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Dreaded Words for New Grads: "Not Qualified"

By Jeff Lipschultz

Several years ago, I had a tricky hiring decision to make as a manager at Motorola.I was filling a position on my team that required specialized skills.

Hired: Less than Perfect Match

My best candidate was a woman who had some similar work experience, but her skill set was not a perfect match. We discussed this in the interview, and she was able to convince me to hire her.

She shared examples about how she learned certain unique skills very quickly. She also talked about her work ethic and team-attitude (which was confirmed with her references).

Upon joining the team, she immediately became a valuable asset on our team. The lesson here:

Even if you’re not "fully qualified," you can still get the job if you have work experience you can leverage in the interview.

Overcoming Lack of Experience

For new college graduates, this is a little tougher as they are new to the workforce.

The advantage of hiring them is low impact to the corporate budget. The disadvantage can be lack of experience.

  • Internships and Co-ops

    First choice is an internship or co-op that gives you experience related to what you want to do after you graduate. This is why internships during the summers or co-ops during the school year can be essential in a budding career.

    Obviously, you’re not going to get the same “education” being a lifeguard at the beach or working at a clothing store, although if you can expand your role by asking to assist in other areas of the operation, you may find yourself being promoted to roles that look more impressive on your resume.
  • Volunteering

    The value of having good jobs during college is so important, I’d suggest you consider volunteering if you can. It’s often hard for an organization or a company to pass up an offer of free help. They do have to invest time in training and managing you, so there is a “cost.” Therefore, you still have to make a strong argument as to why they should hire you and what value you can bring to their organization.

Landing an Internship

Two of the keys I have found to getting good internships are to start the process early during your college years and leverage your network:

During college, I was able to land an internship at a large truck engine manufacturer because I had a resume that included being a draftsman at a smaller consulting firm the previous summer (and management positions at a restaurant chain I started working at in high school).

I landed the draftsman job by leveraging my network. Although a year out of high school, my high school drafting teacher helped me find that opportunity. You just never know who might be able to help you get a “good” job.

Benefits of Internships and Co-Ops:

  • Experience in the workplace

    Not only are you getting experience (hopefully in your field), but you are learning how companies operate. Knowing what it takes to get a project completed, approved, or even off-the-ground allows you to talk knowledgably in future interviews.
  • Audition for a permanent job

    You might be asked to join full-time when you graduate. For companies, these internships are the best way to screen potential employees of the future. They invest three to six months in you and can determine the likelihood of you being a good fit long term. And vice versa. It’s a winning situation for both sides.

    In college, I had many buddies co-op at Saturn before the first car hit the assembly line. When they graduated, most of them where asked back. Several even were asked to co-op more than one semester. That’s a strong endorsement on a resume.

Bottom Line

Nothing beats experience. College education and knowledge of the latest technologies or marketing strategies is certainly nice. But applying those skills in a real work environment is better. When it comes time for you to interview, what experiences will you leverage to convey that you can meet the requirements of the job, even if you’re not perfectly qualified?

Oh, and by the way, one other advantage of internships--you never know who you’ll meet. I met my future wife.

Jeff Lipschultz About the author...

Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. Learn more about him through his company site Follow Jeff on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@JLipschultz).

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