It was my first day visiting Austin, Texas. I was at WeWork, a famous co-working space in the startup-crazed city, when a red headed woman sat down across from me and initiated a conversation. Forty-five minutes into our discussion, she paused and sat back in her chair. “I want to interview you for a job I have available.”, she said, suddenly.
“Um, sure!” I said, wondering if she was serious. “What’s the job?”
“You’d be an Account Executive for our Edtech startup.” She said. “This would mean that you would be selling our product, working with customers to put together plans around how to use it in their classrooms, and make deals with different organizations to partner with our company.”
I looked at her blankly. She had asked me about my work background a few minutes earlier and I had shown her my LinkedIn – she knew I had never held anything remotely close to a sales position. I also had little to no knowledge of the education space. But I had come to Austin for a few days to decide whether or not I wanted to relocate there, so I wasn’t going to turn down a seemingly fated opportunity. We agreed to meet for the interview two days later, where she offered me the job on the spot.
Never in a million years had I thought I would be working in a sales position or at a startup like the one I’m currently at. Eight months ago, I was living in Los Angeles in my parents’ home while completing coding school with only a defunct business, no college degree, and a background in entertainment to my name. My prospects weren’t incredibly promising – and I was scared out of my mind.
When I organized my trip to Austin, I had no expectations. I certainly wouldn’t have thought to apply for the kind of position I’m in now, if it literally hadn’t landed in my lap. I needed a job, but I saw myself as under qualified and too young for the jobs I wanted – assumptions that some would probably agree with if they simply saw me on paper. However, my current boss believed in me and gave me a chance.
This got me thinking; how many times do we limit ourselves based on what we believe about our own abilities and qualifications? If we don’t hit every bullet point of the ‘experience necessary’ section when looking to apply for jobs, do we just give up and walk away?
After taking into account my own encounter and talking to people from a few different industries about what they look for when hiring, I have found that young people with little experience might have more opportunities than we think – but our success is dependent on how we approach the application process. If you are currently applying for jobs that you think you could be good at but don’t meet all the requirements for, here are some tips on how to use your youth, tenacity and even your inexperience to raise your chances of getting hired.
1. Identify your skills
If you are going to apply for a type of position that you don’t feel fully qualified for, you first need to understand what qualifications you do have. In this article, I expand on the topic, “How to identify your skills and correlate their relevance to an industry”, but for now, think about some skills you have obtained from past jobs, non work related experiences, and even from any volunteering you’ve done. What did you learn about yourself? Examples could range anything from, “I’m a good communicator”, to “I’m awesome at math”, to “I can make one helluva spreadsheet”. How will these skills aid you in the job you are applying for? It’s important to be able to easily highlight your skills and valuable qualities to a possible employer because they will be your main selling feature.
2. Go for young companies
When looking to fill a positon, corporations have a plethora of highly experienced candidates with full resumes to choose from. If you have identified what you are good at and have the evidence but not the credentials to back it up, start looking into the positions available at young companies. Corporations tend to hire based purely on experience, while companies in startup mode usually have different hiring criteria. Though you need to show that you have the skills and the intelligence necessary to pick up a job quickly, startups also look for someone who can contribute to the company culture, has a passion for the product or position, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. A lot of startups will choose a person with these qualities and no experience over someone with 15 years of experience who is unwilling or unable to think outside of the box or be committed enough to give 110%.
I cannot stress this enough: networking is THE most important thing you can do to get a position that you want but don’t have the necessary qualifications for. Building strong rapport with leadership or influential employees can help them overcome any objections about your background they might have had when considering hiring you. After all, an employee is not only hired for what they can do in the job, but also for what they can add to the overall workplace environment. Meaning, they need to like you! Once you’ve identified a few companies where you feel like you could be a good fit, find networking events in your area that will bring current employees and executives together and introduce yourself! To find events, go to meetup.com and search networking events in your preferred industry. If you already have a LinkedIn with some professional connections, reach out to a few of the ones relevant to your preferred industry and ask them to coffee (and if you don’t have a LinkedIn, stop reading this and MAKE ONE). In either scenario, you have a fabulous opportunity to learn about the job you want, and an even better opportunity to build relationships that could lead to new opportunities.
4. Find your advocate
Sometimes all it takes is one person. Finding someone who you click with that has authority in your desired industry can be the difference between a job offer and a rejection. If that person can recognize your valuable qualities and vouch for you, a future employer won’t have to be convinced by your word alone that you can handle the position. Having this kind of clout behind you carries tremendous power. If you think you found such a person, get lunch with them. Ask them about their job experience and about any advice they can give a person looking to get into their industry. When the relationship has been established, ask them if they can get you an interview or help you break into their industry. When applying for higher positioned jobs, having an influential person behind you will open doors and give you the credibility that your resume won’t.
5. Fake it till you make it
Employers are looking for people who are going to help the company run efficiently and make it profitable. So even if you’re not quite sure if you have the experience necessary to hit the ground running, you must intrinsically understand and convey that no matter what is thrown your way, you will adapt and learn quickly. Never lie about your abilities, but don’t be afraid to show them how much you believe in yourself and how, if they take a chance on you, they won’t be disappointed. Confidence and preparation are the two most important things you can bring into an interview to show that you are an excellent candidate for the position. If you are unsure of your ability to do the job and unprepared to take on the responsibility of what the job entails, then your potential employer will have very little reason to take the risk involved in hiring you.
Obviously this method has it’s limits – you will probably not be able to land a Senior Vice President position at a company with no experience in the industry. However, there is a very good chance that you are more qualified for the kind of position you are looking at than you think you are. The unique traits that make you YOU could actually be the things that differentiate you from a pool of overqualified but monochromatic candidates striving for a position. Even if you are under qualified for a job, by showing a strong work ethic, a drive to succeed, a level of teachability and by placing an importance on relationships, you will get somewhere – even if it’s somewhere unexpected. Be open to different kinds of careers that can utilize your strengths. Even if it’s not in your desired field, a job where you can excel and move up the ranks quickly might provide a good learning experience and the necessary credentials to launch you into the career you really want later on. Don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars; the only people that succeed at high levels are the ones that are crazy enough to try.
Originally published November 19th, 2017 on bevalyouable.com