The Best Way to Deal with the Issues You Hope Interviewers will Not Bring Up

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!

If you want a job, learn to think on your feet

A while back I had a client who came to me because, for the first time in 20 years, he was looking for a job.

Nothing new there.

What was new was that a year earlier his daughter had graduated from college and, in preparing for her job search, had bought half a dozen books on job interviewing. She gave them to her father who proceeded to write down every question that the books’ authors suggested interviewers would ask, and he prepared answers for each and every one. Then he got his first interview and not a single one of the questions that the authors said he would be asked was asked! (Thus his call to me.)

I’d like to be able to say that when I prepare a candidate for an interview all of the questions I pepper them with are asked. But that would be a lie.

With the exception of job description review, there is no way to know what you are going to be asked. Of course, you still have to prepare for the expected questions and, more importantly, have excellent questions to ask the interviewer(s), but the best preparation of all may be life experiences.

You can’t learn to think on your feet from reading books. You can’t even learn how to think on your feet from reading posts on LinkedIn! But you can from life.

Perhaps the best exercise you can do, prior to an interview, is to put away the rehearsed answers and questions, sit back in your favorite chair, or lie down in bed, put on some soothing background music, and think back to all the times you were surprised. When you were a kid you got caught doing something. In class the teacher called on you unexpectedly. At work you were asked something by your supervisor that came totally out of left field. And you reacted. Sometimes well, sometimes, not so well. Why did you have the answers in the former instances, but not in the latter? Think about it. If you do, you should be in the proper mindset for a surprise-filled interview.

I had one executive recruiting candidate who totally fell apart during an interview. She told me that everything was going well, the conversation was flowing, she had all the answers to questions about the company and the job, she had good questions to ask, and then…

What was the last book you read?

Brain freeze! Big time! She could not think of anything. She could not even remember what a book was!

The interviewer wanted to see how she coped with the unexpected. And she was not coping.

What seemed like minutes was probably only seconds. She then had a stroke of genius:

Winnie the Pooh.

She then explained that she was looking after her nieces and, to avoid the, “Just one more” cries of desperation, let each choose two books. By the time she started reading the fourth, they had all fallen asleep. (Who among us has not had a bedtime story for a child become a bedtime story for us too?!)

The interviewer laughed, shared a similar experience, and by that time she was able to remember the last “big girl” book she had read.

She passed the test and got the offer. She proved she could think on her feet, and had a sense of humor to boot. (He probably also liked the fact that she was a proud aunt.)

The lesson: Don’t think that the surprise questions will be work related. The interviewer knows you are prepared for those. The surprise questions will almost always be about something personal.

How to Answer Interviewer Questions with an Ulterior Motive

The classic example is, “What are your weaknesses?” What the interviewer is really asking is, “Why shouldn’t I hire you?”

But let’s forget about the classics. A career counseling client just asked me how to respond to two questions she was recently asked, the first at a job fair and the second at an actual interview.

How is your job search going?

No, you can’t say what you want to say. “None of your business!” is not a proper response.

What’s behind the question? What are they really asking? Here are the possibilities:

Nothing at all. The person is just being friendly. So you have to provide a substantive answer, without saying anything concrete. Why?

They may not be friendly. Maybe they want to know if they can get you cheap. If you say things are going poorly you are weakening your bargaining position.

On the other hand, if you say they are going well, maybe they will think you will cost too much or maybe, since things are going well for you, being friendly, they may choose the person who is having a tough time – assuming that you are both equally qualified for the position.

And, naturally, this could all just be paranoia and you are overthinking. It was just an innocent question. So how do you respond?

I think there is a turnaround. I feel like there are more jobs but, on the other hand, it appears that more people are reentering the job market, so there is greater competition. What are you seeing?

First, you have shown that you know about the latest job creation/unemployment stats. Second, you have properly analyzed them without getting into politics. And, third, you have turned it around by turning the question into a conversation. You have answered without providing any real personal information. You have nothing about which to worry.

Where else are you applying?

You are in an interview. It is going well. And then out the blue comes the “Where else are you applying?” question is asked. Why?

Again, this is none of their business. Except that it actually is THEIR business. They are hoping to find out from you about their competition. You have nothing to gain from answering the question. If there are a lot of places, you can come across as desperate and unfocused and unwanted. If there are only a few, they might think they can get you cheap because of your limited choices.

But I doubt the question has anything to do with you. As stated, it has to do with their competition. They are using you for an exercise in legal corporate espionage.

So what’s the answer?

Confidentiality is very important for me. Just as I will not talk about you with other prospective employers, I won’t talk to you about them. I would not be comfortable doing so.

If they object, you know you don’t want to work for them and, in all likelihood, the job isn’t real. (It does happen!) In any event, you have shown that you are ethical so you can leave with your head high.

The Future of Hiring?

Years ago a fellow member of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce asked me what I thought of video resumes. I told him they were a total waste and that it was difficult enough to get an employer to spend more than five seconds reading a resume; there was no way they would spend five minutes watching a video. Then he showed me the technology behind the startup with which he was involved and I got hooked. I was wrong then; I don’t think I am wrong now.

I suffer from vertigo. It ain’t fun! Let’s just say you don’t want to be standing behind me when I am about to step on the Down escalator and leave it at that. So when I was reading this month’s issue of Inc. magazine, and got to Amy Webb’s article, “Virtually Convincing,” she had me at her first sentence, “I don’t like heights.”

Ms. Webb then went on the explain how using a virtual reality device triggered her vertigo. For that to happen, a VR device has to convince your brain that what you are seeing is “real.” And that got me thinking about recruiting, especially when she went on to write about how VR is being used to treat veterans suffering from PTSD.

If VR is real, maybe it can shorten recruiting time big time. Imagine this scenario:

You are applying for a job which involves interaction with people. In a normal setting, you convince the recruiter that you are a great people person. But let’s say that they handed you a VR device and you had to spend 30 minutes interacting with the rude and obnoxious. They could see for themselves if you are a “great people person.”

This is not so farfetched. Plenty of times people who are hired for a skill are tested. You say you can code? Code! Here’s a computer. Go to it! You say you can type 100 words per minute. Here’s a test. Type! You say you know QuickBooks… Well, you get the idea. But those are “hard skills.” VR will allow for the testing of “soft skills,” people skills.

We do it today. “Sell me this pen,” is the classic example. But the interviewer has to have a conversation with the candidate and, what’s worse, sit there hearing a story about how the pen has saved the lives of countless orphans carrying boxes of puppies across busy streets. With VR, the interviewer will only have to look at the recording, and maybe not even that.

No doubt something akin to voice recognition software will be deployed to score the candidate’s tone of voice. It exists today. When you are speaking to the computer and anger is detected, you get transferred to a customer service rep. Similarly, frustration will be noted in the candidate’s voice and will be a disqualifier. Did you remain calm, cool and collected? Congrats! You get to meet with a real live human being who will now look at you and your resume.

Think of the time this will save when everyone has a VR device or access to one. Want to apply for a job? No form to fill out. Take the VR exercise. If the employer (or their computer) likes what they see, they’ll send you the form and ask for your resume. The employer saves time. The candidate saves time. What’s not to love?

And since the VR can be programmed with any scenario, it could be used literally for any position in a company. Need a new CEO who can deal with angry stock holders? Put her in an annual meeting. Need a new president who can deal with hostile media? Put him in a press conference. Need a new purchasing agent who can negotiate with vendors? Need a new director who can motivate? But wait, there’s more!

Not only will time be saved, but also money and, more importantly, safety will improve. Let’s say the position involves building something. No need to waste supplies. The candidate can virtually “build” whatever it is. And there won’t be any safety issues because you can’t cut your real thumb off with a virtual knife, or smash it with a virtual hammer. And if virtual property is destroyed, it will magically reappear whole and intact when the program is rebooted. No waste. No danger. No OSHA!

Think about it. This may not be all that crazy.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

A Cautionary Story to Speakers: Know Your Audience

Every so often I get invited to a salon. For those not acquainted with the term, it refers to a discussion group in someone’s home. (Let’s face it, what would I need with the other kind?!)

I enjoy it. There are usually 10 people, five regulars and five special invitees of which I have been in the latter category. Someone takes the lead and facilitates the discussion. Each meeting is devoted to a single topic. I’ve led discussions on gun control and “same sex marriage.” A vote follows healthy debate and discussion. The only condition is that everyone respects everyone else’s right to their opinion. And the rule is, “What is said at the salon stays at the salon,” or, if you prefer movies over commercials, “Never ask me about my salon!” In any event, the facilitator begins by expressing his or her opinion and then “proving” it. Their “proof” is what is discussed or debated.

So, for example (and not for an on-line debate in which I will not participate), when it came to “same sex marriage,” I said it was a legal fallacy created because of a societal need, akin to declaring someone who has been missing for at least seven years “legally dead.” So two men or two women who “marry” are “legally married” but not really married, just as a man or woman who is declared “legally dead” may not really be dead but may in fact be very much alive. (That one I won; we tied on gun control.)

The last salon I was invited to dealt with the environment. We had a guest speaker. As you can imagine, when she arrived we were all introduced. Before we sat down at the dining room table where we always meet, we were having coffee (well, they were, I never touch the stuff) and the speaker asked, “Is there anyone here whose business in 100% sustainable?”

Me being me, I naturally said, “Mine is. Everyone of the candidates who I submit to my executive recruiting clients and everyone of my career counseling clients, without exception, is 100% biodegradable.” I thought it was funny. Everyone else thought it was funny, except for the speaker. She could not hide her contempt. The woman just had no sense of humor. (It’s very awkward when there are 11 people in a room, ten of whom are laughing and one is stone-faced.)

One of the regulars tried (and failed) to ease the tension. We took our seats and, as the facilitator, the woman made her case. Problem was, she did not realize that every person around the table researches the topic and comes prepared, not just with opinion, but with facts. The facilitator has to defend their position which, and this is what makes it interesting, no one knows in advance.

Needless to say, she was unsuccessful in making her case, arguing instead of debating. As she was a guest who, in addition to lacking a sense of humor also could not tolerate anyone disagreeing with her, at the end we did not have a vote to decide the issue. No one has ever been embarrassed at the salon; I doubt anyone ever will be.

When she left our host apologized. She said she had made a mistake in not better vetting the speaker. We assured her she had nothing about which to apologize but then we got into an interesting discussion when one of the regulars asked the host what the speaker had asked about us. “Nothing,” was her reply.

We all knowingly looked at each other. Everyone in the room does public speaking. We shared how we get to know our audiences. We all have different methods. But we all do it so that we can make our presentations meaningful.

Bottom line: If you do not know to whom you are speaking you will achieve nothing, be it job offer, sale, or debate victory.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

When a Prospective Employer Invites You to Dinner, Don’t Do This!

When some people have a lot on their mind, and need to clear their heads to make proper decisions, they exercise, go to the movies, read, shop, whatever. My choice is to go to a nice restaurant, with good food, good service, at a fair price. And so I did.

I was looking forward to a quiet dinner. I arrived. Was escorted to a table. And a minute or two later a husband, his wife, their (I think) 11-12 year old daughter, and a man probably in his mid-thirties arrived. I did not mean to eavesdrop but my antenna went up when I heard Dad say,

“Joe, relax. This is not part of the interview.”

Dad lied. Everything is part of the interview.

A pleasant conversation no doubt followed which I ignored because I was reading a very good book on Winston Churchill by Boris Johnson, the UK’s new foreign minister. But then the waitress – sorry, server – arrived, and asked about drinks.

Mom ordered first, followed by daughter, and then Joe. Joe ordered a beer.

They then surveyed the menus and when the young lady returned they ordered their meals.

Joe asked Dad something about his company. He received a vague response. Dad asked Mom about something or other. They had a conversation. Then Daughter asked Joe a question about where he was from. Joe responded with the name of the city. Period. End of conversation.

Then Joe returned his attention to Dad asking questions about the job he was clearly certain he was going to get.

By now, as I usually do in these cases, I had taken a notepad out of my pocket because I knew I had an LinkedIn article in the making and did not want to forget anything.

Joe excused himself to go to the Men’s Room. Daughter asked Dad if Joe was going to get the job. Dad said no. She asked him why. He gave four reasons:

1) He ordered a beer.

2) He talked business in a public place.

3) He ignored Mommy.

4) He ignored you.

At this stage Dad realized something was up because I had a big grin on my face. So I introduced myself and said, “You missed two other reasons not to hire him.”

“What?” Dad inquired.

First, he believed you when you told him to relax and that the dinner was not part of the interview. And second, he said neither please nor thank you when ordering or receiving his drink or food.

At that point, Joe returned and I went back to reading about Churchill.

I don’t know if I am going to get a new executive recruiting client as a result of my dinner at that restaurant, but I know Joe is still looking for a new job!

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over a quarter of a million times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and his upcoming speaking engagements.

The Importance of the One Question in a Job Interview

Before going any further, click here to watch the video.

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The commercial you just watched is generally considered the best commercial ever made.

In an interview the job applicant will have a chance to ask questions. All job applicants will have the chance to ask questions. The best way to differentiate yourself is by asking the best question. Have you ever wondered how the snow plow driver gets to the snow plow?

What’s your snow plow driver question? Mine is, “Who succeeds here?” because it shows that you understand the importance of corporate culture and you are looking for a long-term commitment.

So, again, what’s your snow plow question? Share!

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over a quarter of a million times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

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