How to nail an interview—even if you’re not qualified for the job

When it comes to interview preparation, it’s not about “fake it ’til you make it.” It’s about reframing the job skills you do have.

How to nail an interview—even if you’re not qualified for the job

You can nail the interview even if you don't think you're qualified.

We’re all familiar with the feeling of reading a listing for your dream job. You can vividly picture yourself brilliantly answering the interview questions and cruising toward your new life, one where you’ll rise each day to the smell of fresh-baked donuts (in this fantasy you’re the manager of a popular donut shop), tackling new responsibilities you’ll actually enjoy. And then, the inevitable sad trombone. This job requires five to seven years of donut shop experience. You don't know how to nail an interview when you don't have enough work experience, and your heart sinks. The fantasy begins to flicker away. And you slowly close the screen of your laptop, vowing to never eat another French cruller again.

Wait. Are you serious right now? Upload that resume! Just because you think you're not qualified doesn’t mean you should give up on a job before you’ve even applied for it. We know: You’re probably imagining some mean-eyed HR person, possibly wearing a monocle, crushing your resume in his hand and crying, “Dream? How dare she?!”

So, okay—you send in your application, wait anxiously for a response, think about stalking the hiring manager, actually stalk the hiring manager, but don’t end up emailing her, wait some more, and finally wake up one morning to a message asking you to come in for an interview at a mutually convenient time.

YES! It’s happening. But wait: What about those five to seven years of work experience? You didn’t somehow acquire those in the six days since you sent in your resume, did you? Seems like a stretch.

Our advice? Don’t stress about it. If you managed to score an interview, there’s a good chance that monocle-clad HR rep already recognizes your skills gap but sees something else in your resume that could make up for it. Pep? Resourcefulness? Good old spunk? Whatever it is, we’ve got some tips on how to nail an interview when you think you're underqualified.

Reframe your skills

In the days leading up to the interview, go over the job listing with a fine-tooth comb (or a regular comb, that’ll work too) and identify each individual skill or qualification being requested. We already know you’re missing a few, and that’s fine. Just write them down. Seriously, go do it.

Done? Okay. Now, make a list of the skills you already have. Maybe some of them come from your current or previous job. Maybe some of them come from your part-time gig as a volunteer at a shelter for over-active corgis. It doesn’t matter: Just write them down. Seriously, go do it.

Are you beginning to see where this is going? Even if you don’t have every single skill mentioned in the job listing, some aspects of your experience are most likely adaptable—and can be referenced in a job interview. So, when someone asks, “How accustomed are you dealing with a chaotic work environment?” you're ready with an answer even if your last job was at an aqua therapy spa. You can lean on the experience you’ve gathered corralling those crazy corgis, providing an answer that’s honest and also bridges the gap between your current skill set and the one they’re looking for.

Pick up the skills you lack

Of course, we’re not saying you should presume you’ll always be able to float by on your corgi-wrestling experience. While you may only have a few days to prepare (sometimes less), don’t overlook the value of a little professional development. Applying for a job that requires some light coding abilities? There are literally dozens of online tutorials that walk you through most of the basics, and many of them are free. The same goes for public speaking, social media, and many of the other in-vogue skills you’ll come across in job descriptions.

When you have the entire Internet at your disposal, you can create your own curriculum of self-improvement and take the first baby steps toward closing your skills gap. And no, you’re not going to pick up JavaScript in three days (unless you’re really, really good)—but you can learn to talk the talk, and show your interviewers you’re willing to do the legwork necessary to truly thrive in the role.

Use the scrappiness factor

For most people, your job doesn’t boil down to any single task. Especially when you’re early in your career, you’re bound to wear a lot of different hats. If you’re a video production assistant, for example, you might end up hauling equipment, fulfilling lunch orders, working with video editors, and coordinating schedules—all within the span of an hour.

Reach back through your experience one more time. Can you think of any occasions where you had to learn a new set of skills on the job, maybe even on the fly? This isn’t “fake it ’til you make it.” This is scrappiness, and it’s a great quality to have. If you can show your interviewers you’ve been in a similar situation before—one where you had to learn by doing—and totally killed it, they’ll see your inner resourcefulness that will serve you well in the job at hand.

Let your resume open more doors

Knowing how to nail an interview is one of the ways you can position yourself for a job you're not completely and totally qualified for. Another way to get invited to more interviews is to make sure your resume highlights transferable skills and applies your existing strengths to the job you're interested in. Not sure your resume is doing that currently? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. Making a smart, strong first impression is a great way to get the message across to hiring managers that you're worth taking a chance on.