how do I address a glaring weakness in an internal interview?

by Ask a Manager on January 30, 2014

A reader writes:

I’m the sole internal candidate interviewing to be my work team’s manager. This team is newly formed, and the person originally tapped to manage resigned before actually holding the position (no drama: it was for family reasons). Subsequently, the job description was changed to include some technical expertise that neither the original manager nor I possess (my knowledge in this area is at a very basic level, though I’ve been actively learning more since joining this team). I harbor few illusions about my chances–if they want someone with the tech experience, then that’s who they’ll hire. However, I am well-qualified in other areas of the position, think the interview is a good opportunity to remind management about what I have to offer, and hope that perhaps they’ll consider reversing their revised expectations for the role.

My one worry: I’ve learned that part of the interview requires a review of my technical portfolio, which is colossally weak. How do I gracefully address this glaring weakness without looking foolish? I don’t mind being honest with verbal questions, but am a bit freaked about pulling out a physical thing and having it look so amateurish compared to the other polished portfolios they’ll likely see from external candidates.

Well, here’s the thing: You don’t want a job that you can’t do well at. So if the work you can show in your portfolio is a deal-breaker for them, you want to know that now — not after you’re already hired. Otherwise, you can end up in a job you’ll struggle in or even get fired from.

So I’d actually address this head-on; don’t try to disguise it or gloss it over. Say directly: “As you can see, I don’t have a ton of technical experience with X, although I’ve been actively working on learning. Are you looking for someone who will come in already having a higher level of knowledge in this area?”

You’ll look far stronger if you present an accurate inventory of your own strengths and weaknesses and appear more interested in whether you’re the right match for what they need than in simply getting the job offer.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

anon-2 January 30, 2014 at 11:14 am

Absolutely – that’s the right answer – explain that you don’t have the expertise — but if you’re the “one” they choose, you’ll work toward the goal of acquiring it quickly.

Think of Sarah Palin, when asked about foreign policy experience — you don’t want to start talking about Putin’s helicopter or that you can see Russia from part of Alaska.

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The IT Manager January 30, 2014 at 11:35 am

Also you know the history. You know the the original manager did not have this technical expertise so they thought she could do a good enough job without it. You can too.

If you’re willing (and think you’re able) to learn the technical stuff to do the job better, definately make that point.

I have no idea what kind of portfolio is it and no experience with creating portfolios, but since you say you have been learning since taking the job put the examples you have in there. Work on making it as nice as possible, but don’t worry about it afterwards.

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Anonymous January 30, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Because you do know the history, you might want to ask why they have added these technical requirements to the job description since the person they had tapped has left the organization. Their logic for it may strengthen your candidacy, & may weaken it. You would then be in a better position to go for it or to withdraw. Either way I like the suggestion below of asking for access to training on what seems to be important technology for your dept. From your question, I’m sure they already like your attitude & interest.

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Anon January 30, 2014 at 11:18 am

Could you also maybe ask about ways in which you could improve in this area?

“Whether or not I am successful in my application, I would like to work on my skills in this area, particularly if it would be of benefit to the company. Can you suggest any opportunities or means of getting more experience at doing this?”

They can but say no!

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Bryan January 30, 2014 at 11:24 am

The op might also be able to ask the hiring manager now about it.

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Bryan January 30, 2014 at 11:20 am

Spot on advice (as usual).

You don’t want to be set up to fail (by yourself or others). If you can do everything else super well and since the tech aspect was added, perhaps it is not as crucial but you strongly risk being fired if you cannot perform in this role well.

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William January 30, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I may be misreading this, but I thought the question was more about the technical portfolio, separate from the new requirements. If that is the case, I think the answer would depend on the reason why the portfolio is weak. Is it because of a lack of skills, which probably would be a dealbreaker, or is it simply because you are not actively looking for jobs so haven’t had the opportunity to update it to be current with your skills?

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OP January 30, 2014 at 2:34 pm

OP here (ah, the thrill of being able to say that in AAM!). Thanks so much for the input. To clarify: they’re looking for web design experience; the position would oversee content on our soon-to-launch Drupal website, as well as online marketing and social media. My experience up to now has solely been on the digital/social content marketing side of things, and my old team wasn’t involved in the back-end stuff at all. We already have a couple of web designers on staff, and they’ve been moved to this team (which includes the rest of the online marketing staff). I think the higher-ups feel that in order to manage the designers I (or whomever) needs a lot of knowledge about what they do, while I think I only need to have a basic understanding, plus a whole lot of other skills and experience that I do possess. But my test Drupal site is so, so ugly.

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Apollo Warbucks January 30, 2014 at 3:12 pm

The art of good management is getting things done through others, you might not have the technical skills but there is so much more than HTML / CSS knowledge that you need to be a good manager and run the team well, especially when there are others that have the skills.

I write a lot of SQL code and put my boss to shame, he has a basic understanding of the language but his code is horrific there’s nothing he writes that be used in the live system without being corrected. I’ve still got a lot of respect for him, I could not do his job and he adds so much value to the firm in many different ways, but script writing just isn’t one of them.

Good luck with the interview, just show them what you can do, and how you plan to develop your knowledge.

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Ella January 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm

There are hiring situation when attitude is more important than expertise, since the latter can be changed.
How long would it take you to increase your technical knowledge portfolio? can it be done in a reasonably short period of time and without investing considerable resources? if so (and given that you have the right attitude) an employer may be ready to take a chance on the candidate. (I talk from experience!)

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