Davidson Corporate, The best way to beat them is to specialise, skill tester

“The employer is looking for industry experience.”

“The employer is looking for a very particular skill-set.”

I know candidates don’t want to hear these words. Generally speaking, I don’t want to be saying them. So if you are a candidate who is getting blocked by such sentences, is there anything you can do? Of course there is! Turn the objection on its head.

Let’s assume you have several years’ experience, and in your professional life you have generally worked 40 hours per week; week in and week out. Put all of those hours together and the undeniable truth is, you are skilled, you know your work and you perform to a high level.

But can you sell these skills as your area of expertise in an interview?

As a candidate preparing for an interview, make sure you know your specialist skills inside-out and most importantly, that you can articulate them. Once you have these clear, then practice selling those skills like the specialist you are. This may sound simple, but you would be surprised at how many people fall short when it comes to truly ‘selling’ their skills.

For example, consider this scenario:

Interviewer:     “Have you built budgets in Excel within the health industry before?”

Candidate 1:     “No, I have never built budgets in Excel within health.”

You can be sure that at this point Candidate 1 is facing an up-hill battle to secure this role. What’s more, it’s highly likely that Candidate 1 is feeling deflated by their own poor answer, and it is highly probable that their next answer will be equally uninspiring and lacking in confidence.

Let’s look at the same scenario with a candidate who is well versed in selling their skill-sets:

Interviewer:     “Have you built budgets in Excel within the health industry before?”

Candidate 2:     “I have not been directly employed within the primary health industry, but in my role within (…insert industry…) I built and managed the entire budget process for company XYZ from scratch, which is a multi-site business across 4 states of Australia, turning over $200m pa. As a part of that process I met with 8 Site Managers and partnered with them to understand their business drivers and the commercial realities of their individual sites. This was a new experience for the Site Managers and the feedback from the business on the FY17 budget process was very positive. Once the budgets for each site had been created I then prepared a consolidated Group budget, all in Excel, which I presented to the CFO, who then delivered the budget to the Board for approval. Excel is a tool that I have used throughout my entire career and I am competent at the intermediate to advanced level. I have been using V look-ups, pivot tables, formulas and marcos throughout my career. I have been writing macros for over 7 years.”

Clearly, Candidate 2 has given a much stronger answer.

Why is this answer so compelling? The four strengths of Candidate 2’s answer are:

  1. The candidate didn’t pretend that they had health experience; their honesty in saying, “I have not been directly employed within primary health” shows integrity and will buy them credibility with the interviewer
  2. The candidate listened and identified that there were 2 parts to the question, and addressed each part
  3. The candidate knew their skill set areas (building budgets in Excel) very clearly
  4. The candidate shared their skill set areas through providing clear context (company XYZ) and clear outcomes (Site Manager engagement, feedback from the business and the delivery of the budget to the Board by the CFO).

It is highly probable that while delivering the above answer, Candidate 2 observed positive, reinforcing body language from the interviewer. Consequently, Candidate 2 is now more likely to feel good about him/herself and will answer the next interview question with continued confidence.

So when you are next preparing for an interview, spend time articulating your key skills and be well rehearsed in presenting yourself as a “specialist” in these areas.


Brian Cunningham is a leading specialist recruiter in Accounting & Finance, for the Corporate division of Davidson.