Dear Dan: How Do I Interview for a Job when I Lack Experience
What advice do you have or what resources can you recommend to folks like me who want to transition to a supervisory role but have not held a position with that title? (I have informally supervised staff.)
I’ve applied for a management role that has duties very similar to what I do now with the addition of supervising 7 staff. I have some ideas for how to present myself. I want to be prepared to answer the question, “How do I move up to management without supervisory experience?”
Moving Up (I hope.)
Dear Moving Up,
Congratulations for applying. You’ve already overcome the problem of ruling yourself out. Don’t talk yourself out of an opportunity that feels like a stretch.
I wish you well in your pursuit. My response focuses on your concern about lack of experience.
You demonstrate leadership by preparing for challenges before they arrive.
- Line up two or three mentors who are great at managing people, before the interview. When lack of experience comes up, give the names of your experienced mentors. “I’m so glad you asked. I’ve already lined up (names), just in case I get this position.”
- Start reading, “Mindset,” by Carol Dweck. It’s all about developing a growth mindset.
- Create a list of the first five books you’ll read if you get the job. Create your reading list from recommendations of respected managers in your organization. When inexperience comes up, say, “Mary said XYZ book really helped her when she was an new manager.” (Replace “Mary” with the name of a respected manager in your company.)
Don’t do this:
I hired many people over the years. But there’s one type of first timer I never hired.
I never hired anyone who said that something they hadn’t done was easy.
First time instructors often have no idea how to design good assessments. When I brought up the challenge of creating assessments, some novices suggested it wouldn’t be that difficult. I never hired those people.
If the person giving the interview suggests something you haven’t done is a challenge, agree with them! Any other response suggests the interviewer is an idiot. You might say…
“I hear you on the challenge of managing people. That’s why I’ve taken these steps to address this challenge.”
Only the naïve think success is a walk in the park.
Success and failure are best illustrated with stories.
Tell a story about:
- Something you learned from failure. Present yourself as a learner, not a knower.
- What you learned from managing people.
- How you helped others succeed.
One way to demonstrate skill is by bragging about the accomplishments of people you’ve helped.
Emphasize soft skills:
Emotional intelligence is essential for success.
What people skills can you leverage to help you succeed in your new role? You might read, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie.
Go to your interview prepared to ask questions that demonstrate your grasp of important issues.
- What are the strategic goals of this organization. How does this position serve those goals?
- What are the most important skills of successful managers in this organization?
Preface questions with, “If you don’t mind me asking.” Be curious but not pushy.
You have my best,
What suggestions/warnings might you offer Moving Up?
How to Get a Job When You Don’t Have Much Experience (US News)
The skills for the manager are different than those of individual performers. Look at times where you’ve done and can prove you’re adept at managing and measuring work, been approachable, built teams and helped others advance among others. While supervisor isn’t one of your titles the skills to be effective are important to illustrate.
First thing to do is walk in and throw your calendar in the trash. Your time will be focused on others not yourself. While you manage process you lead and develop people. Be able to make that distinction
Thanks Bushee. The shift from me to we is so valuable. It can take some time to make that shift. We’re probably as good or better at doing the job than others on the team. It can be tough to let go.
Make a list of the experiences and actions you have taken to build and strengthen your management and leadership skills.
Taking a lead role
You also might consider volunteering to be an athletic coach of a youth team. That will give you real experience at managing and leading others.
Thanks Paul. What seems important is to give yourself time for focused reflection. When I say “focused” I refer to your list. Don’t just sit around thinking about managing. List the skills and then reflect on your own experience, competence, aspiration. That seems very useful.
Good morning Moving Up and Dan. The best advice I have received about leading people is to not wait for a job description to tell you to lead people. Start right where you are. Look within your inner circle for who do you have influence with, who trusts you? It doesn’t have to be at work. It could be at your church, a volunteer organization or a club. Leading people in any environment can teach us lessons and we often can learn even greater lesson about leadership when you don’t have a paycheck to hand over someone’s head. Get off the bench, get in relationships and lead!!! Good luck!!!
Thanks Wade. There is a huge difference between waiting for an opportunity and making one…Or taking one, for that matter. People who wait always frustrate me. There is a type of person who complains that they aren’t getting what they want. They really mean, you aren’t giving me what I want. (Sadly, they may not have even expressed what they want.)
Thanks, Dan – This is the second time this week I heard a reference to positive psychology and I needed this information.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is lack of ownership of the role you are interviewing for. So what I mean is that a case manager for example who is interviewing for a team leader role will take the perspective or answer like a case manager not like a team leader. I suggest putting some thought into what you currently do and then thinking about how that differs when you are the leader not the team member. You can then make the connection to demonstrate you know how to step up
A few candidates I have recently interviewed for Leadership positions made quick reference to how bad their prior company was, how sorry their previous manager was at his/her job and how much more qualified they were than the role they had. Some of those explanations could have been true, but it’s in bad taste to start every example blaming the previous company for their culture or manager for their leadership. I tend to hire those that are willing to learn, take-on challenges, bring energy and remain positive. There is absolutely a way to explain the last role/company was not a good fit, but directly blaming others is a trait I flag as something I cannot have on my team.
I would be remiss to only post a negative and omit a positive/encouraging approach. Similar to the the storytelling, there is a quick acronym that I prepare to use in interviews; remember PAR- problem, action, result. I keep 4-5 of these PAR’s or stories in my back-pocket during interviews for the ‘tell me a time when’ question is asked. Not only do you talk about the scenario, but take it a step further and explain the problem you were solving for (P) and the outcome or result (R). The answer should tell a story of your approach, attitude, hurdles overcome, impact and ultimately the value you brought to the target audience; team, client or organization.