Dear Dan: How Do I Interview for a Job when I Lack Experience

Dear Dan,

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.

Be proactive:

You demonstrate leadership by preparing for challenges before they arrive.

  1. 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.”
  2. Start reading, “Mindset,” by Carol Dweck. It’s all about developing a growth mindset.
  3. 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.

Tell stories:

Success and failure are best illustrated with stories.

Tell a story about:

  1. Something you learned from failure. Present yourself as a learner, not a knower.
  2. What you learned from managing people.
  3. 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.

Ask questions:

Go to your interview prepared to ask questions that demonstrate your grasp of important issues.

  1. What are the strategic goals of this organization. How does this position serve those goals?
  2. 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?

Bonus material:

How to Get a Job When You Don’t Have Much Experience (US News)