When a job seeker tries, but fails, to get a job in a particular field, the problem is often that he or she did not understand the requirements for consideration.

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When a job seeker tries, but fails, to get a job in a particular field, the problem is often that he or she did not understand the requirements for consideration. For instance, a bank teller who applies for a senior accountant position at the same bank but who doesn’t have any CPA training has failed to realize what skills are needed to perform the job.

But what about the employers? Do they know the specific skill sets and experience needed to perform every job opening? According to author and former headhunter Paul Hill, even hiring managers can fail to express what is needed to perform the job duties. For this reason, he says, job seekers must always be prepared to ask questions about objectives and responsibilities in the interview or pre-interview stages.

“In my role as a headhunter, I was frequently given job descriptions that required a Ph.D. for education,” Hill wrote in his 2012 book, The Panic Free Job Search. “When I probed and asked, ‘Why do you require a Ph.D.?’ the answer was, ‘Because the job requires it.'” When pressed for an explanation as to why a Ph.D. could perform the duties of a particular job and not, say, a candidate with a bachelor of science degree, the clients invariably responded that a Ph.D. “has always been the requirement of the position.”

Once Hill deconstructed each job description down to its basic elements — what problems needed to be solved, what competencies were needed to reach these solutions, etc. — he often managed to convince the hiring managers that there were qualified candidates available who didn’t have Ph.D.’s but who had mastered the skills needed to perform the job just as well.

Job seekers don’t always need a headhunter to reach these same conclusions, Hill says. The same tactic can be used in an in-person job interview or perhaps a phone screen. Depending on the answers, the job seeker may succeed in effectively rewriting the job description — often in their favor — sometimes in mid-interview.

Before your next interview, come prepared with a list of questions for the interviewer, such as:

  • “What problems would you like to see tackled and resolved in the next three months/six months/year?”
  • “What do you see as the potential roadblocks to success in solving these problems?”
  • “What would I be doing on a day-to-day basis?”
  • “What is the primary objective of the manager in hiring someone for this position?”
  • “Why is the position available?”
  • “How does this position fit into the big picture of what needs to be accomplished by the the department/division/company?”
  • “What performance standards define success in this position?”
  • “What is your management style? What can I expect from you in terms of guidance, support and leadership?”

Some of the questions may seem unorthodox or provocative, but they will show your willingness to understand the core principles of the job and may provide insight into how well you would fit into the organization’s culture.

“What you are looking for here are the impediments that would/could stop a person from achieving the stated targets or solving the problems that need solving,” Hill writes in his book. “Once you know what the interviewer perceives as the hurdles to success, you can point out how you can overcome those hurdles and succeed.”

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.