Handling Interview Questions That Deal With Your Setbacks

I just read and highly recommend an excellent new book How to Interview Like a Pro by Mary Greenwood. A first great point made in the book is reflected in the table of contents. The book contains seven chapters, of which two and a half deal with the actual time spent in the interview. The remaining chapters deal with preparation (two and a half) and follow up. Every job seeker needs to work similar ratios into his or her interview strategies to land an offer in such a competitive market.

Greenwood structures the book with forty-three “rules” spread on the interview process. One that especially caught my attention was number twenty-six- Expect the Question You Don’t Want to Answer. You Know What it is. This question most frequently deals with an involuntary separation from a previous job, but can also involve factors such as gaps in employment, frequent or haphazard job changes, financial problems if a credit check is required for hiring or something unique to an individual situation. Now some job seekers simply hope (and pray) this question does not come up in their interview-the equivalent of burying one’s head in the sand. However for others, the focus and worry about this question dominates their preparation for an interview, with equally damaging results.

I started out as a career advisor coaching offenders for job interviews. By law, these men had to inform prospective employers they were incarcerated. I find myself using several of the strategies I learned to assist in this preparation to assist all job seeker struggling with that difficult question. Some key points to consider:

You Must Feel Comfortable With Your Strategy For Answering A Difficult Question. First and foremost, you need to be true to yourself, your personality and the way you have always had the most success in sharing information. The colleague you seek advice from may insist that the method he or she uses to diffuse a difficult question is fool proof, but you might feel uneasy about the level of information disclosed in this strategy. What can happen is that an interviewer will notice that you lack the same level of confidence and conviction in this answer as in other questions, and interpret this as dishonesty.

Script Practice And Rehearse. Stand in front or a mirror and recite your answers. Videotape yourself and review. Ask colleagues or friends to role play with you. I often point out that we started to script our speeches as children when we had to explain mistakes to our parents, so the concept shouldn’t be new to us.

Give Your Positive Qualities Much More Of Your Attention. Once again, job seekers can learn from the strategies of sales professionals. They prepare answers to customer questions regarding things such as negative publicity about their product or features a competitor has that their product lacks. However, the majority of their focus is on learning and communicating the strengths, features and benefits of what they sell. Focusing more on your own skills and accomplishments will increase your confidence level and make answering a tough question less daunting.

One final note, you probably won’t feel completely at ease with your answer strategy until you’ve “battle-tested” it in front of an employer. A great place to do so is an information interview, where you can see an employer’s response in a situation where a potential job is not immediately on the line. You can also get stronger feedback.


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