by Daniel Silvert
There is a key moment in many interviews – typically towards the end – when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for us?” This represents a tremendous opportunity that is often missed. Here’s the chance to surface liabilities about your background that have not yet been discussed.
One possible response could be:
“I have a question or two about the position, but first, is there anything about my background that you would like me to clarify at this stage that would otherwise prevent a next step from taking place?”
Why this works
In most interviews there is typically an elephant in the room. Perhaps your experience is primarily within another industry and that concerns them, or you have not had direct P&L experience, or the project requires expertise in particular technology in which you are less than an expert. The elephant is very often not brought up spontaneously by the interviewer, yet it can end your candidacy if not addressed. By asking the above question, you can at least try to surface any outstanding issues.
There are three likely responses to your question:
A) “Not at all, we are very impressed with your background.” Unfortunately, this response is false. There is a problem with your candidacy but they are not going to discuss it. Your response is to shift the focus to questions about the position itself.
B) “Not at all, we are very impressed with your background.” Fortunately, this response is true. Since there is no way to distinguish A from B, your response is the same.
C) “We are very impressed with your background, however, we are speaking with candidates who have more direct experience in our particular industry niche – and that is something that we need to consider as we move forward.”
The following four-step process addresses a revealed liability, as illustrated in Response C. For starters, take heart that the company is taking valuable time to meet with you despite your known liabilities. Why? Because they are giving you the opportunity to overcome them. The winning candidate is rarely the one with perfect credentials, even in a buyer’s market. Chemistry and an enthusiastic meeting of the minds can significantly reduce the impact of liabilities in your background. By answering your question honestly, the interviewer has given you a critical opportunity to win the day.
Step 1: Thank them
“Thank you for your candor. I can understand how industry experience factors into the equation of who is best suited to the role.”
This response demonstrates that you are not going to respond defensively. If the interviewer believes that you may be too young, had too many job changes, or do not possess enough industry experience, suggesting that their opinion is misguided will only harden their stance. Thanking them grants the interviewer psychological space to let go of the liability.
Step 2: Qualify them
“My understanding thus far is that you are looking for someone who can deliver the following: A, drive down operations costs. B, diversify vendor relationships. C, reduce process and procedure complexities. Is my understanding of the core needs of the position accurate?”
If your assumptions are off-base, then this gives you the opportunity to gain greater clarity about the role. In most cases, however, the answer to your question will be “Yes.” This re-directs the focus to your core competencies in delivering solutions to their needs. The elephant is still in the room, but it is no longer blocking the view.
Step 3: Lead them to “yes”
“If I could further illustrate that these are the areas that I have excelled at through-out my career, delivering tremendous benefits to my previous companies, could that partially allay your concerns overall?”
A positive response is very likely since they would not be wasting their time if your candidacy were not viable.
Step 4: Provide evidence
“In my last position at ABC Company I led a team through a project which…”
Now that the core deliverables of the position have been established, illustrate your achievements in these areas – preferably through a short story that allows the interviewer to visualize your success.
Overcoming liabilities that may prevent your candidacy from moving forward is a critical aspect of successful interviewing. Having the confidence, poise, and agility to respond to objections leaves a lasting impression that you are able to handle a challenge with conviction and grace.