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Under qualified for the job

under qualified

Actual picture of an office from a candidate who thought he was under qualified 

Under qualified or telling the wrong story?

Under qualified candidates have it tough, but this is a post for those that may be “under qualified”.  I recently received an email from a reader who felt he was underqualified for a position but not only ended up landing the job, he enclosed the picture of his new office which is inserted in the post.  His email explained how he went from bagging groceries to a position where he had his own office, and this blog had a small part to do with that. Needless to say, I was stoked for him and flattered to be part of his quest.

I asked the reader if I could post a picture of his new office and blog about his experience because I am confident other readers would benefit.  He didn’t want to be named and stripped his office picture of personal effects because he didn’t want anyone in HR know he got the job with some Nasty tactics, but was happy to share.  Dude, you know who you are, thank you.

A great story at a number of different levels

  • In this tough economy, a candidate landed a great job with a multi-billion dollar company.
  • We only communicated over email and via the blog, I have never met the candidate in person.
  • I believe that landing a new job has the potential to be a life-altering event and I was able to be a part of that success. This, my friend, is some cool shit.

But what set this offer apart from the rest

  • Our candidate had a general business degree. The job was asking for a specific industry related degree AND an MBA or an MS degree in finance. (our candidate had neither)
  • The candidate had very little experience applying for, in his words “real” jobs
  • This was a position I had never heard of, let alone never hired for.  This was an industry I hardly knew existed. 
  • Some would say the candidate didn’t have any experience in this field and in theory had no business applying for the position. 

In short, he was under qualified

Think about that. Under qualified and in one of the worst economies our reader beat the system. 

To provide context our candidate had emailed me prior to this so there was already a relationship.  Below I have included an edited version of his email regarding the interview process.

Hey HRN,

I’m hoping you might have the time to give me a few tips here. I’m narrowing in on my first real out-of-college job (currently a cashier) and just had the phone interview on Tuesday. They’ve scheduled me for an in-person, full interview for next Friday. I have questions about two things, but I’ll stick with just the first one for this email as I think answering both at once would take up too much of your valuable time.

I am applying for an (XYZ) position at (Multi-Billion Dollar Company Y), having no prior experience in industry (X) or (Y), only a business degree from (college U). 

Preferred qualifications:

Bachelor’s Degree or higher in X

• MBA and/or MS in Finance
• Experience with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook
• Experience effectively communicating a vision to a broad range of stakeholders

The phone interview went incredibly well, with the lady on the other side saying I would be a great fit for the company. However, she had reservations about whether the company would be interested in someone with no (X industry) experience and said she might encounter pushback in scheduling a final interview but would go to bat for me. I am doing my best to prepare by reading the company’s book (name of book here) detailing its management philosophy and am planning to head over to the library to check out some books on (specific industry, as well as sitting down with my friend’s dad who has worked there. 

But what can I do from here? How far can a “great fit” with the company culture take me?

Thanks in advance and keep up the good work on your website, it’s already been a big help so far in this process. 

Our candidate is obviously doing his homework

He is going to the library to do research, tapping into the company culture by reading their books and networking.  Despite this effort, he knows he is missing one piece.  He knows he is under qualified, and most would say by a long shot.  I like this guy’s style.   

Together we went through the job description and pulled out the important points he needed to address if he wanted to prove he was going to be worth of the offer. 

Below is a slightly abbreviated version of the actual job description:  (I have changed the names to protect the innocent) 

  • This is (position X) in the (Location) Region Team.  
  • The employee will perform as an (XYZ) for the (Location) Region Team. 
  • This position is located in (city in the US)
  • This person will work to build strong business relationships within their operating areas and will help drive process improvements and present innovative solutions to recurring issues. 
  • A strong desire to be in the (XYZ) industry is essential as this person actively represents  (XYZ) and the facility operations on local and regional sourcing initiatives.
  • Implement strategic sourcing and pricing options pertaining to the procurement of supplies for a manufacturing facility.
  • Evaluate least cost sourcing and pricing opportunities using analytical and innovative problem-solving skills.
  • Ensure all transactions are properly documented and distributed.
  • Work in conjunction with (XYZ) team to monitor and manage (a bunch of stuff) listed here: Administrative, Capital Employed, Transportation and Supply Costs
  • Ensure compliance with all health, safety, and environmental policies and procedures.
  • Learn and adapt to new responsibilities outside of current knowledge base. 
  • Use a creative problem-solving approach. Challenge the status quo, and identify and act upon opportunities for positive change.


  • Bachelor’s Degree or higher


  • Bachelor’s Degree or higher in (specific industry)
  • MBA and/or MS in Finance
  • Experience with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook
  • Experience effectively communicating a vision to a broad range of stakeholders

You have heard me say it before and I will say it again.  A job description may be 2 pages long, but there are usually just a few bullet points/requirements that matter.

eg: I like to fish, my last girlfriend didn’t like to fish.  You can bet your ass that the next girl I pursue will have a big truck with a camper, have her own worm farm, won’t scream when baiting a hook, and have an electric filet knife.  

In this job position, I just picked out what the hiring manager was missing from the last employee working this position.  The “truck with camper” and the “electric filet knife” of the above job description are as follows.  This is pulled from the 1st paragraph of the job description, after the company description:

This person will work to build strong business relationships within their operating areas and will help drive process improvements and present innovative solutions to recurring issues.

When the hiring manager described this role to the recruiter, the above was probably the first thing out of the hiring managers mouth.  They didn’t say they wanted 2 years of experience, they didn’t say you needed experience in industry (X) or experience doing position (y).  The hiring manager wanted a candidate that can build strong relationships, help drive process and present innovative solutions to recurring issues.  What I pictured was that the hiring manager had someone with experience but an inability to build strong relationships.  This inability to get along caused trouble and eventually the relationship didn’t work out AKA Pink Slip.  (just my humble theory, you didn’t hear it from me)

My advice to our candidate 

“Out of the entire job description, only worry about what is highlighted below.  The rest is just fluff. The bullets highlighted in Blue are your primary concerns; the Green bullets are the secondaries only because they are liabilities.  Don’t worry about the rest.”    

From the first paragraph of the job description:

  • This person will work to build strong business relationships within their operating areas and will help drive process improvements and present innovative solutions to recurring issues.


  • Bachelor’s Degree or higher in Forestry
  • MBA and/or MS in Finance
  • Experience effectively communicating a vision to a broad range of stakeholders

What really matters

Out of the entire job description, I only highlighted 2 points in blue and 2 in Green.  The rest was generic fluff found in any other job description in any other industry.

My advice to the candidate:

Look up the term Behavioral Interviewing and how to incorporate it into your answers.  This is a must. The definition is:  Prior behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.

Examples of building relationships and driving process

Give as many examples as you can around the bullets in blue.  It doesn’t have to be in the (XYZ) industry. The examples can be from school, on your sports team, in the boy scouts etc. These are skills you have or you don’t and if you can show a few examples with specific examples that may do the trick. Building strong relationships isn’t a skill a corporation wants to take the time to teach.

Frankly, I don’t know if that is a skill that is teachable. Driving process and being an innovative thinker isn’t something anyone wants to teach. The company knows they will have to have to teach the technical aspects of the job, because even if someone has experience in this specific industry, the company will have their own way of conducting business, so they know they are going to train whoever they hire. The company DOES NOT WANT TO/ CANNOT train someone to build relationships or drive the process.

      Your Goal

Your goal will be to give examples from school, with projects you worked on, with internships or even a fraternity you were in, the point is to GIVE EXAMPLES.  Don’t just say you did build relationships. You need to give the details and the results.  

Talk about your documentation and how you distributed these ideas in school, at prior jobs, at study groups, on field trips you took. It doesn’t have to be in the industry, we just want to show the mentality. 


I think you are on the right track with the reading of the books. This talks about the company culture and management style. Just make sure you TELL THEM YOU READ THE BOOKS, or better yet, reference facts from the book so they know you read it. This will show REAL initiative. Just saying you read the books isn’t enough.  They need to believe that you comprehended what you read.    

The Position

I would Google (Position X) and find out WTF that is and what they do. Sorry, I just don’t know. I would ask your buddy to put you in touch with someone who may know what this job entails and don’t waste time. Move NOW, this weekend.  


Lastly, I would think about this as it relates to what is highlighted in green. This is our liability: Whoever interviews you, is going to be wondering: “how the frick did this guy get in here? He doesn’t have experience, he doesn’t have the education, he doesn’t have the background.” The interviewer may or may not say anything depending on how big their balls are, but we have to assume they are thinking about it.  

Beat them to the punch and just say the following; “I am sure you are wondering why I am here. (Don’t hope it doesn’t come up, own it!)  I don’t have a (specific industry here) degree or an MBA. But my thought is that even if the person you hire has experience, you are going to train whoever comes into this job in the (hiring company name here) way. You want someone who is easy to train, will have to work behind the 8 ball and bust their ass to get up to speed and will always be trying to prove their way into the job. What you will NOT have to train me on is Building Relationships and Driving Process and here is why.”  

      The examples

“In college, I built this relationship with study partners. On my baseball team, I drove these drills with the team, on my boy scouts I came up with the safety process for our camp trips, I did this, I did that.”  Load up your interviewer with examples.  Look them right in the eye and own it. You have nothing to lose.

In the end, the candidate did his homework, networked, studied, practiced answers and screwed up the courage to pull it off.  He lived the axiom “getting a job is a full-time job” and he didn’t give up. Like I said, I like this guys style.  Congrats Brother, and thanks for including me in the process.

Good luck with the new gig and we will see you at the after party,



nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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