Tuesday 1 April 2014

Tackling the 'Relevant Experience' Problem

The other day a reader emailed me to discuss some thoughts, and one point that he made has been at the back of my head since then. It’s something that I’m sure many of you can relate with, and is such an important matter than it deserves a post of its own.

All too often a finance hopeful hears the comment, “You’re good, but you don’t have relevant experience”. Most aspirants take it as a sign of rejection and try again elsewhere, even though this need not be the end of the line. It is a difficult obstacle to overcome, but by no means an insurmountable one. Read on to find out why. 

An interview is not a test, it’s a negotiation. If an interviewer brings up a shortcoming in your profile, you need not always take it as a critique or rejection. If you believe you have the chops, take it as an opportunity to convey why the interviewer’s concern is unfounded. Suppose the interviewer says, “You have a good profile, but you’ll be managing a team of 10 people in this role but you don’t seem to have experience managing a group of people.” You can counter this by recounting incidents of the time you led a project, or an audit, or a particular assignment with multiple people reporting to you. While your official designation may not give you managerial responsibilities, you still have experience in managing people. The point here is to take the criticism, find what the interviewer’s concern is, and counter it with tangible examples from your past.

In the same vein, when an interviewer brings up the issue of lack of relevant experience, their concern is the time they’ll have to spend in training you and bringing you up to speed. At any place worth working at, “relevant experience” is not just a mere box that needs to be checked; it’s their way of assuring that you can fit into the new role with minimal hand-holding. At the fast-paced environment of investment banks and private equity funds, time is money.

Therefore, if you can prove to the interviewer that you know the technical requirements of the job and can hit the ground running, you can tilt the situation back in your favour by addressing the interviewer’s biggest concern. The best way to do that would be to convey that you have spoken with people regarding the role you are interviewing for, and are well aware of what would be expected of you. Also, to prepare for the same, you have read up on all relevant information available out there, like the process of deal-making, financial modeling, recent major deals, etc. You should be able to back this up by demonstrating rock-solid fundamentals in technical interviews and acing your modeling tests and case studies.

You can also address this concern preemptively, for instance, by mentioning in your resume the financial modeling courses that you have completed. If you’re coming from a highly unrelated background, it is absolutely normal to mention financial modeling courses on your resume.

The above strategy kills two birds with one stone, so to speak – it shows that to a certain extent, you can hit the ground running; and also, it demonstrates your tendency to proactively take initiative. It also helps that if you’re willing to go through all this effort, you are probably genuinely interested in the industry and this is bound to come across during interviews. Never underestimate the power of genuine passion for the work.

There you have it, folks. Don’t let a lack of relevant experience hold you back. Next time an interviewer brings it up, you know what to do.


  1. Good article BB. I've shared it with couple of my friends who are going through this kind of problem.

  2. It is going to help me a lot because even I am facing this problem.