A reader writes:
In preparing for an interview, I have been reviewing the job posting and one phrase has me a bit flustered. The posting mentions (twice, in fact) that a certain skill set is “a plus.” I have very little experience in this area and would not say it is a skill set I currently possess. It is something I would happily learn if needed (especially if the resources to do so were offered to me).
This skill set did not come up in initial phone interview. If it comes up in the next interview, I plan to be honest that I have not had much exposure in that area but am eager to learn. However, what should I do if I am not asked about it? I don’t want to be misleading in any way or cause any issues if I am offered the position, but I’m not sure that volunteering that I have a weakness in an area which is only considered “a plus” is the wisest interview strategy either. What is the best way to address “____experience a plus”?
I don’t think you need to make a point of bringing it up. If it’s something they’re concerned about, they’ll ask about it.
You can typically take it at face value when an ad says that X is a plus. It means that it’s an advantage, but not a requirement. If two candidates are otherwise equal but one has X and one doesn’t, the one who does might win out … but in reality, it’s very, very rare for two candidates to be perfectly equal.
In practice, this can play out all sorts of different ways: They might love you and be willing to overlook the fact that you don’t X. Or they might not be fully sold on you, and “well, she doesn’t have X” might be what pushes them into a “no.” Or a desire for X might never even come into play in their deliberations. Or X might turn into a requirement somewhere in the process. Or X might only become a factor with candidates who don’t also have skill sets Y and Z (and complicating it further, Y and Z might not have even been mentioned in the original ad — ads aren’t perfect, and hiring managers’ understanding of what they’re looking for can change during the process as they talk to actual candidates).
But there’s no way for you to know what’s behind that mention that X is a plus, so the best thing you can do is to assume that it’s just a bonus qualification, no more and no less, and that they wouldn’t be interviewing you if your lack of it were an obvious deal-breaker.
Of course, if you want to know more about how important X might be and why, you can certainly ask about it. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Your ad mentioned that experience with X would be a plus. Can you tell me more about how important that is and how it might come up in the role?” That can give you insights into all sorts of things.
And if you don’t ask about it and it doesn’t come up in your conversations with them, you can always ask about it at the offer stage. At that point, you could say something like, “I recall that your ad had mentioned that experience with X was a plus. Clearly my lack of it didn’t end up being prohibitive, which is great, but can you tell me more about how X might play out once I’m in the role, and whether there’s anything you’d want me to do to strengthen my skills in that area?” You might hear “nah, it was more of a wish list item but not a big deal,” or you might hear, “yes, we’re going to need you to really cram to learn more about X during your first month,” which would be useful to know as you’re evaluating the offer.
But I wouldn’t be worried about drawing their attention to it as a weakness of your candidacy. If it’s a big deal to them, they either already noticed you don’t have it or should ask you about it themselves — and besides, if your lack of it would weaken you as a candidate, that’s not something you want to hide, because if they hire you, you don’t want them to have any surprises.