June 07, 2011
The "Elephants" in the Job Interview: Handling Difficult (but Impossible to Ignore) Topics
You don't want to talk about it, but you can't ignore it: You left your last job because you were fired. Or because you shouted "I quit!" in a rage and stormed out. Or maybe your last job wasn't the problem, but you can tell that this interviewer is just, as they say, "not that into you."
Dealing with the metaphorical "elephant in the room" can be as difficult as handling an actual elephant -- but when a new job is on the line, it can be even harder. We asked Jim Camp, the president and CEO of Camp Negotiation Systems and the author of the bestselling book Start with No: The Negotiating Tools That the Pros Don't Want You to Know, for some advice on getting past elephants.
Camp explains, "A job interview by definition is a negotiation. It is an effort to bring about an agreement between two or more parties, with all parties having the right to veto."
Camp has developed a negotiation-management system and tools that he says can help anyone, in any type of negotiating situation, deal with barriers to negotiation. "Having such tools before you get to the negotiating table helps you prepare for, execute, and debrief the negotiation step by step," he says.
Now let's bring on the elephants:
Elephant #1: You were fired from your last job.
Before your initial job interview, Camp recommends creating a checklist. "In the checklist," he advises, "you would list any problems that you foresee might hurt your efforts, such as a firing on your resume, and that [might] keep you from the conclusion you want -- getting the job. Then you will address each problem in your first interview, either in person or on the phone. It would sound something like this: 'There is a potential problem I would like to address. It is important that we have transparency and openness as we begin. I was terminated from my last position. If that is important, I would like to address that at the very beginning. How would you like me to proceed? If termination is a game stopper, let's know right now.'"
That may sound scary, but Camp believes that not addressing the firing directly can be far worse: "Your directness, and your invitation to allow them to 'veto' -- in this case, to bring the interview to a stop -- will set them at ease," he says. "Such honesty puts you in a good light."
Elephant #2: You quit in an angry blowup (or just without giving notice).
Camp says you can use the same strategy here that you would use if you were terminated -- and for the same reason: "There's a good chance that your interviewer will call your previous employer. If you don't bring this out into the open, you'll be in a compromised situation when it comes time for your interview. That is, you'll be wondering whether and when they'll bring up the topic. You'll be wishing you'd said something. ... In the interview, you should be focusing on your words and behaviors, definitely not emotions such as fear or worry. Instead, just bring it out into the open, using a similar statement as previously discussed. And remember to talk about it in a way that helps the interviewer see you as an asset -- someone who made a mistake and learned from it, perhaps, and someone who will be forthright, honest, and direct. These are positives for the employer, not negatives."
Camp says that once you vanquish elephants like this, you can then discuss your job history "in the context of creating a well-rounded picture of the circumstances -- one that puts you in a beneficial light and helps the interviewer see you as an asset to the organization."
He adds that it's very important for you to retain control of your image -- and if you hide part of your history, you can give up some of that control.
Elephant #3: The interviewer says you're overqualified (and you just might be!).
Camp says that, like the first two elephants, this one should have made it on to the checklist of problems that you are facing. And, he says, you have to negotiate those problems out first.
"If it's not a deal breaker," Camp says, "then you've just gotten the interviewer to open up to the vision that you are going to start building for them, the one that shows them their problems, and that offers yourself and your top three or four qualities as the solution to those problems."
(For more tips on dealing with this particular elephant, read "I'm Overqualified.")
Elephant #4: The interviewer is hostile and aggressive.
Camp explains that his system of negotiation is made up of soft skills and hard structures: "The soft skills fill the structure," he says. "Within the behaviors that make up the soft skills, we have two that come immediately to bear on this situation. The first is the 'stripline.' It is the ability to be a little more negative than the other party. For example, the interviewer says, 'It just doesn't appear to me that you accomplished near as much as you could have in your last job.' Your response: 'From what you have to go on, it probably seems even worse than that.'"
Then you can speak about your accomplishments in more detail.
"The second is to nurture," Camp says. "Lower your voice, slow your pace of speech, and sit back as the discussion continues. By utilizing the stripline, nurturing, and a strong checklist, this type of interviewer is fairly easily handled."
Elephant #5: You can just tell that the interviewer is just "not that into you."
Again, Camp says it's crucial to get this problem out into the open: "By this, I mean stopping the discussion and stating the new problem you see, followed by a great open-ended question that can't be answered with a plain yes or no. For example: 'May we stop, please? I see a problem growing here. I sense I'm falling short in your eyes. Where am I falling short? Can you help me see that?' With that you should be able to re-engage and reboot the discussion."
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Good advice. A candidate who can put their "elephants" on the table comes across as self confident, straightforward, and a potentially good problem solver.
Posted by: Donna Svei aka AvidCareerist.com | Jun 8, 2011 8:16:39 PM
Oh my, yes, being upfront is a good move. Interviewers would be taken aback at your ability to actually address any negative issues you might have had whether with teamwork in the workplace or with their attitude.
Posted by: Eleanor Marsh | Jun 22, 2011 1:00:05 PM
That's always a hard issue to confront in a interview. I have a few ways to go about this. If I want to quit the job right now in a burst of anger, I try to calm down and start looking for another job while I'm still there. This will look much more favorably in the eye of the recruiter since you can tell him you are looking for a new job for any reason you want.
Posted by: jaymie | Jun 24, 2011 5:42:29 PM
I like it! Thank you so much.
Posted by: Lua Belle | Jul 3, 2011 9:15:27 AM
Nice i like it!
Posted by: Marloes | Jul 26, 2011 11:14:01 AM
Brilliant post,Thanks for this advice,really helpful especially if this is your true reason because you can answer it properly and give them a fair judgemnt about your recent job.
Posted by: interview preparation | Aug 1, 2011 5:04:57 AM
the most difficult question for an interview is only one: what are your weaknesses? if you dont have the right answer, you lose it. And never say, that you don't have any. That just a wrong and everybody knows it.
Posted by: Quereinsteiger | Aug 16, 2011 3:08:15 PM
Yeah, I hate it when an interviewer asks me my weaknesses but in this case I would come up with a positive weakness. For example, if they were to ask me I would say "I'm always on time, to the point I am 30-40 mins early for an event" then try to explain that I am working on showing up exactly on time instead of too early. Well, this is just an example..
Posted by: Playstation Home | Sep 1, 2011 12:20:54 AM
The candidate during a interview, need to be mentally prepared. 90 percent of the interviewers will ask mind blowing question to catch you off guard. Eg. "How do your boss or colleagues give opinions of yourself?"
Posted by: Jobs in South Africa | Sep 2, 2011 4:34:47 AM
I really loved the post, you picked all the details i was looking for here, and nice writing style, damn i need to eat now.
Posted by: Ivan | Sep 23, 2011 6:50:31 PM
This is really worth of complement the way how you presented the topics to make us understand. I highly appreciate you as I learned very useful basic information from your post specially on The "Elephants" in the Job Interview. Thanks for sharing the post.
Posted by: job opportunities | Dec 17, 2011 9:45:03 AM
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