Changing jobs is hard. Changing careers is even harder. I’ve had a few people ask me recently what I look for when interviewing potential new hires. It’s a hard question to answer, because every role is different, but there are common characteristics I look for, no matter if we’re hiring someone who has been in tech for years or not at all.
Over the past ten years, the technology sector has become increasingly competitive and lucrative as an industry, drawing highly skilled workers into work environments that promote remote employment, open office spaces, fun, extra (or unlimited) vacation time, free meals, in-office workout facilities, free daycare, free housekeeping services, and many more perks, in addition to higher salaries and attractive relocation packages.
Because of these perks and the growing number of positions in tech, workers from other industries have taken an interest in switching careers to pursue a more satisfying job with growth potential and a better salary scale. Below, I have outlined a number of recommendations for people looking to find a position in a tech company without any technical skills whatsoever.
Recommendation #1: Be “Coachable”
When I played football in high school, one of my coaches said something to me that I will never forget: “The #1 thing we ask is that you be coachable. You may not have been gifted as the fastest, strongest, or smartest person on the field, but if you’re coachable, none of that matters. You will have a place on this football team.” If you’re unable to accept feedback and learn from it, you will never have a winning attitude and nobody will want you to be a part of their team. Smart managers hire infectious personalities and team players.
The #1 thing we ask is that you be coachable. You may not have been gifted as the fastest, strongest, or smartest person on the field, but if you’re coachable, none of that matters. You will have a place on this football team.
One of the biggest issues with applying for a job you feel unqualified for is a lack of technical skills or even a basic understanding of what a tech company does. It is important to realize that hiring managers don’t expect you to know everything about their business. That’s not your job—yet. However, they will want to know that you’re interested and inquisitive—eager to learn about what they do and why.
Recommendation #2: Be Honest
Have you ever lied on a resume? In a job interview? Have you ever embellished your experience level? 9 times out of 10, hiring managers can see right through the lies. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it backfires. And when it does, it’s ugly.
On the flipside, some people feel weird about drawing attention to themselves, offering answers like, “sure, I have some experience with that.” Instead of saying something wishy-washy, be confident in what you know. It’s okay to market yourself. It’s okay to be confident in your core values and skills.
When it comes to hiring, managers focus heavily on cultural fit over technical skills. You can teach people how to code or manage a project, but you can’t teach them how to be passionate about what you do. When managers come across someone who can help the team, they will move mountains to find a position for them, if possible. How well do you work with team members? What do former or current co-workers consider to be your strongest traits? What skills do you have that transcend industries? Know the answers to these questions and you will be able to interview for any position, even if you may not be fully qualified for it.
Additionally, if you go into an interview pretending to know more about a company than its employees just because you read a few paragraphs on their website—you’ll end up sounding like an idiot, or worse, a jerk. Instead, be humble, listen, ask questions, and exhibit a desire to learn more if you were a part of the team.
Recommendation #3: Showcase Your Positive Characteristics to Hiring Managers
Some of the best traits of a great employee include empathy, positivity, and great communication skills. Many jobs have very specific requirements, especially the more technical ones, but for the most part, if you’re good with other people and lift others with your positivity and outlook, you deserve a place in any company.
In sports, teams are always on the hunt for “winning” players. These players aren’t necessarily the ones who are the biggest, strongest, or fastest, but instead possess certain characteristics that fit within the overall chemistry of a team.
The 2004 movie, Miracle, tells the story of the 1980 U. S. Olympic hockey team who defeated the seemingly invincible Russian team to win the gold medal and shock the world, who believed the Russian team was far superior and unbeatable. The game is still considered one of the greatest Olympic victories of all-time. In the movie, Herb Brooks, the U. S. hockey team head coach, said to his assistant coach, “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”
Recommendation #4: Apply for Positions that Align with your Strengths
You may not always be a fit for positions that require years of experience with certain technologies or software, but everyone who has held a job possesses skills of some kind. Ever worked in retail? Then you’ve probably acquired years of customer service skills. That translates to working with people in almost any type of team. Ever worked in a call center? You are likely familiar with strict rules and escalation processes. These types of roles can translate well to project or process management positions within tech companies.
A friend of mine, Jason, recently changed careers, moving from a traveling sales position selling shears to cosmetology students to a local vacation rental software company scheduling demos for their sales team. One of the biggest reasons they hired him was his charisma and likeability, as well as his presentation and training skills.
For years, he traveled the country educating students on the various types of shears and how to properly use them. The skills he gained may seem trivial considering the subject matter, but to a hiring manager, his ability to deliver presentations and represent a company well is extremely valuable in the tech world. The amazing thing is though, he was training himself for his next role, even without knowing what that might be.
My recommendation to you is to seek out roles in tech companies by searching job boards and company website career portals taking note of the skills required for a position you want. Then start doing things that require those skills be built or used in some way. Those experiences will become invaluable to your future self when you’re ready to find a long-term career path.
Also, don’t pigeon-hole yourself into one specific job that you consider to be perfect. Look at the other job listings as potential stepping stones to get to the other side of the river. You may have to seemingly go backwards to eventually go forwards. Remind yourself that it is a process. You can’t be the master until you’ve first been the apprentice.