Monday, June 12, 2006

Management droppings?

Question
I have been able to get to the stage of a phone interview with the hiring manager and the director of my skill area (the hiring manager's boss). I know the basics. I have reviewed their web site, read news items, studied their product line, and I'm ready to emphasize my strong points. However, I have some concerns.

I fit about 70% of the job description on their web site. My specialty is packaging engineering. They ask for pharmaceutical background, which I have. They ask for familiarity with certain materials, and I am maybe 50% of what they need. For instance, I know laminate tubes but not blister packaging. I know what it is and how it is done, but not in their operation. I know sealing technologies but I do not know liquid fill. I know how it is done but have never worked with it. So, those are strikes against me. They ask for AutoCAD experience, which I have a bit of. So, I can take a class and get up to speed. That makes me nervous. Am I crazy? How do I overcome this?

Reply
You are going crazy because you're focused too much on the wrong things. One key to any interview is to forget about yourself. Think instead about the employer and the challenges she faces. That's what you want to talk about.

And don't worry too much about the formal job description. Job descriptions are management droppings -- all they reveal is what the manager was thinking yesterday. They are artifacts of where the manager has been, not where she's going. The actual work to be done will not be revealed until the manager meets one or two good candidates who will actually help shape the position. You won't learn what the manager really needs until you meet and talk. (For more about the problems with job descriptions, see Talent Shortage, or Poor Management?)

Your deficiencies are not such a big problem if you can show how you'll compensate for them. The best way to do this is to ask the manager point-blank what key tasks she needs the new hire to accomplish. Then ask what outcomes the manager wants to see. What does she need the new hire to produce? There are likely lots of ways you can achieve the desired outcomes -- not just via the methods listed in the job description. Briefly explain how you'll use "what you've got" to meet the challenge.

But it's just as important to quickly admit what you're lacking and then outline a brief plan for how you will use your abilities to get the work done anyway. There's nothing wrong with saying you will study, read, and consult with others -- whatever you need to do -- to get the job done. This actually reveals a strong, sound work ethic.

If I dropped you out of a helicopter onto a desert island and all I gave you was a penknife and a hardboiled egg, you'd find a way to survive. What you must demonstrate in your interview is how you would survive and thrive by using what you've got -- because no one "has it all." You must show the manager that you know how to approach the job effectively.

So, go for it. Don't focus on you, and don't focus on "management droppings" -- those "aged" job descriptions. Focus on what the manager really needs to have done. Quickly choose from among your skills, apply them appropriately, and then outline a simple plan for how you will handle tasks and functions you haven't tackled before. What additional tools, manuals, and guidance will you need? Close by describing how your work will pay off for the company. What qualifies you to do a job is not your past history, but your demonstrated ability to plan the work and to get it done.

I wasn't qualified to publish a web site until I built asktheheadhunter.com in 1997. I figured it out as I went. Now, when you Google "headhunter", my web site is at the top of the results. But, someone else once said this better than I can:
"What is 'qualified'? What have I been qualified for in my life? I haven't been qualified to be a mayor. I'm not qualified to be a songwriter. I'm not qualified to be a TV producer. I'm not qualified to be a successful businessman. And so, I don't know what 'qualified' means. And I think people get too hung up on that anyway, you know?"
Sonny Bono said that in 1995 after he got elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

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