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Overcoming a skills gap

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You've seen the 'job of a lifetime' advertised and, of course, you want it. However, when you check the job specification, you find you don't fulfil all the criteria. What do you do? Rather than giving up and not bothering to apply, you should think about how you'll convince the employer that the skills gap doesn't rule you out - in fact you're the very person they're looking for!

Let's look an example of how you can overcome a skills gap:

John is in the final year of a History degree at Durham University. He's decided that he wants to work in finance, and he has seen a job advertised at a major city bank. On the person specification it states that applicants should be "able to interact confidently with clients and staff at all levels of the organisation". John's never had a 'proper' job before, and his first reaction is that he's only interacted with other students.

So how does John, without lying, persuade the bank that he can do the job? Firstly, he thinks carefully about the jobs he has done: every weekend he's deputy manager of a popular restaurant in Durham that attracts a wide range of customers. John has to greet customers, make sure they enjoy themselves and sort out any problems.

Next he thinks about his time at university. He's helped out at university summer schools for kids from deprived backgrounds who'd like to go to university. This involved interacting with the kids and with staff from all levels at his university.

Suddenly it all looks more promising. He has also seen an advert offering summer placements at 'blue chip' companies. John thinks this will give him experience of working with people in a large organisation similar to a city bank.

By using examples from his work and study, and by signing up for some work experience, John can emphasise that he is developing the skills the job needs. He will get credit for identifying his own skills gap and using his initiative to fill it.

Activity: overcoming a skills gap - 30 minutes

For this activity, you'll need a list of essential criteria for a job you're going to apply for.

1. Review the essential criteria for the job you'll apply for.

2. For any skills gaps you identify, reflect on the skills and experience you do have and see if you can present these in a positive way. Also consider whether you're able to develop the skill required.

3. Make a plan of how you will persuade potential employers that you can plug the gap.

Recommended Further Reading

Your main aim is to get invited to interview - then you can show them that you're interested in and excited about the job. Most employers view enthusiasm as one trait that can compensate for a lack of a skill or a lack of experience. You can show your enthusiasm by preparing thoroughly for the interview and tailoring your responses to the employer and job.

Joining professional organisations is also a good way of showing enthusiasm: if you're interested in working in a clinical research environment, try joining the Institute of Clinical Research - many professional organisations have student memberships available. Going to informal interviews and asking for work experience are also excellent ways of showing enthusiasm, and getting a 'foot in the door'.

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