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How Young Candidates Can Show They Are Ready for Senior Roles

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​Bestselling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.     

Despite the fact that I meet the experience requirements for positions that are HR director level or above, I'm not getting interviews or offers for them. I am currently an assistant director, but my title doesn't make my experience and skills obvious. 
I am younger, so my work history doesn't go back as far, and I'm worried that executives don't believe I have the depth of experience that I truly do. I know I will be competing against people who have more time in the field, but I want to give myself the best fighting chance. 
Any tips on what I should do to improve my chances? 

Right now, you feel that you are perceived as too young and inexperienced to be taken seriously at the level of your next target job, but it sounds like you've already developed valuable skills that can help you succeed.  

As you grow in experience, you also grow older and one challenge is replaced by another; it's the natural progression of professional life. Because the challenges change with the passage of time, when you anticipate and deal with the issues as soon as you identify them, you're consciously managing your career in a meaningful way—it's thoughtful and smart. There are four approaches you can apply to meet these challenges. 

Know Your Weak Points

A manager's most-important function is to get work done through a team. Consequently, in employee selection, a hiring manager will always go with credentials over potential. Apply this to your situation: While you may have many of the skills required for that next step up, do you have them all? Have you taken the time to objectively analyze the skills you don't have?

Collect a half-dozen job postings for your target job, and highlight those skills you have not yet developed or that need work.

An objective skill review will identify the most important areas for your personal professional development program. As a personal habit, being self-driven and developing job-relevant skills will increase your credibility and visibility for as long as you pursue it.

Knowing you are competent—and having a strategy in place to stay that way—will boost your confidence but can produce its own issues. You don't want to be seen as an arrogant pipsqueak.

Manage the image you show the world; be respectful, ask the advice of more senior people and be gracious in your thanks. Seek senior mentors from among those who are the most helpful and influential. This turns potential detractors into supporters. 

Is Your Resume Helping or Hurting?

Your candidacy for any job is first based on your resume—it's the tool that opens the doors of opportunity. I've owned a resume-writing business for many years and know that there's a strong possibility your resume is not getting the responses you want because it talks about what you have done and think is important, which is subjective and not very effective. All too often, a resume written this way is simply not being discovered in resume-database searches because it doesn't highlight the skills and experiences the employers think are important—so no one actually sees and reads it.

What can you do? Remember the first two lessons you learned in professional life:

  • The customer (in this case, a prospective employer) is always right.
  • Find out what the customer wants and provide it.

Rather than stuff your resume with all sorts of keywords, find out the specific skills your potential employers want to hire (through the skill review advised above) and demonstrate what you bring to the table in each area of required expertise. This produces a resume that is discoverable and leads to interviews. 

The Resume as Your Brand

Writing a resume that reflects an objective analysis of the employer's needs is effective, but it's also time-consuming. However, you do get payback for your efforts: By doing an objective analysis of your target job and showing in your resume the expertise, experience, credentials and accomplishments you bring to the job, you are redefining how you want to be seen—your professional persona, or brand. 

Manage Your Appearance

You can demonstrate your maturity through professionalism, appearance, emotional intelligence and social graces. Look at your seniors, those who hold positions above you. Notice their dress and grooming and how they interact and behave, then model your behavior on theirs. Become today who you dream of being tomorrow. 

You have to deal with the perceived lack of maturity and experience, but your resume will prepare interviewers for someone of potential. A resume that responds directly to the employer's needs not only gets more response, it also sets the tone for interviews, positioning you appropriately by giving the hiring manager a way to see you as a truly viable candidate. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.  

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