How to sell yourself in an interview with no experience

I‘ve hired many people. So I’d like to share some perspective from the other side of the table (or video call) about how you can sell yourself in an interview with no experience. This is all based on mistakes I’ve seen job applicants make.

As you’ll see, it’s easy to work with the hiring manager and the good news is that if you’ve managed to book an interview, the hiring manager is interested in you. And the interview is one of the biggest variables you can control to land the job.

I also cover some tips that go beyond the job interview including tips for cover letters, answering the question of salary expectations, and how to

There is one moment in your life to brag: and it’s now!

You might be nervous for your interview. And maybe you’ve spent the night before preparing and thinking about how it will all go.

The reality for most hiring managers is this: your interview is a small slice in our days. I likely have another meeting right after and one before. I’ve looked at your LinkedIn profile the day before and have a set list of questions that I’ve created with HR. But I’m always short on time.

What you can do to sell yourself in the interview without experience:

First, understand that my lack of time is not a lack of interest. I’ll be in big trouble if I make the wrong hire, so my due diligence will start to increase after this first interview.

You can help yourself in this interview by understanding that I might not remember everything about your profile, your accomplishments, your experience.

When I ask you, “tell me about yourself,” I’m actually interested. I want to know your experience, what you’ve done, your skills.

When I ask you, “do you have any questions for me?” I’m interested in your perspective. I want to know your intent, ambition, and whether you have the raw material that can be adapted to the job.

This is a critical interview to give me more information.

Come prepared with tangible examples. Help me understand your background. Ask questions that show 1) you understand the job description 2) you’re thinking about the skills required to be successful in the role 3) you have passion for the industry and dedication to increase your expertise in this field.

If you take a passive role in this interview, it’s much easier to pass on you. And because I haven’t spent a ton of time prepping, I could be missing exactly what makes you qualified and special for this role.

If you are missing key pieces of experience, address those directly. Many skills can be learned on the job. Try to communicate that you have a passion for learning those particular areas of weakness. Often, a hiring manager will pass on a candidate not because they didn’t think the person couldn’t learn the missing skills but because they were led to believe by the candidate that they not only did not have the required skills but also had zero interest in developing them.

While you might not have the particular skills or experience, try to anchor your passion in tangibles: I took a course on data and analytics and loved it or talk about how you read books on this subject in your spare time or mention some freelance work you’ve done in this area. Anything that makes it specific.

Another thing to know about job descriptions is that often they are written with an idealized list of skills. Often, the job description is a reflection of the last person who had that role and so, might contain a rather rare combination of skills that you’d only acquire by working at that company for a long period of time.

During the process, the hiring manager might be forced to lower their expectations as no candidates have the exact list of skills in the job description. This is an opportunity for you and a chance to demonstrate a passion for those missing areas.

That said, pay particular attention to the first 3-5 bullet points in the job posting.

Those skills are likely determined as critical to the role and HR will be making sure that candidates demonstrate those skills as a bare minimum for even advancing your application to the hiring manager. It’s a smart move to directly mention those first 3-5 areas in your cover letter so that you at least are hitting some keywords and advance beyond the first sort.

In addition to the interview, the cover letter is also where a little extra effort can help you overcome a lack of experience. Reviewing job applications is mind-numbing work. For an open role, there might be 500 applicants. A giant pile and the mind is forced to make quick decisions. A cover letter that grabs attention and is written more specifically to reflect the key requirements of the job posting is an immediate advantage.

Some career gurus say cover letters are dead. Maybe that’s why many candidates don’t have them. But cover letters serve an important function: they help the hiring manager instantly understand your relevant experience. 

While cover letters might be dated, you should only skip one if your online presence is completely optimized including an exceptional LinkedIn profile, portfolio website, and incredible writing samples. In other words, many candidates assume they don’t need a cover letter and just dump a resume and LinkedIn profile on the hiring manager.

If your skills and experience perfectly match the job posting, this can work. If not, hiring managers often struggle to figure out why you’d be a good fit. A concise cover letter can give you a boost, especially if other candidates are lazy and mass applying to positions. 

As many of my readers are English and History majors, I know that many will be applying for writing jobs.

For writing jobs, hiring managers look at writing samples. It’s a basic point. But one that many candidates ignore. Or candidates dump every blog post, email, coupon, or media mention on the hiring manager. The goal, I suppose, is to show depth and experience. But sending the hiring manager too many writing samples makes evaluation difficult. It’s easier to just skip to a more polished candidate. 

My suggestion: only include gold. The goal of a writing sample is to demonstrate your abilities. Include 5-10 of your best pieces and tailor based on the job description. 

The final error that can sting inexperienced candidates is salary expectations.

Too low. Too high. Both of these can instantly disqualify you as often HR is reviewing candidates before the hiring manager and if your salary expectation exceeds the company’s assigned range for the position, they’ll skip your application.

Contrary to popular myths, salaries are not completely flexible. Most established companies have ranges for different roles. So if you ask for $90,000 for a junior copywriter role, you look clueless. You also look clueless if you apply for a corporate job and list your hourly rate (almost all corporate jobs have an annual salary, outside of customer support).

My suggestion: use sites like Glassdoor and Payscale to understand the general range of salaries for the position in your city. Put a wider range (such as $60K – $80K) in the “salary expectations” field to show that you’re flexible and open to discussions. You can also add a note like “flexible and depends on the benefits as well.” Don’t go too low. Or too high. And don’t leave it blank either.

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