What if you don’t have the skills a manager is looking for?

What do you do when hiring managers are looking for a set of skills you don’t have but you sorely want? You learn.

I see this situation played over and over again. The market is shifting and a new tool or technique is the next biggest standout skill or experience hiring managers are looking for, yet you don’t have that skill. What’s worse is that you can’t get an opportunity to learn that skill in a workplace because you don’t already have it…..a Catch 22 situation.

It’s a situation many people in software development find themselves in. For example I meet many people who want to work in an agile team but cannot get a job because they don’t have the experience – so how do they get the experience?

Here are 5 ideas to help you try and combat this Catch 22 situation.

1. Learn in your own time

Never under-estimate the power of self learning. To demonstrate that you know how to use a tool, or apply a technique, doesn’t require “work” experience. It requires you knowing the subject, demonstrating it well and being confident in your own skills.

You don’t need commercial experience to learn a new skill. You can learn on your own time, practice and if you do this consistently, you’ll soon have lots of practical experience.

Read books, watch webinars, join online group and immerse yourself in the work.

Learning on your own time will put you ahead of most candidates already anyway.

Remember also that commercial experience with a tool or approach does not equal competence.

I know someone who labeled themselves as a Selenium expert but had created a monolithic record and playback automation suite which crumbled as soon as you looked at it. On the surface “Selenium Competence” was nothing more than a smoke screen.

2. Network with people in the know

If you’re learning a new topic or subject take the time to get to know people leading the discussions and at the forefront of the subject.

If you want to work in DevOps get to know people working in DevOps. If you want to know about Exploratory Testing get to know people doing Exploratory Testing. If you want to learn Selenium get to know people leading the conversations about Selenium.

The Internet has brought us all closer together.

Ask questions, ask for learning resources and ask for help. Most people are more approachable than you think and are often  happy to help out. Be genuine and show your commitment and passion. You’d be surprised at how powerful this approach can be.

If you network well and create a positive impression then you’re only a few conversations away from being given a chance to learn as part of a new job. Jobs and careers can be started simply by connected with the right people.

3. Compromise

If you’re trying to move your career sideways you will likely have to compromise on something.

The compromise could be salary, it could be location, it could be industry or a miriad of other aspects of work. Opportunities may come along and require a compromise – plan for this, decide what you can compromise on and move forward.

Sometimes the sacrifice of salary or commute or any other fact is worth the new learning that you will have access to.

4. Don’t turn down or ignore opportunities

Opportunities to learn and grow don’t come along very often for most people.

Don’t ignore opportunities or turn them down holding out for something else. Compromise (point 3) and appreciate that sometimes a backwards or sideways move is needed to continue to move forward.

Look out for opportunities and be sure to recognise one when it presents itself. They are sometimes subtle to see.

5. Show your passion

Let your passion for your career, learning and chosen field of study shine through. If you’re passionate about a subject it will show. Even with no commercial experience your passion will show a hiring manager you’re interested, willing to learn and capable of growing in to the role. This alone may give you chance you need with the right manager.


Be sure never to give up though.

It can be tough trying to convince someone to hire you when you don’t have any real “work” or “commercial” experience.

The important thing to remember though is that self taught experience is just as valuable as the so called work experience. Be passionate about your subject, learn everything you can in a steady and consistent manner and show this passion to your growing network; this will immediately make you stand out from the crowd.

All you need then is some luck and the skill of spotting an opportunity.

Good luck.

4 thoughts on “What if you don’t have the skills a manager is looking for?

  1. I hate interviewing somebody that says they are interested in some open source tool but never got the change to learn it at work. Do it at home. Install linux on an old computer. Study on-line primers on languages or tools. Write an automation script that checks your facebook. Build a rest service that automates your home. Install a issue tracker for chores at home. Create your own jenkins server. Join github & stackoverflow. Preparation is the enemy of fear.

    1. Nicely put Dave – thanks for commenting – couldn’t agree more – where is the initiative in someone who doesn’t have a “chance” to learn?

  2. Hi Rob,

    I agree that its sometimes hard to learn the knowledge of certain tools like selenium or Jmeter. I hired 9 people in the last year (In Wroclaw). The most important reasons for me were the passion, personality and how that person thinks. Everybody knew a bit Selenium or wants to become a selenium expert. I just showed them our opportunities. I had 2 experts in the team who guided, trained step by step the newbies. This approach was very effectieve. Every QA’er can follow that track if he wants. We will do the same for Jmeter. That is my way of solving the skill problem. We are checking in the interview if the person has the personal skills to be able to do that.

    Kind regards


    1. Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It sounds like a great approach and I love the fact you mention that you show people opportunities. That’s a really key point – some people tend to jump at opportunities whilst others don’t, or simply don’t see them.

      Thanks, and see you for a beer sometime in Wroclaw 🙂


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