13. Inexperienced or over-experienced?

This section focuses on those who may come across some difficulty in managing questions based on their experience or lack of it and require guidance in how to manage questions which may seem awkward to answer. The important point is never to feel on the back foot with an employer – don’t let them make you feel vulnerable and instead, turn the question round into a positive, confident answer.

13.1 - School leavers

For both school leavers and graduates, you need to convince the recruiter that you do have valuable skills to offer as you don’t yet have work experience. The interview will be more focused on your personal skills, enthusiasm and motivation.
The qualities they generally look for are drive/initiative, teamwork, leadership, commitment, reliability, organisational skills, managing pressure. It is advisable to think of examples from school/university where you have gained the opportunity to gain such skills i.e. organising the end of year charity ball, setting up a new society, being nominated as Head Boy/Girl.
Typical questions might include:
  • What subjects did you enjoy the most/least?
  • Why didn’t you go to university?
  • What further education do you think you will need in this job?
  • How did you fill your time in school holidays?
  • How do you feel about your final exam results?

13.2 - Recent graduates

These questions are designed so that the recruiter can understand how you think and make decisions which will reflect on your maturity and your ability to self-evaluate.
Some questions can include:
  • Why did you choose to go to XXX university?
  • Your university results aren’t very good, why is that?
  • How do you think your degree is relevant to this job?
  • Which modules did you enjoy the most?
  • What have you learnt from being at university?
  • What extracurricular activities did you engage in?

Many graduate schemes will also include a number of competency questions (some of which do get asked on the application form) so you should prepare for these using the STAR format.

13.3 - Gaps in your work history

Most employers do not view employment gaps as negative as long as you are honest about the period of unemployment e.g. maternity/paternity leave, caring for a relative or travel (these can be mentioned on your CV). With regards to travel, there are always additional skills to talk about e.g. expanding your cultural awareness, learning a language, gaining work experience in another country.
However, there are more sensitive areas to address which may include long periods of ill-health or if you have been unable to find work. You do need to tell the truth but make it as positive as possible e.g. if you were out of work for six months and actively job-hunting besides attending evening classes to gain further additional skills, you should focus on selling those extra skills you acquired in that time to demonstrate how you used your time productively to further enhance your employability.

If you get asked about your current state of health, as long as you are fit and well, then you can explain that you are now fully recovered, have received a clean bill of health and are ready to return to employment. The employer has a right to know, as understandably, they do not want to employ someone who may shortly have to go on sick leave again.

Likewise, if a gap was due to imprisonment or time spent in rehab, you can talk about what you have learnt from your experience and how it has shaped you in a positive way.
  • Why have you been out of work for so long?
  • Why did your last employer select you for redundancy?
  • After working for yourself for a significant time, wouldn’t you find it difficult to work for someone else?
  • If you had not been made redundant, would you have considered work in this field?
  • Have you done anything to keep yourself abreast of changes in the industry whilst not working?
  • What training do you think you will need to get your skills up-to-date?

13.4 - Changing career path

Changing careers is a big step for most people as it is venturing into the unknown. Recruiters genuinely want to understand your motivations for doing so, therefore, you need to be able to convince them that you have carefully thought through it and understand the difficulties you may face and how you would overcome them.

You might recognise that there are more similarities in the new career than they have given credit for, so you need to point this out to them as you can demonstrate your transferable skills i.e. giving up a career in teaching for a Customer Services role would require the ability to empathise with people, deal with difficult situations using tact and diplomacy, be organised.

Some questions to consider are:
  • Do you want to change careers because you are disillusioned with your current one?
  • How do you feel about starting at the bottom again?
  • How do you know this line of work is right for you?
  • How will you cope with your manager being significantly younger than you?
  • How would you cope with the drop in salary?
  • What would you do if you were unable to secure a job in this profession?

13.5 - Over-qualified for the job

In times of high unemployment and financial distress, many candidates will apply for jobs for which they are over-qualified by conventional standards. You can rest assured by the fact that there is rarely a candidate who will meet 100% of the recruiter’s requirements, so don’t concern yourself with not being a perfect candidate!
In some cases, the prospective employer could be very pleased that your wealth of skills and experience exceeds the requirements of job but the main concern would be why you are applying for a role that does not align with your career progression so you will need to explain yourself honestly.

By being candid with the recruiter that you are aware of this and you have justified reasons for wanting that position, they are more likely to respect your honesty and find you more genuine rather than making feeble excuses.

The issues it raises for a recruiter is that you may up-and-leave as soon as something better comes along. If they suspect you're applying for the position because you're willing to take any job, you'll be quickly passed over. The last thing a company wants to do is invest in hiring and training someone who isn't dedicated to sticking around or willing to perform the expected duties. An employer might also take a look at your CV and assume that you are out of their price range.

The easiest reasons to explain would be that your personal circumstances have changed eg. you have had a child and want a better work/life balance now, you have moved home and the commute was too far, you financial situation has changed and you no longer need to work full-time, etc. However, if you have been struggling to find a job for a while and just need to earn money to meet your outgoings, be frank that you need to work and you are happy to work in this role for a couple of years or more. Try to find something about the job that will be a challenge for you so that you can demonstrate how you would remain motivated; tell them you are not someone to jump ship as soon as there is a better offer as you have always been stable in the past; and finally reiterate that your skills and experience would be an asset to them.