I need to gain skills overnight for an interview for a stretch job

A reader writes:

I applied, and got an interview for, a job that looks really interesting (and would be awesome for my skill development) but that I felt was a bit of a stretch. I was hoping to get an interview but didn’t think I would, and now I need to gain/improve technical skills practically overnight so that I can do the job if they offer me it.

Background info: I’m an undergrad student, studying English. The job is similar to copywriting, and I think I could be good at it? But I just don’t have the experience to know if I’m completely out of my depth or if I really can do this. I can write well (especially in the kind of accessible style which the organization seems to use), I have decent research skills and I’m decent at editing — but all those skills come from university and tutoring other students (and from occasionally editing my friends’ fanfic). But I know that’s not nearly the same as actual work (this would be my first paid job).

I think I could manage the actual job description, but what if I get the job and find out that I need knowledge or skills that I don’t even know I don’t know? How do I know if I can do the job and eventually be good at it, or if I’m totally out of my depth?

So, the subject line of your email to me was “I have until Monday to gain technical skills I don’t have.” That’s the wrong approach!

This might sound counter-intuitive, but the best way to know if you can do the job and be good at it is to not try to scramble and gain skills overnight in preparation for your interview. Present your skills as they are, so that you and the hiring manager can make an accurate determination of whether you’re well matched with the job. If you bluff, you’re setting yourself up to end up in a job that you’ll struggle in (and could potentially be fired from).

I get the impulse you’re having, though. When I was about 21, I interviewed for a job doing something I had no experience with — managing an electronic bulletin board system (a BBS — anyone remember those?). I have no idea how I got the interview, but I knew nothing about BBSs and had never even used one. I crammed the weekend before by reading something like “BBSs for Dummies” and seriously thought I could bluff my way through the interview. I’m sure it was obvious to them that I had no idea what I was talking about, and fortunately I didn’t get the job — because it would have been a disaster if I had. (I have no idea how I had so much terribly misplaced confidence at 21! I’m both impressed and horrified looking back on it.)

That’s not to say that what you’re doing is on the same level as that — the job you’re interviewing for sounds much more in line with your actual skills. But the point is the same: you’re much better off being up-front about your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate and not trying to change your skills in a period of a few days.

And of course, part of the point of the interview process is for you to ask the questions you need to figure out if this is the right role for you. So in your case you might say, “I’m really excited to do this job, but I’m also aware that I don’t have professional experience in this field. Have you seen people do this work before without having previous formal training?” And/or “What do you think the biggest challenges will be for me coming in without formal training?” And/or “What kind of training and support do you typically offer people who are new in this role?”

In other words, just like they’re trying to figure out if they should hire you, you should try to figure out if they should hire you too! This all works better if you don’t go in with preconceived notions, since that can keep you from seeing important data. Go into every interview prepared for the possibility that you might find out this isn’t the right job for you, or that you’d love the work but hate the manager, or that you’d love the manager but struggle with the work or the culture, or all sort of other possibilities (including, of course, that it’s a great match for you). Too often people go into interviews just focused on getting a job offer, without taking the time to explore whether it’s even an offer they should want or a job they’ll be good at or a place they’ll be happy in.

And who knows — it could turn out that you have exactly the skills they care about you having and they’re happy to teach you the rest, and you’re excited at what you learn about what it’s like to work there. I hope that turns out to be the case! Just don’t get too invested in that or any other outcome, or it can blind you to really important info along the way.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. ParalysedbyOverthought*

    Apart from the details, I totally empathise! I’m in a similar position (about to apply for a stretch position, despite having barely half the desired requirements). I posted about it on Friday’s open thread, but where I feel confident (and *not* in need of advice) is that I have demonstrated my enthusiasm for the position, and ability to learn – enough for the hiring manager to theoretically consider me perfect for the role before I’ve even applied!
    So, sometimes, sheer enthusiasm can be enough – because if it excites you enough to get you out of bed in the morning, you’ll be more willing to learn and take in new information.
    (Plus, some managers/trainers/etc. like having a bit of a blank slate to work with – no bad habits to unpick!)

  2. Jaguar*

    Alternatively, OP, I’ve taken on jobs where I knew I didn’t have the skills the job required but knew I could struggle my way into it. It’s been by far the best motivator for advancing my career, I’ve never been fired from a job, and I’ve had glowing recommendations from all those jobs where I did that. Alison’s advice is good if you’re the kind of person that would be uncomfortable being out of your depth to the point that you would drown, but if you’re the type of person that will learn to swim if you’re thrown in the deep end, I don’t agree with Alison’s advice.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I would still say it’s no good thinking of it as “trying to fool the interviewer” or “gain skills overnight” or “bluff” which is how OP seems to be mentally phrasing it. I totally agree that fast learners can quickly gain skills but – that’s what OP should be pitching to the company, and really seeing if the company agrees with that approach and would be supportive. I’m guessing there’s one person who bluffs their way into the job and then thrives, for every 1000 people this doesn’t work for.

      1. Jaguar*

        Yeah. My point is know which person you are and plan accordingly. Although, I think people are more capable of surviving in a sink or swim situation than one in a thousand.

      2. myswtghst*

        Agreed. I am a quick learner and have taught myself plenty of skills throughout my career (which has pretty much nothing to do with my degree), but I focus on that in interviews (my ability to learn quickly and willingness to take on new challenges) rather than trying to pretend I have experience/skills that I don’t. I’d rather get thrown in the deep end somewhere they’re excited to throw me in (and will have a life preserver ready just in case), than somewhere they’ll expect me to be an olympic swimmer and be frustrated with anything less.

  3. Scott*

    Nothing wrong with reading up on a skill or software but be open about what you know. Don’t say you can step right in. Say “I don’t know a lot about XYZ but I know ABC and it seems very similar. I know I can learn it quickly”.

  4. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    LW, if you’re smart enough to be able to pick up details from a cramming session, you’re smart enough to be trained. You’re also, apparently, conscientious enough to know that you don’t know enough. These are both admirable traits.

    I interviewed for and got a job I had zero experience in. I knew this. I didn’t shy away from it. In fact, I emphasized that I would learn because once I was interested, I loved learning. At our sister office, they were having trouble finding someone with the experience they wanted. My GrandBoss was talking about it and gestured towards me and said, “So? Find someone smart and train them. If we’d held out for experience, we wouldn’t have WDP.”

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      The perfect combination of willing and able. It sounds like LW is able, too. And congrats!

    2. Aurion*

      Yeah, being frank about what you know and what you don’t is key, I think.

      I also got a job I had zero experience in (I’m still in that job!). I was upfront that I had no direct experience both with the products and the daily tasks (I work in purchasing), though I’m confident that my soft skills would transfer quickly to the logistics side. I’m not going to lie, my product knowledge is still very weak (our product breadth is pretty vast) but the most important part of my job is logistics and getting the stuff here, and on that front I excelled and excelled quickly.

      OP, if the company you’re interviewing for is any good, they will be able to tell you crammed the knowledge (as opposed to having X number of years of experience). Be frank about what you know and what you’re willing to learn, and hope for the best. Good luck!

    3. Jadelyn*

      This is how I got my current role. I got asked if I had any experience with database software and HRIS software in particular. I said, not per se, but I’m a tech geek and love playing around with new systems and figuring them out.

      Between that, my data entry speeds, and the fact that even for a temp job I’d actually looked up the organization and could talk about what I was intrigued by in their mission and programs…I got a job offer that same day. Not knowing something isn’t automatically the kiss of death.

    4. Breda*

      I think it’s actually really useful to read up on it over the weekend, but then use your research to prepare practical questions. Don’t try to convince them you have skills you don’t, but DO show that you’re curious, good at research, and capable of synthesizing information quickly, which can be more valuable in the long term than having the skills up front!

    5. OP*

      Thanks so much! I’ll definitely ask after training and opportunities to learn – that’s a big part of why I want the job actually, I’d learn so much from it. Thanks for sharing!

    6. NW Mossy*

      I work in a field where basically everyone learns it on the job, and people who are highly trainable and curious are the kinds we love to snap up for our “feeder” roles. We’ve found that hiring externally for experience generally doesn’t work all that well for us because we’re both a niche industry and very idiosyncratic about how we operate in it. Instead, we take people who want to learn and turn them loose – those that thrive end up climbing the ranks quickly!

      1. Tax Nerd*

        Similar here. Tax is one of those fields where a lot of people learn on an almost apprentice-like system – someone more experienced then you teaches you. In the early years of someone’s career, it’s far easier to hire a smart person who is eager to learn and then teach the technical, than it is to hold out of someone who magically already has a bundle of knowledge.

      2. Lou Dax*

        NW Mossy, would you mind saying what your industry is? I’m kind of stuck on where to start looking for more professional, better-paying jobs. I have a 10 year old math-heavy STEM degree but have been stuck in service industry hell due to mental health issues that are finally under control.

    7. TootsNYC*

      I once applied for a job, as a beginner, and said, “I think I could do this job well. Of course, I might just think that because I’m relatively inexperienced. But I have the advantage of knowing that I’m not as experienced, and I’d be actively learning what I don’t know yet.”

      I was No. 2, the interviewer told me. “Don’t be discouraged.”

    8. Fortitude Jones*

      I too got a job back in November in a field I have no experience in (business development), and I also told my interviewers straight up that I knew nothing about writing to RFPs and hadn’t used Adobe InDesign in, like, 15 years. Never used Salesforce, never used Qvidian – they hired me as a proposal manager anyway. I had extensive project coordination experience, compliance experience from my time in law and insurance, and I have a journalism degree with several published books under my belt. They figured I had the basic tools necessary to succeed in the job, and I could figure out the rest as we go along. So far they’ve been right – it now only takes me 30 minutes to create covers, spines, and tabs in InDesign where, when I first started, it took nearly the whole day of me messing about in the system trying to relearn something I hadn’t used in forever. It’s fun.

    9. Shark Lady*

      I ended up at my current company (SuperMegaBank) with absolutely no banking experience. But my boss looked at my resume and went “Hmm, she’s crazy fast at data entry and seems pretty smart. Let’s try her.” It ended up being a close to perfect fit, and I got offered a permanent position after my temp contract was up. And that’s kind of how we hire now. We do prefer people with teller or banking experience, but if you’re a quick learner and can handle an occasionally high-stress environment, you’ve got a good chance at being brought on to my team.
      As long as you are willing to learn and the hiring manager is ok with you learning on the job, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of.

      1. Ophelia*

        Similarly, I got hired right out of college at a company I’m still at 15 years later! The hiring manager looked at my resume (such as it was), and decided that if I could be the technical director of a theater production, I could be a teapot design coordinator no problem – and she was right. I obviously had to learn how to apply the skills I had to a different context, but my underlying capacity was the right match for that entry-level job.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I had no banking or software experience when I got Exjob, either. But I had mad editing skills, and I gave one of the best interviews of my life, thanks to AAM’s book and the commentariat.

        That doesn’t seem to be translating to anything else now. :\ Though I’m trying to do it in a market that’s EXTREMELY tight, statewide.

    10. einahpets*

      Yeah, I just accepted a job that I got while being completely honest and open about what I did and didn’t know in the interview.

      And one thing I have learned after a few jobs is that a job description / company culture from the outside is not enough to describe a dream job. Every interview I have now I approach as a two way street. An added bonus is that I think good employers want someone who is interested enough to be asking questions about how the team/department/company dynamics are.

  5. Viki*

    Assuming you got the interview because they read your resume, they understand where you’re coming from. When I hire new grads, it is very rare that they have the exact skills, technical knowledge I want. Part of the process is knowing where they fall short and how much training they will need. Be confident, practise interviewing and if applicable, be prepared to have a portfolio of your work (without the fanfiction).

    When I hire writers, I often give them a printed document with errors, small ones and tricky ones and let them edit to see what they catch and what they miss.

    1. Just Allison*

      One of my managers once said that to me, they love hiring new grads because they are so used to learning and applying new skills that they are easier to train and more willing to jump in to new tasks.

    2. Clever Name*

      I came here to say this. We hired 3 junior biologists recently, and none of them had done the exact jobs we were hiring for. We hired them based on their backgrounds with the intent that we would train them in the job we hired them to do. Smart hiring managers don’t hire entry level people expecting them to know how to do a job they’ve never done before.

    3. OP*

      Thank you! Your point about a portfolio is interesting – it’s not applicable to this job, but it did remind me of some examples of times when I’ve written content that’s relevant to the field, so I can prepare some answers based on that. Thanks again!

    4. Elizabeth West*

      This is the main reason I got Exjob–they sent me a snippet to edit and I not only fixed it up but formatted it as well. AwesomeBoss said I blew all the other samples out of the water.

      I wonder if that could go in my portfolio?

  6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I think you are worrying over the wrong thing. Provided you were upfront in your resume and cover letter, (which looking at today’s letters is not always the case) but assuming you wrote your resume and cover letter…THEY KNOW. They picked you because they see potential. They know you are a student. They know you don’t have professional experience. They are not looking for that that. They are looking at what you do have.
    If you really want to prepare for this interview, find the cover letter you used, and the job description and make yourself see what they see. Do you tick all the boxes? Did you use concrete examples? Clear speech? Look for those things and build on that for the interview. And then ask them.
    Did you pick me because my cover letter is in active voice? Is it because of my work editing for my peers? Is it…
    Practice your interview by focusing on these things and you’ll do very well.

    1. OP*

      This is really reassuring, thank you! I was honest and specific in my CV, so I should just trust that they invited me for an interview for a reason.

      That’s a great method and I’ll absolutely do that. Thanks so much!

  7. GRA*

    “Too often people go into interviews just focused on getting a job offer, without taking the time to explore whether it’s even an offer they should want or a job they’ll be good at or a place they’ll be happy in.”

    I wish I had taken this more to heart when I was in my 20s! I definitely had some jobs I took because they offered me the position – without much thought if I wanted the position.

    1. JM in England*

      When you’re interviewing whilst unemployed, you do tend to focus on getting the offer to the exclusion of all else. This is especially true in the UK, where you are threatened with unemployment benefit sanctions if you don’t accept the first job offer that comes along.

    1. Brett*

      Just because I know it is a distinct possibility any mentions a BBS, was any of this connected to ISCABBS?
      I made my first date with my wife on there, and served on the ISCABBS board for a couple of years.

        1. Ice Queen*

          OMG. I was on ISCABBS long long ago, in the days of the queue. I’m still friendly with some people I “met” through ISCABBS.

      1. many bells down*

        It was just a small local one that ran until I think ’93 or ’94. I’m still friends with the couple who ran it. Not the boyfriend, though. He was pretty terrible.

  8. Not a Blossom*

    If they are a good employer, they’ll be able to tell what your skills are and cramming won’t help. They’ll either be willing to train you or not. If they are a crappy employer, you don’t want to bluff your way in only to find that their expectations are way out of line with what you can do.

    Depending on the level of skill they require and the knowledge you already possess, they may not be able to train you in a time frame that works for either of you, and it’s better to know that now than when you are facing a PIP or getting fired. However, standards for copy editing and copy writing vary WIDELY depending on the company and type of work, so you might be just what they want. You will definitely get the best result by being honest about your skills and listening to what they want/what their training plans are.

    1. Dan*

      In my last department, we hired a guy straight out of college who “oversold” himself a bit. The strange thing was was that he was hired by a previous boss (who wasn’t a technical person) to fill a technical role. After the hire was approved, old boss stepped down. New boss and new hire started on the same day. New boss says to me, “this guy really oversold himself.” My response was, “considering he’s been out of college for three months, I don’t care what he said during the interview… it’s on us for buying it.” (Previous boss was the type who looked at an empty glass and talked about how much potential it had… it really was on us for not probing harder during the interview.)

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah TBH as I get older, I realize that what you *say* at the interview is a relatively small part of the decision, in a good situation. It’s kind of frustrating because that’s the part you can really control, but as smart company doesn’t over-invest in that.

  9. bandmom*

    You seem to have plenty of enthusiasm for the work for which you’ve applied, and that will count mightily toward the interviewer’s impression of you. I’ve hired plenty of applicants who were short on qualifications, but made up for their shortcomings by showing an enthusiastic attitude for the work, and an excitement for learning more about the position and possessing a generally pleasant attitude. But as Allison pointed out, do not overstate your qualifications for the job or you’ll regret it eventually. Put your best face forward, let your enthusiasm shine, and you’ll be surprised how far that will take you.

  10. Dan*

    Somewhat of a tangent, somewhat not… a few years ago I interviewed for an analytic role, in a domain for which I had several years of experience. (I’m a quant — I crunch all kinds of numbers — this role wasn’t anything particularly unique.)

    So this place calls me in for an interview and one interviewer says, “I don’t see *finance* on your resume.” Well, that’s because I don’t have any project work where finance was emphasized.” The guy says to me, “Well, finance is really important here, blah blah blah.” My next thought was, “If it’s so f’ing important, why isn’t it in your job description? Why did you call me in for an interview… and pay $800 for my plane ticket?” What I actually said, after about 15 minutes of him ranting, was “AFAIK, finance is just numbers with a dollar sign and two decimal places. What is it about this job where my lack of direct finance experience is going to hold me back?”

    I think the guy was really just trying to bust my balls because he could. At the end of the interview (the whole thing was pretty antagonistic) I looked at him and said, “all I’m doing is interviewing for jobs in and if this is not the place for me, so be it, there are others where my skill set will be appreciated for what it is.” The guy looked shocked and stammered, “But, but, there can’t be that many job in this field.” I looked at him and said, “There aren’t, but when you’re good at what you do, there only needs to be one job.” As it was, about an hour later while I was at the airport waiting for my flight home, I got a call from another company with an offer. I *so* wish I had that offer an hour before hand, where I would have bluntly told the guy to shove it… most likely in so many words.

    Point being — OP, there are things you may want to BS your way through, but by and large, employers expect to spin people on skills/domain stuff that they don’t have. In my niche field, we *expect* to spin people up. But we will be put off if you lie and misrepresent skills you don’t have. Yes, we may not have hired you if you were honest, (maybe said skill was pretty damned important at the moment, but if it is, we’re going to screen for it), but often, when it’s just a “nice to have”, you’ll pick it up on the job. I promise.

    1. J.B.*

      You rock. Probably best that you didn’t use the words “shove it” or similar :) but good on you for pushing back, and I hope the job you got was awesome!

  11. Elizabeth H.*

    So I actually had a similar experience! I applied to a job last year that, in the description, seemed like it would require a lot more pre-existing knowledge of database systems and statistics then I had at the time, even though that was and still is something I’m interested in learning about and making into a more central part of my work. The phone interview I thought, went kind of badly for that reason because I felt like it was clear that I didn’t really have the technical knowledge about the things they were asking about that I assumed would be a big part of the job. To my surprise, I got an in-person interview invitation and I was their top candidate and eventually offered the job. I really hadn’t thought the phone screen went well, and it even made me think that the job was a bit different than it ended up turning out to be. After the in-person interview that went great, my best conclusion was that they liked the technical skills I already had so much that they were checking to see what else I might know ( in the in-person meeting they mentioned this a couple times). I didn’t end up taking the job due to salary but the whole thing was the greatest application and interview experience and taught me a lot. I haven’t applied to or interviewed for all that many jobs in my life, but the number one thing I’ve learned from going through the steps is that requirements for skills and previous experience are usually much more flexible once you get to the interview stage.

  12. Millennial Lawyer*

    OP – I wasn’t sure if you meant copywriting or copyediting from your description which are two different things (you say copywriting but talk about your experience editing and researching). If you meant copy editing it might be fun to try NY Times’ “copy edit this” quiz! Not as proof of real experience, but something fun for you to explore. Link is in my name. If that’s not what you meant, then I apologize for the slightly off topic comment. :)

    1. OP*

      It’s kind of adjacent to both (don’t want to be too specific for anonymity purposes), but that looks like loads of fun, thanks!

  13. Ramona Flowers*

    Definitely try to teach yourself. You may pick up bad habits! Just be yourself. That’s who’s they asked to interview, not this other fictitious person you’re trying to cram your way to becoming.

    In my experience writing and editing skills can be honed, and technical skills learned, if you have the natural aptitude. If you have the aptitude then teaching you skills is no big deal. Really and truly.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Erm, that should have said definitely DONT try to teach yourself. Stellar display of my own skills….

      Good luck!

  14. CM*

    Either you’re unqualified and would do poorly in the job no matter how much cramming you do in a weekend, or you’re qualified enough that you’ll do fine learning along the way. If you’re really concerned about being out of your depth, Alison’s questions are great, and I second many of the commenters above — employers are often happy to have somebody come in who’s ready and willing to learn, rather than somebody who knows it all. Especially in fields where each organization may have different preferences and house styles, and it’s harder to unlearn a different style than to learn theirs.

    1. Antilles*

      employers are often happy to have somebody come in who’s ready and willing to learn, rather than somebody who knows it all.
      However, the key here is that the employer needs to know that you’re on the “willing to learn these skills” *going in* rather than thinking you’re already proficient…because if they think you’re the latter and expecting you to hit the ground running, they’re going to wonder why you’re making rookie mistakes and get really frustrated.

    2. myswtghst*

      “Especially in fields where each organization may have different preferences and house styles, and it’s harder to unlearn a different style than to learn theirs.”

      As someone who is still un-learning style guidelines from a job I left almost 1.5 years ago, this is a great point.

      1. Nanani*

        Thiiiis. There’s house style, there’s client-specific preferences, there’s country-specific guidelines and spellings… No good employer expects anyone to memorise all of them. They do expect you to follow the style guide and know what to double-check though.

  15. Snezeire*

    I 100% agree with NOT FAKING IT. Contrary to how things are supposed to work, I’ve gotten basically every single job I’ve ever had by going with a ‘I don’t have the skills I should have to get this job, so I totally understand you not hiring me approach.’ Counter-intuitive, I know. Interviews terrify me, and going in with this attitude oddly helps me more than attempting to find confidence in my skills, etc. I applied for a management level position two year ago. I was asked in the interview why I felt I was the best fit or the position. I replied honestly that I likely wasn’t best traditional fit, and that other interviewees likely had more relevant history and experience. All I could offer was a true passion for the field, skills that I felt would translate well into the future of the position, and gratitude for the opportunity to interview with, and learn from, those currently in the field. The interviewers who offered me the position later said my honesty, enthusiasm, and understanding of my skills and demonstrated capability of learning new skills is what made me stand out.

    I think one of the best things you can do in the job market is truly understand who you are, what you have to offer, and not be afraid to advertise that honestly. In the hustle to be competitive, we can end up making ourselves a carbon copy of everyone else, or stand out because we are obviously out of our depth while pretending not to be. When you just allow yourself to be yourself, so much unnecessary pressure is relieved. Just my opinion!

    1. many bells down*

      I just got an offer for a position I am qualified for, but they also asked me if I’d like to temporarily fill another position that I’m really not going to be good at. I told them I couldn’t take the temporary position in good faith – because I would be “faking it” in that spot. I just couldn’t have given them the value in the other position that they were looking for.

  16. RedRH*

    I actually went through something similar with my first job out of college – I was an English major looking at copywriting/editing positions and got an interview for a copywriter position that tbh I didn’t understand – the position was particularly focused on SEO which I knew next to nothing about (my resume and interview reflected that too) but I was hired based on my writing strengths and have since picked up the SEO tools I needed through training/asking coworkers/looking stuff up.

    You might be overthinking things – plenty of places hire knowing they’ll have to do some sort of training for missing skills. Good luck! :)

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah, the company may well be thinking “I can’t afford somebody with the experience I really need, so I’ll have to hire somebody trainable.” This is a conversation we’ve literally had in my office many times, even though the job description included a long “nice to have” wish list.

  17. Emmie*

    The company is interested in your current background, OP, even without this technical experience. I would never bluff my way through an interview because it sets a person up for failure. I would, however, google the unfamiliar technical pieces. See if that software relates to any other software you have used. For instance, there might be transferable skills between Sketch and Adobe. You may have used a competitor’s version of the software in school, or work. In my field, I am not familiar with Anti-Money Laundering statutes; however, I have worked with another regulation designed to monitor my current field. I would talk about what I have done with the related regulation.

    You also might have skills that other current employees lack. You have years of experience with grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, which might be helpful in technical, marketing, or other departments. Those things are harder and more time-intensive to teach compared to letting someone with technical skills loose to learn some new software programs at an entry-level. Occasionally, employers overlook these requirements when calling for an interview. If that happens to you, approach it professionally and discuss your skills accurately when asked. There may be other opportunities available there. Good luck!

  18. Djuna*

    To add to the great advice others have given, and by way of reassurance: I work in content, you could pick a content management system (for example) to study up on for the interview and then find that they don’t use that one, or that they use a highly customized (and very different to the out-of-the-box) version.
    That’s all stuff that can be covered by training, so don’t sweat it.

    Good writing, though? That’s a tougher thing to teach. There was something about your cover letter and resume that grabbed them, and from what you’ve said, it seems like that was your writing style. Try not to focus on what you don’t have (on paper) and don’t go into the interview feeling like it’ll be a struggle, or that you have to apologize for what they already know from your resume in terms of experience. As AAM says, make sure it’s the right job and company for you, and let them decide if you’re the right fit for them. As an aside, sometimes hiring managers want people who are just plain excited to write and who don’t have to unlearn a house style they’ve learned elsewhere – in cases like that starting super-fresh may well be a bonus.

    1. phedre*

      I completely agree – good writing is a skill that’s in short supply and it’s hard to teach! I can teach someone who’s already a decent writer how to write “fundraising” (grants, appeal letters, donor communications, etc.), but I can’t teach English 101.

    2. MM*

      This is roughly what I was going to say. If you have the basic skillset of a good writer, you can learn to write whatever they need you to. I’ve had to conform to some weirdly specific formats and styles in my time, and even when it takes a little while to get a handle on them, you do get there. Most places need someone who can write quickly and rationally evaluate their own writing far more than they need someone who already knows exactly how to write exactly the thing they need about exactly the topics they want.

  19. phedre*

    Alison’s advice is spot-on! I took a stretch position 5 years ago (moved from a Development Coordinator position to Director of Development) but was very honest in my interview about where I had lots of experience and where I didn’t. They would’ve figured out very quickly once I started the job if I had oversold my experience! And one thing that worked very well for me was to admit where I lacked experience, but frame it as “I haven’t done much in the way of ______, but here’s the way I’d approach it…”

    Many employers don’t mind getting someone less experienced but who is passionate and teachable (no one wants to work with someone inexperienced but who thinks they know it all). When I was hiring for a Development Coordinator, we didn’t have the budget to hire someone with experience but that’s ok because you can teach someone how to do the job. What I looked for in candidates were the things that can’t be taught easily: judgment, critical thinking, decent writing skills, social skills, ability to learn, etc. We ended up getting someone great – she still has a lot to learn about fundraising but she’s smart, hard-working and eager to learn and grow. I have no doubt that in a year or two she’ll be an amazing fundraiser.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      It sounds cheesy, but I once said in an interview something like “X skill is a growth area for me, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to learn more about it,” which seemed to go over pretty well, although I’m sure they understood the subtext that I didn’t have X skill in my background. Of course, I would have also understood if they had made me a lower salary offer based on my lack of experience in X.

    2. OP*

      That’s a great way to frame it, I’ll definitely keep that in mind! Thanks for your input, that’s really reassuring.

  20. beanie beans*

    One thing that might help you prepare for the interview (or if it’s already happened, for the next interview), is to have some examples of processes, programs, or other projects that you picked up quickly. So you can say, “While I don’t have experience with xyz, in the past year I [did this similar thing], learned it quickly, and accomplished xyz.”

    Like a lot of people already said, they may already know you don’t have specific experience, but they see something else that interests them -focus on those things! A lot of people can learn a lot of things on the job, so focus on what makes you a great candidate – your writing experience and other skills you’ll bring to the company.

    1. OP*

      I’ve just realised that I actually have quite a few examples of picking that kind of thing up quickly, I’ll definitely prepare my strongest. Thank you!

  21. Bea*

    My former co-workers gave me an update about my old position. Both people either lied or were picked up the street because they failed miserably, one actually quit without notice because it was too difficult of a learning curve.

    So my experience is in picking up a completely dropped ball and just figuring out where the heck it’s supposed to go. I’m used to taking jobs I’m not certain all-out other than I have the skill of absolute determination and research so I’ll reverse engineer old returns to see how to file the next ones.

    It boils down to are you confident that these are skills that develop quickly when emerged and it’s a company who allows for growth that you need. Don’t lie or embellish but push your positives that will help override the lack of hands on experience. Come at it from that perspective and it’ll be less scary and you may be surprised by the hiring managers expectations. They have read your resume and something interests them there, they can see you may not be a perfect fit straight from heaven by reading that.

  22. Emily*

    I’m a programmer and I wouldn’t try to teach someone the language I work in in a weekend, but I absolutely have taught some intermediate/advanced skills for interview prep and I would again. And I’d like to say that it’s silly for an employer to want candidates who’ve learned a three-hour skill instead of trusting them to learn it on the job, but there are people who’ve been using Excel for decades and have never learned this stuff even though it would have helped them a lot.

  23. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    You should definitely be upfront about your skills and experience, and there are a few outcomes that will happen from the interview:
    1. you learn that the job won’t be right for you, and avoid getting into a job where you might be unhappy
    2. the hiring manager will tell you that you don’t have the experience, but is willing to train you, and then you have a great opportunity to learn
    3. the hiring manager will tell you that the skills you think you need aren’t all that important, and you get into a job that works out well

    It never hurts to interview, and it’s always good to be honest. Job descriptions aren’t always hard list of absolute requirements. Most of the time they are wish lists, so if you don’t have a particular skill listed, don’t feel like you have to magically come up with those skills right away!

  24. alana*

    Don’t try to cram! But don’t be afraid to lean in to what you do know. That can be the relevant editing and writing experience you mention in your letter. It can also be things you’re not thinking of — are there times in the past where you’ve mastered a skill quickly, or gone into an unfamiliar setting and succeeded?

    Have those anecdotes on hand, too. Admitting what you don’t know and emphasizing your general competence and willingness to learn is great. Humility is essential if you’re starting out. But so is confidence! Write down a list of what you CAN do that makes an excellent candidate. Memorize it. Bring it up as often as possible (while admitting your weaknesses and ignorance). If this is your first serious job interview, and if you’re not someone who is used to bragging about yourself, this will feel uncomfortable. Role play with a friend. Say it until you’re not uncomfortable anymore.

    1. OP*

      Thank you! There’s definitely some anecdotes I could talk about, I’ll definitely include those. I’ve been working on the whole “saying positive things about myself” lately, and it’s still pretty difficult, but hopefully some practice will make it easier. Thanks again!

  25. OP*

    OP here!
    First off, thank you, Alison, for answering! I’ll focus on finding out how my skills actually match up and finding out more about the role in the interview. Also, I emailed you right after getting the call so I was in a *slight* state of panic at the time. I’m feeling a little better about it now.

    Some extra info: after the panic subsided, I realised I have a friend who does a lot of this kind of work at her job so I got her to walk me through her process and the things she has to consider at work. It was really great to see how she works, and made me realise that I do already have the kind of skills I’d need, even if they could use some honing.

    Thanks, everyone, for your supportive comments! There’s some really useful advice here, so thanks for taking the time to share that with me.

  26. CorporateQueer*

    Does the ad for the position list any specific skills you don’t have, but have tangential experience in? For example, I used to be a research scientist, in another life. I once interviewed for a job that was looking for someone who knew how to do a specific type of procedure I didn’t know how to do, in addition to others I did know. I looked up the procedure before the interview and mentioned that, although I hadn’t performed it before, I’d looked it up prior to the interview and thought it was similar to “x”, “y”, and “z” things I knew how to do. I then asked the interviewer whether or not that was a good assessment, and if she’d be willing to train me to do it or not. I don’t know if these questions helped me or not, but I did end up getting the job, so I certainly don’t think they hurt me. (A caveat to this, however, is that you should make sure that you understand the skill. If I’d said something like “This seems similar to making teapot lids, which I’ve done”, and they’d responded with “Actually, this skill is more like llama grooming”, I would have probably come out looking unprepared at best.)

    Tl;dr, I think Alison’s advice is great, especially if this is your first job. Don’t worry too much, if you don’t have a lot of experience then they’ll see that on your resume, and they’re most likely already planning to hire someone who they’ll have to train on the job regardless :)

    1. OP*

      Actually, yeah, there’s some things that seem similar based on what I’ve read about the field and the type of work they do. I’ll definitely make sure my assessment is accurate before mentioning this, though. Thank you!

      1. CorporateQueer*

        You can also mention that you’ve looked into what they do, and ask questions about it if you’re not quite sure :) Interviews are a learning process for both parties, after all, though I know it can be really nerve-wracking and hard to remember that, especially when you really want the job! Try not to worry too much, if it’s meant to be, it’ll work out, and if not, there’s probably something even better waiting for you down the line. Best of luck!

  27. phil*

    Never bluff about the skills that you have. First, you may have the right skills right now. Being honest, forthright, and open about skills you don’t have is the first step to a great job. Some interviewers might disqualify you but I believe more will be impressed with not only your honesty but your willingness to learn, which I assume you have. I spent 40 years in a business with constant technology changes and only once lost a job because I hadn’t used a piece of equipment. BTW, later it took me an hour to learn how to use it.
    Be honest. period. If you don’t get this job, you’ll get another with your good attitude.

  28. SM*

    I interviewed for a job once that asked for proficiency in a specific software I didn’t know that well. I’d been doing tutorials on my own, but had never used it at work and was noticeably lacking anything beyond beginners knowledge. I explained all this in the interview. Turned out they didn’t mind at all and happily setup a couple days of training on the software when I started the job.

  29. GovSysadmin*

    A lot of people have made similar comments already, but I just wanted to reiterate – if you want to do a little reading about the skills you’re lacking, that’s fine, but do NOT then try to pass it off as a skill you have. I’ve been on a number of hiring committees in the past year, and it was always extremely obvious when someone was bluffing or trying to BS their way through an answer to a question. And while this may sound counter-intuitive, one of the things I was *happiest* to hear from candidates were the words “I don’t know”. When I heard that, it showed that the candidate was being honest about their skills and any gaps they may have had. It is almost impossible for a single candidate to have every skill that an employer is looking for, and you will look MUCH better to potential employees if you present yourself as a junior-level candidate who may lack some of the desired skills, but are someone who is interested in learning and have the ability to recognize what skills you are lacking.

    Our team has hired four or five people in the past few years, and in more than one of those cases, we ended up going with a junior level candidate who we thought had more potential and a desire to learn over candidates who had more years of experience, but who either tried to bluff their way through interview questions or demonstrated that they were not interested in learning or growing in the role. Yes, it took longer to get them up to speed, but they’re now contributing at a much higher level than they were when they started.

  30. Kat Em*

    As someone without a degree who started writing marketing materials with no real experience except for the fact that my potential boss had read my blog and liked my style … I totally get it.

    But the fact that you’re already aware of the style and tone that they’re looking for already puts you ahead of a lot of people who apply for jobs like this. It definitely CAN be intimidating, especially when you first start writing things in fields you’re not familiar with. It may take you longer to write something, or you might get things kicked back more often for edits. But none of that is a dealbreaker. If you’re open to learning and accepting feedback, if you can modify your style to suit your employer’s needs, and if you can outline like a champ (honestly, a good outline is 90% of your success when it comes to a lot of writing), you’ll be fine. Just go in with a good attitude and indicate your willingness to work hard and learn quickly.

    Good luck!

  31. SusanIvanova*

    Good places hiring undergrads/NCG know they’re getting someone who’ll need training. They’re not trying to see what skills you have, they’re trying to find out if you’re flexible enough to pick up new ones. “I skimmed the XYZ course last night and this is what I picked up” will go over well – trying to pretend you’ve got in-depth XYZ knowledge won’t.

  32. Kat*

    OP, I was sort of in your shoes recently! I had to prepare some work for an interview on a task where I’d had experience on bits and pieces of it but not as whole. So I did some research and focused on the stuff I knew well and was honest about what I didn’t know so well. The other comments have probably said it better than I but showing you’re willing to learn is a really useful outlook. Good luck!

  33. MissDissplaced*

    I don’t think you can fudge your way tbrough this OP. However, it sounds like you might be “close,” given your major. It’s fine to learn more about the skills needed, but let it end with that. Don’t try to fake it. You will be better off polishing your own writing samples and reviewing the company and job description in preparation for interview. Good luck!

  34. Casuan*

    OP, the company is interviewing you based on the infos from your CV (& cover letter, if you provided one). The interviewer won’t expect you to have specific skills that one would normally list on the CV for such a job, so your focus should be on the interview itself: discussing your CV, answering various interview questions & asking thoughtful questions to the interviewer.

    to rephrase: Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Focus on your skills & traits, on your willingness to learn & on how these qualities will benefit the company to which you applied.

    Even if you did a skills cram-session, the interviewer could probably suss out that you Cliff Notes-ed your experience, which could damage you in this interview & for future prospects. What seems like a “the interviewer will be impressed I learned these skills overnight” to you will probably convey as a “this candidate has bad judgment & doesn’t understand we do serious work that can’t be learned overnight” to an interviewer.
    Good luck with the interview!!

  35. Cheerleader for OP*

    I’ll chime in to say I’ve been on a number of hiring committees, and if the OP presents in person with the humble, enthusiastic, willing-to-learn attitude expressed here, the interview should go well. Best of luck, OP, and let us know how it goes!

  36. Raven*

    A few weeks ago, I applied for a marketing internship that had a fairly significant amount of InDesign/Illustrator experience required. As it happened, I had a graphic design portfolio that came entirely from Photoshop, as well as a lot of strengths in less-emphasized parts of the job description.

    I was forthcoming about this in the interview. The interviewer said that that wouldn’t be an issue, and she said she was actually much more in need of the particular skills I did have than the ones I didn’t. Plus, InDesign and Illustrator (INDD especially) are actually pretty easy to learn if you have Photoshop experience.

    Today is my second day on the job :)

  37. jbishop*

    There’s a lot of emphasis here on skills and experience, but when I interview people I’m also thinking about cultural fit, work ethic, team work and other important factors. You may be absolutely perfect for the job, but not for the reasons you’re worried about.

  38. Hillary*

    OP, I’m a hiring manager for copywriters. I look for recent grads without actual work experience who send in solid, clear, well-written cover letters and resumes. I know I can train them on the specifics of our industry and tasks, but someone who can write good, clear copy is all I need. When you interview, emphasize your ability to research, synthesize, write about it, then proofread and edit your work. This is what they’ll need you to do out of the gate, and many of the other skills can be taught on the job.

  39. nobody really*

    i think you’re really underestimating your skillset here! i turned writing fanfic into a part-time editing job, which a few months later went fulltime and became a 10-year writing career in a fairly competitive field. i’ve since hired or helped to hire others with lots of experience who fell very short, or little experience who worked out very well.
    writing fields do sometimes require some kind of training (like tech writing or science writing), but in many writing careers an editor would rather work with someone who has a solid voice and good writing style but lacks experience than someone with lots of experience but a writing style that doesn’t fit or no consistent voice at all.
    give it a try. the worst that can happen is they say no. if they do and you’re in a position to ask for feedback, do it! and in the meantime, if you truly want to make writing a career, try freelancing. it’s a great way to build experience and a good writing portfolio while in college.

  40. Matilda*

    This was me! I applied for a job that asked for five years of niche experience… as basically a fresh college graduate who had majored in a discipline as far away as the east is from the west, as they say. After I sent in my resume, I did one take-home assessment, turned up for an interview, did another take-home assessment, turned up for an in-person session (and a mini-interview) and finally, got the job. (Which is where I’m writing this comment from.)

    When I was interviewing, I did consider how lacking in experience I was–but they *had* after all been the ones to call me up! When I finally did get the offer, I was briefly worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the job, but hey, I’d done all those tests. It turns out that I did have a lot to learn, but any reasonable boss is reasonably understanding of fresh-graduate hires. Plus, experience doesn’t always correlate to performance, so don’t let that, in principle, scare you away. Don’t fudge (by which I mean actually overrepresenting your expertise), because you’ll really look worse in the long run if it becomes apparent that that was what you had been doing. All the best!

  41. Ed*

    I absolutely agree with Alison. I recently interviewed for a job working in insurance but in a field I had no experience of. I was upfront about this but stressed what I can do, rather than attempt to bluff it and I got the job! There’s no shame in admitting it’s something you have no experience in but that you feel you can do really well.

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