I know what you’re thinking. “Talk about my gaps and weaknesses?!? How is this going to convince an employer I can do a job that I haven’t done before? Ridiculous!”
Yes, that’s a reasonable reaction. I know that talking to a potential employer about your gaps and weaknesses is counter-intuitive. But here’s why mentioning these things is much more convincing than continuing to talk about your strengths.
They understand the situation much better than you!
Because when interviewing with the hiring manager for a position you lack experience doing, you’re speaking with someone who knows the realities and challenges of the role and what you’ll face much better than you. And his biggest concern is that you’re overestimating your ability to do the job he needs you to do, and/or underestimating the situation you’ll be facing.
So every time you tell him, “I’m very confident I can do this job.” you’re just reinforcing to him what he’s thinking about you. Which is, you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s not a person that employers want to hire. Especially, for a position that you haven’t done before.
Instead, the way to convince others you can be successful in their opportunity is by sounding like you know exactly what you’re getting into. It’s called self-awareness, and it’s a very attractive quality to employers. Especially ones that you need to convince you can quickly learn a new position. You show them that you clearly know what you’ll need to overcome, and how you plan to do it.
Don’t sound like all the other candidates
As an example, we recently had a candidate who was interviewing for an investment position with one of our clients. He had a strong strategy consulting background, but no previous investment experience. But our client liked his clean-tech industry background (about 50% of his consulting projects), which was their main investment focus.
To prep the candidate for the hiring manager interview, I told him to convince me that he could handle this investment role. He shared his knowledge of the clean-tech industry, and how he was viewed as a top consultant in his company. He also talked about his analytical and financial modeling skills. This was all fine. But then he began simplifying the challenges of the position and saying how he was certain that he could perform the role well.
I told him, “You know, that’s exactly what every person with a background like yours sounds like that our client ends up not hiring. If you want this job, say something different from all these other candidates.”
Tell them what you don’t know and can’t do yet
I told him that what shows others your maturity, credibility, and stature more is your recognition of the gaps and challenges that you knows you’ll need to overcome. The hiring manager is going notice your shortcomings. So don’t be afraid to point them out first. By mentioning what the hiring manager is already thinking about you, you make a very good impression, not a bad one. By showing your self-awareness of what you’ll be facing and what you need to do.
After saying this, I then told him to tell me the three biggest gaps and challenges that in his mind he’d need to overcome if he was hired. He told me that, one, he’d need to go beyond a market and strategic level and understand clean-tech at a product and technology level. Two, he needed to learn how to assess the entire business of a company, and not just their market and competition. And three, he’d have to learn how the company approached and viewed new investment opportunities.
Essentially, understand things at a much deeper level. That sounded absolutely right to me. He had an understanding of the clean-tech industry, but not really at a product, technology, and business execution level. All things that successful investment professionals need to assess and manage.
But then how you’re going to get up to speed!
After mentioning these gaps and weaknesses, I then asked him to tell me how he’d overcome them. And to share similar situations he’s been in before where he’s had to quickly learn and perform in a new situation. And how exactly did he do it?
He said that he’s often assigned to his company’s most critical, most challenging consulting engagements. For example，he was dropped into the middle of one last year that was far behind schedule, and where there was a huge urgency to what he needed to do.
To understand the client’s business quickly, he went directly to the CEO and asked him, “If you were me and needed to understand your company’s overall business as quickly as possible, who would you talk to first? And then who? And then who after that?”
He described how he met all these people in a few days. Not just in the office, but over lunch, dinner, drinks, even on weekends. And how his ability to connect with others got them to share with him whatever he wanted to know. It was a great example of how proactive and resourceful he could be.
To get up to speed on his investment skills and understanding of business operations, he talked about his network of friends who worked in VC and PC firms, and others who ran their own business. This wasn’t by accident. He was naturally interested in what they did. So another thing he’d immediately do is get together with them and “pick their brains” for everything related to his role. Finally, he mentioned that in his spare time, he read investment analyst reports, just like some people might read celebrity news. He painted a very good picture of his genuine interest in the investment world and the personal resources he could access to understand it better.
Not bad, I told him. He had a very good interview with our client who told us afterwards that our candidate came across as confident, but also down-to-earth and grounded about what he knew and what he didn’t know. From this impression of him, they made him an offer that our candidate accepted.
Of course, you always want to be confident in front of potential employers. But you don’t need or even want to do this by selling yourself hard and just repeating how sure you are that you can do whatever they need you to do. Better to balance your confidence by showing others your self-awareness too. Especially, when trying to capture an opportunity that you don’t have much experience doing before.