Interviewing: Fill in Your “Gaps” with Indirect Experience – Part 1

A Gutsy Lateral Move

William had been a successful Enterprise Account Manager for 4 years. He was one of the young rising stars on the Sales team at the enterprise software company where we worked at the time. He had consistently made his quota in the challenging Central region, heavily concentrated with manufacturers whose businesses were in turmoil due to the growth of overseas manufacturing. I wasn’t the only person who thought that William was crazy to move from Sales into Product Marketing. He was making great money, had very strong account relationships, and had all of the skills for a very successful long-term run in Sales.

However, William was thinking about his career. He liked selling and was good at it, but had a strong desire to be in a very strategic executive role. He believed that Marketing was a better path to that goal than Sales management. Nevertheless, he couldn’t afford to come in at an entry-level Marketing position because he would lose too much income at a time when his family was growing (note that estimates an approximate $30K reduction in salary moving from a Sr. Technology Sales role at $100K to aProduct Marketing Analyst role at $69K in the Bay Area). William had to figure out how to make a lateral move, preserving as much of his compensation and seniority as possible. Given that he didn’t have any hands-on, direct experience in Marketing, what would he say in the interview when asked “What qualifications do you have to be a Senior Product Marketing Manager?”

Many high-tech professionals who are a few years along in their career path face this same challenge:How do you get the job that you’ve never done before? They get enough exposure to another job function or role know that they want it, but they have to try to make a lateral move with little or no direct experience to lean on. If you prepare properly and understand how your interviewer will make the decision, you can take yourself from dreading the “experience” question to anticipating and even embracing it.

Positioning Indirect Experience

The answer for William was that he had to effectively position his indirect experience. Yes, he had never held a Marketing role, but he had worked closely with Marketing for years as part of the Sales team – through product launches, development of customer references in his accounts, sharing sales tools with his prospects, and even using competitive intelligence from Marketing to win deals. One key to success in any role is having the “head knowledge” to successfully execute that role. To convince your interviewer that you intellectually understand the role, do your homework on the target role in these key areas:

  • Understand the Key  Metrics – How is the position measured, and how do those metrics fit into the way that the overall organization is measured? For example, if you are interviewing for a field marketing role, talk about “Cost per lead,” “Campaign response rates” or “Percentage of leads accepted by Sales.” This will leave a much stronger impression than talking about how you think field marketing looks fun and challenging. You don’t need to know every single possible metric but knowing the top 3-5 will go a long way in building your credibility and giving your interviewer a strong impression that you could “hit the ground running.” Essentially, you are painting a picture of what success looks like.
  • Be “Process-Literate” – What are the most important processes that your target role manages or participates in? For example, if you want to become a product manager, be prepared to talk about how a Product Requirements Document gets created. Where does the input come from, who reviews the document, who signs off, and what role does it play in the development of the product? Showing process knowledge will demonstrate to your interviewer that you understand how things get done and can positively impact the business.
  • Show Political Savvy – This is closely related to process. Who are your “internal customers,” and what will they expect from you? What other functions or roles will you depend on, and for what? Sticking with the Product Marketing example, your primary “customer” in most organizations will be Sales who may look to you for tools, pricing and packaging, or support for specific sales cycles. Corporate Communications will depend on you for messaging and support as a spokesperson with press and analysts. Engineering and Product Management will likely want market analysis and product requirements input from you. Knowing how the role interconnects to other roles and teams will give your interviewer confidence that you understand more of “the big picture.”

We used the Marketing example for continuity, but this approach can be adapted to any lateral move. This is all part of what we review in our High-Tech Job Search Advantage Program for our clients (click here to learn more about it).

Next week, we’ll build on this “head knowledge” and review some specific activities and techniques to position your indirect experience and make your desired role-change a reality.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and perspectives so please share your experience and feedback.

Written by

The ExecCatalyst blog covers topics related to leadership, career advancement, hiring, finding the right job, company cultures and office politics, and general management. The authors have extensive experience in high-tech in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and have gained experience at small, fast-moving startups as well as large, global technology firms.

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