Why doesn’t my knowledge cover my skills gap?

"J"
writes: I have worked in the HR profession for 3 years. I recently returned to
the UK from Dublin and am looking for a new job at personnel officer
level.  At interviews I seem to meet
obstacles in the form of my lack of experience in a particular area –
disciplinary and grievance processes. Although I drafted grievance procedures
for a previous employer, the opportunity hasn’t arisen for me to get hands-on
experience. How do I get the message across that I have the necessary skills
when I have never actually done it? I seem to be in a vicious circle.

Peter
Lewis, consultant at Chiumento Consulting Group writes:

If
you are getting through to the interview stage then your overall experience
must be of interest. The focus of the interview is often on how you would apply
your skills and knowledge and how you would fit in. Accurate feedback from
interviews can be sometimes difficult to obtain, so it is worth her
double-checking. Pointing out a skills gap can be an easier, more tangible way
of letting down an unsuccessful candidate than discussing their personality
fit. If the feedback you have received is genuine, there are two alternatives.
Your interview technique may be letting you down or there may indeed be a gap,
compared to other applicants.

If
the former, then your own concerns that there may be a skills gap, allied to
concerns about transferring back to the UK within a relatively short period,
may be undermining your confidence. Remember that whatever drawbacks you
perceive about your candidature, if you have been invited to interview, these
have largely been discounted. Moreover, interviews are not just about the
question “Can you do the job”, they are also about your willingness to do the job
in the longer term and how you would fit in. Far too many people approach
interviews as if they were appearing on ‘Mastermind’, whereas the better TV
analogy is ‘Blind Date’

In
order to increase your confidence, carry out in-depth research on the company and
the kind of disciplinary and grievance problems likely to be encountered.
Topping up your procedures knowledge with practical advice from HR contacts
will not only enable you to demonstrate insight into their use but also help
you to identify your relevant transferable skills .

If
there is a genuine gap, then you can help to close it by learning. The area of
employment law, including disciplinary and grievance matters, is relatively
specialist but there are numerous courses and seminars, attendance at which
will enhance your knowledge of the subject.

Vic
Daniels, director at Carr-Lyons writes:

It
is always difficult to convince a would-be employer that you are capable of
undertaking a specific duty if you have not had the relevant experience.  You’ve worked in HR for only 3 years and it
is not unreasonable that there remains certain areas for you to develop your
experience.  It would be unreasonable,
in my view, for any would be employer to think that you are the finished
article and have no more learning to do. 
My advise is simple.  Tell the
truth.  Do not attempt to camouflage
your lack of experience in the disciplinary/grievance process area.  Underline what you know of the relevant
legal position and, finally and perhaps most importantly, focus on other areas
where you have the relevant experience. 
It is my view that, especially these days, most employers look to
candidates with potential and are now much more prepared to take someone on
board who may have one or two development areas of their own.

Margaret
Malpas, joint managing director of Malpas Flexible Learning writes:

I
appreciate your dilemma.  I think your best strategy is to show the
interviewer that you know what is involved in handling a grievance or a
disciplinary.  So. for example, if asked a typical competency based
question such as, "From your experiences of handling grievances what did
you do and why?", I would come clean on the experience front but add on
"What I would do is to ensure that each stage of the process is followed
systematically, that time frames are adhered to, that I managed the discussions
so that emotions were kept to the minimum, and that the whole process met
natural justice principles and were transparent."

This
would prove that you had the knowledge to work effectively in this area. 
You do not mention whether you have received any training in this
area. Most training in Employee Relations would cover Grievance and
Disciplinary handling and there would be practice sessions so that some skill
can be built up.  Some training results in competency assessment and if
you had undertaken such, then this would be another way to meet an employers’
potential objections.

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