Nothing on my resume suggested I would be a good executive director for a series of rock-band summer camps. In fact, my only related credential -- being in low-level management positions as a counselor at an overnight camp while in high school and college -- seemed silly to even mention.
I did not play an instrument, had never run a business with multiple locations across the country, and had never handled a company with such a short, intense window of peak operations. On paper, I did not fit the mold of what the company hiring for the executive director was looking for, but in my head, I knew I was perfect for the job.
When a situation like that comes up, it's hard, but not impossible, to land an interview. Some people making hiring decisions can be swayed to at least interview an unconventional candidate. That, however, does not mean they will be eager to, so it's your job to force the decision maker to give you a chance.
How to get noticed
When this particular job came up, I was not a stranger to the company, which certainly helped. I had done a small amount of consulting in a completely unrelated area (publishing) that at least introduced me to the right people.
My tactic in applying, however, was not that different than it would have been had I been a stranger. In my cover letter, I acknowledged that I was not a musician and that I lacked some of the listed qualifications, but explained how I would make up the deficit.
For example, I noted that while I did not play an instrument, I had extensive experience working with musicians in two previous magazine jobs. I also made a strong case that an experienced manager lacking in music skills made more sense than a skilled musician lacking in management skills.
In addition, since the ad explained some of the challenges facing the company, I offered to tackle some of them as a consulting project. And I included that if they hired me, the consulting would be free.
Why it worked
Not only did I address concerns before they could become an issue, I essentially offered a free tryout. That opened the door for me, and once inside I made sure I crushed my audition.
Your goal as an offbeat candidate is to get a foot in the door. If you do that, then you have the chance to kick the door open.
It's also important to note that not every company or hiring manager is willing to look at non-traditional candidates. Some larger companies simply don't have the flexibility, while some smaller ones simply lack vision. You will strike out sometimes trying this, but it has worked for me on multiple occasions.
You have to play to win
Remember to be realistic when applying for jobs when you're not technically qualified. For example, if a position requires a specific certification or degree, examine whether there's any way that requirement is negotiable. You may be great at playing Operation and have a good bedside manner, but the lack of a medical degree will keep you from being hired as a surgeon.
Aside from that, be bold. If you're not likely to be hired anyway, take your shot and do whatever it takes to stand out. Be funny or try a stunt (within reason) that gets the person doing the hiring to at least give you a moment of consideration.
It may not work, but sometimes it does. And even if you're only being brought in as an outsider candidate nobody expects to hire, if you get an interview, you can change minds.
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