We all have them: Things which we wish we had not done. Things we hope the interviewer does not know about. Things we pray our references will not mention.
The good news is that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, interviewers don’t know and if they did know they would not care. Human beings have the bad habit of magnifying their problems out of all proportion. Other people’s problems are simple; ours are monumental. It’s the old joke, “If you break your leg it’s a pity; if I break mine it’s a catastrophe!” (I said it was “old;” I didn’t say it was “funny!”)
This is a serious issue. Not because coming up with a reasonable explanation is difficult. It’s not. The problem is obsession. We obsess over it. Instead of practicing the answers to questions that may actually be asked, or, more importantly, practicing the questions we are going to ask, we obsess over the “what if”s which, as noted, probably won’t happen. And that usually results in a bad night’s sleep prior to the interview, which is never a prescription for success!
The best way to deal with these issues, the ones you hope will not come up in the job interview, is to practice the old saying, “Never cross a bridge until you come to it.” If the subject does come up, just like with any difficult question of a personal-professional nature, the rule is simple:
Tell the truth and keep it short. The more you talk the more your credibility will suffer. If you like game theory, it’s a zero sum game between length of answer and depth of credibility. In scores of cases, I have never had a career counseling client, panicking over how to explain an unfortunate occurrence, leave without having a short, honest explanation. I can remember once when a client took an hour to explain to me what happened. I did not interrupt him. He just kept talking. And when he was finished, I told him what to say. I literally gave him a 10-second explanation which was totally truthful and completely credible, which turned the issue into a non-issue. You see, when you remove all the extraneous details, the story usually is very simple. But, because he was so emotionally attached to the situation, because he knew too much, he could not eliminate the irrelevancies. Everything, for him, was of equal importance. He could not differentiate. And that inability is what could have cost him a job offer.
So to summarize: focus onwhat is likely to happen, and have short, honest and simple answers to the difficult questions. It really is not all that hard to do. Oh, and have a good night’s sleep!