Welcome the Tough Interview Questions transcript
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We turn to the August 9 Working Strategies column from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, by Amy Lindgren: Welcome the tough interview questions, and learn to control them
Wouldn't it be great if you could go to an interview and talk only about your good points? No more awkward interludes where you try to spin your last period of unemployment or put a happy face on not grasping technology very well. Just a smooth-flowing discussion about what you could contribute to a new employer.
Yeah, well ... that's probably not going to happen. You won't likely escape an interview without answering some difficult questions, nor should you want to. An interviewer who doesn't delve deeper into your anxiety closet isn't taking you seriously as a candidate.
Instead of hoping you won't face those questions, why not throw open your arms and meet the challenge head on? Here's a five-part strategy to get you started.
1. Identify your weak point for the job. Technology? Lack of a degree? No management experience? In some cases, the weak point will be easy to spot: Just compare your skills and background with the job posting. But when you're meeting an employer outside of a posting process, there might not be a job description to guide you. You'll need to research what you can and make an educated guess about the rest. On the other hand, if you have the basic ingredients for the work, your Achilles heel may be something in your work history, such as having been fired from the last job.
2. Look at it from the employer's perspective. Why would this matter? Are you sure it does? For example, you might be very sensitive about having been fired, but maybe that's not uncommon in your industry. In some fields, such as sales, managers would have a hard time finding experienced reps who had never been fired. But what if you're missing a skill critical to performance, such as applying for a job as a program manager but lacking budgeting experience? Again, ask yourself, how will this impact this employer? Is the budget developed annually or more frequently? If it's annual, is the fiscal year just starting (which means the budget is pretty much set for now) or is the budgeting process just around the corner? The answers to these questions could influence the employer's assessment of your experience versus the company's needs.
3. Shore up your courage. If it were a fatal flaw you wouldn't be scheduled for an interview. The employer is intrigued enough to overlook the issue temporarily, so you must have something (probably several things) in your favor. You've earned a place at the interview table.
4. Strategize your plan for correcting the flaw or, if that's not possible (you can't "correct" having been fired, for example), for discussing it. For example, if you know a certain software is part of the job and you haven't used it, you probably can't learn it before the interview. But you can research it online, possibly download a tutorial, and even join a user's group. By the time you meet with the employer, you should be conversant in the software's uses and features, and be able to estimate how much time or which classes are needed to bring you up to speed.
5. Finally, consider raising the issue yourself. I generally favor a strategy where the candidate promotes strengths but leaves the less favorable points for the employer to ask about. If the employer doesn't ask, my view is that it wasn't so important after all -- why stir the pot? An exception would be when the negative issue may be lurking below the surface, and might still influence the employer's decision making. Here it's best for the candidate to control the topic during the interview, where a discussion is still possible.
One way to do this is to tack the topic onto the back of another answer. For example, a candidate with limited management experience could give this answer when asked about a strength: "One of my best strengths is my ability to work with people from a variety of backgrounds. I'm good at building rapport and developing respectful relationships, which makes it easier to have difficult conversations if that becomes necessary. For example, if a team member isn't meeting deadlines and it's impacting my work, I can have that conversation without creating new problems. That's one reason I think I'd be a good manager, even though I haven't had that experience yet. I've seen that effective managers are good at building relationships and I have that skill."
Sometimes your difficult issue is more complex than a missing skill or a messy departure from a previous job. Next week I'll provide a blueprint for facing more intrinsic challenges, such as being the "wrong" age or shape for a job.
Again, that was Working Strategies: Welcome the tough interview questions, and learn to control them, from the St. Paul Pioneer Press.