I read a post on Brent Ozar’s blog last week that discussed employers’ expectations when hiring new team members. Though the story was specific to database professionals, the same principles apply to almost any hiring situation. The moral of Brent’s story is that when hiring, just like in real life, you have to compromise what you may really want to stay within the budget you have to spend. If you had an unlimited budget, you’d hire Paul Randal to be your DBA, Emeril to be your cafeteria manager, that Sham-Wow guy would lead the janitorial team, and every employee would have a corner office and lunchtime massages. Most situations don’t lend themselves to that kind of financial freedom, so you settle for more affordable talent.
There’s a flip side to this, specifically from the perspective of the candidate. Everyone who has sat for an interview worries that they’ll be passed over in favor of someone who is better qualified. Only the most arrogant truly believe that they are the best talent money can buy; the vast majority of people have enough self-awareness to know that there are others who are better qualified, smarter, and willing to work for less money.
For the job candidate, the takeaway from this is to simply be yourself. Understand that the employer wants to find the best person for the job, but they’re operating within a certain budget, and they won’t make their decision on skills alone. Don’t try to convince your interviewer that you’re Seinfeld if you’re closer to being Carrot Top, or even Ben Stein. Be honest about your strengths and your weaknesses, and don’t try too hard to impress. Your transparency will be apparent to any interviewer worth his/her salt, and even if you’re not a fit for that position, you’ll make an ally for the next time an opening appears.