wanted it, why would I quibble over semantics?”
Another sentiment expressed to her was, “I look at the ‘required’ qualifications on any job posting as suggestions or a guideline and I know if I can get in the door for an interview, I can sell my ability to do the job without having every box checked.”
No one is an expert on day one
Needless to say, that was the last time I used the filter of “having to meet 100% of the requirements” prevent me from applying to a job I wanted. That experience also challenged my long-held belief I was expected to be an expert on Day One. To be sure, I did not always get the promotions I sought, but by putting my name out there I was letting management know I was ready and hungry to make a bigger impact.
Since then, I always encourage others to reframe job qualifications as guidelines and not as a mandatory list; and to apply for positions they are passionate about. When they are enthusiastic with the company’s mission and the role, and when they meet at least some of the requirements, they can pull together a narrative of why they make a compelling candidate.
I’ve been on both sides of the interviewing table, so I feel confident in saying that the interviewing process is a no-lose situation. If you get the job, congratulations!
If you don’t get the offer, you will still have accomplished a great deal: you had a chance to update your resume, you gained interview practice, you made new connections, you expressed your interest in making an even bigger contribution to your organization, and you’ll be even better prepared for the next opportunity.
Why is this important? Changing positions ensures that you’re constantly building your network of contacts. You’re showing that you have the ability to be flexible and that you are able to grow and change. You’re getting exposed to new management styles. You’re learning more aspects of how your company works. And you’re constantly pushing yourself which keeps you sharp, fresh, and relevant.
You can stay with the same company, but you should be intentional about continuously building new skills.
Thinking toward the future
I like to challenge people I mentor to think about their ideal role, a position they’ll want down the road. There’s nothing wrong with being a sales, finance, marketing , or any other professional for your whole career. But, it’s worth considering if you’ll want to specialize or gain broader experience earlier in your career vs. later.
I ask them to consider the skills they’ll need and the various functional areas that would be beneficial for their future. For example if a young woman wants to eventually become a General Manager, she’ll be best prepared if she has spent time in Sales, Finance, Operations, and has had P & L responsibility.
Mapping out the skills area gives you a better idea of what experiences you’ll need to round out your talents. So, if someone has been in sales (or IT or marketing or finance or …) for a few years, it might be time for her to be intentional about building out her next skill set.
Once you determine what role might be a good net move for you, you need learn more about the jobs and the fit.
What options are available to learn more? Can you shadow someone currently doing that job? Is there a temporary assignment on that team? What about having informational interviews over a coffee? Is there a project you can work on with a member from that team? People are generally generous with their time and knowledge, especially when there is an interested audience.
As you enter into these conversations, make them less about you (“This is the next logical step in my linear career,” or “This will be a strong bullet point on my resume.”), and more about what you can offer the organization (“With my experience and passion, I can make an impact that will help your [team, organization, company, department] meet your business objectives.” or “My skills in [this area] can help us be more competitive in this area as a company.”).
Be prepared to share concrete examples and results of your work, rationale why you would be a good fit, and how your experiences will enable you to make a valuable contribution. Obviously a big part of this is expressing genuine desire for the position or project.
Some people call this office politics but I call it advocating for yourself. This is all about letting people know your goals, seeking feedback, and exploring your viability as a candidate. If you don’t do this, no one else will do it on your behalf. You are uniquely qualified to do this and responsible for advocating for yourself.