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How Can I Address Unrealistic Expectations During a Job Interview without Fear?

Job postings are almost always inflated and exaggerated based on a company's dream qualifications for that role.

Sometimes, hiring managers and recruiters set application and job interview expectations that are just a little too hopeful – or much too hopeful!

One Twitter user, for instance, shared the following job posting example

“I saw a job post the other day,” he wrote. “It required 4+ years of experience in FastAPI. I couldn’t apply as I only have 1.5+ years of experience since I created that thing. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate that ‘years of experience – skill level’.” 

Here’s another inflated expectation example. 

A candidate was interviewing for a Digital Marketing Manager position at a crypto company. At the end of the interview, they asked if the hiring team had any concerns about their qualifications. 

The interviewers replied that the candidate’s previous acquisitions had not met their desired level; they wanted to see numbers in the billions. 

The candidate was so surprised that they almost laughed. 

“What I heard: they want a Digital Marketing Manager with the resume of a CGO and have previously grown user acquisition to at least 14% of earth’s population at another company, while [probably] only paying the market rate salary of a Digital Marketing Manager,” they wrote. 

Other job applicants mention needing graduate degrees for low-paying jobs, decades of experience for entry- to mid-level positions, and more years of experience than a product or service has even existed.

With postings like these, it’s no surprise that some recruiters and hiring managers will expect that executive candidates will be, well, superheroes

How, then, can you address unrealistic expectations in the interview? 

Here’s our best advice.

Understand where unrealistic job interview expectations come from.

Of course, you’re not always going to meet every one of a position’s ideal qualifications. You’re not even supposed to – many qualifications on job postings are “nice to haves,” not “must-haves.” 

Take heart if you don’t tick every job application box. According to a survey that analyzed around 6,000 job applications, candidates who had around half of the qualifications were as likely to receive interviews as those who had 90 percent. 

“Still, employers do realize that job requirements are inflated, and hiring is subjective. In a tight labor market, employers are more flexible on transferable soft skills, experience level, and educational attainment, such as a college degree,” says Ruth Umoh for CNBC

With that in mind, it’s helpful to remember that recruiters and hiring managers don’t expect to find someone who meets all of what they’re looking for. 

Practice answering questions about the skills and experience you don’t have.

However, one of the frustrating aspects of being asked to interview for an inflated position is that you don’t always know which qualifications they want most. That’s why you should prepare to talk about all the skills and experience in the job posting at the interview – even if you don’t have them. 

You never want to answer a question about a skill or an experience level by telling the hiring manager you don’t know how to do it, or you don’t have any experience. Rather, say you’re willing to acquire new knowledge or share a related example. 

“And an effective way to enhance your previous confident response would be to share with the hiring manager about a time when you did do something very similar—or something that could in some way relate to the experience they are asking you about,” said Jessica Hernandez.

Research similar positions and identify the skills and experience those companies are seeking.

Before an interview, it’s always a good idea to research similar positions at other companies with the same job title.  This way, you can understand which skills other organizations are prioritizing and see where the company you’re interviewing with is coming from. 

This is also smart prep to address unrealistic expectations. If you come into your interview understanding what others who hold the same job title do – and how much they earn – you can be better prepared to answer their questions. 

Then, if they lob a question that seems to exceed your experience or skill set, you can say, “I believe that’s something someone at a more senior level would typically handle. Would you expect the person in this role to take on that responsibility?” 

Decide if you want to move forward with the company.

If the interviewer seems to have inflated expectations that you can’t shake, it may be time to pull yourself out of the interview process. If you do land the job, you may not get paid sufficiently for the role, and you may find that a job with the same responsibilities has a more senior title and better compensation elsewhere. 

What’s more, you may end up taking on more duties and responsibilities than you should be taking on at your level, meaning that the company will be de-incentivized to create a more senior position for you. 

So, if you can’t shake the interviewer’s unrealistic expectations for the job, proceed with caution. 

Addressing Unrealistic Expectations in an Interview

Job postings are almost always inflated and exaggerated based on a company’s dream qualifications for that role. But if those expectations linger into the interview, you should be cautious. 

So, when you apply for a job that has “pie-in-the-sky” expectations and land an interview, consider what other companies expect from candidates with the same job title. You can also find pay information typical for similar roles. If you’re asked about something with which you have no experience, tell them that you’re a quick learner or possess an adjacent skill. 

If that’s not enough for the hiring manager or recruiter, count your blessings. It’s better to deal with an interviewer who has unrealistic expectations than a boss who does. 


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