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Posted: November 01, 2013

Dreaded job interview questions…

...and how to handle them

Gale Dunlap

These are topics you wish the interviewer wouldn’t ask. I call them dreaded topics. What’s yours? Everyone has at least one. Let’s discuss a few.

Gaps in Employment?
Not everyone in this world starts a fulfilling job right out of school and then remains employed until retirement. In fact, can I think of one…?

The majority of us has had fits and starts in our employment history. Some with longer fits - and often through no fault of our own. In the recent, severe Recession many people were laid off and despite their best efforts could not find another job. Unemployment turned from weeks into months.

There are also people who have chosen to leave the work force for a period of time. The reasons can include taking care of children, illness, elderly parents, travel.

Too Young or Too Old?
Well, with that headline you can’t win. Interviewers are not allowed to ask your age in an interview. Why? Because the conversation might be viewed as age discrimination which is against the law.

That doesn’t mean age discrimination – on both sides of the age spectrum - doesn’t happen in the job market. It happens every day.

There is a generation of Baby Boomers many of whom don’t want to retire or they can’t afford to retire. However, an employer may be concerned about hiring an older person, fearing she might leave after a short time or be a know-it-all and not trainable.

Age is an understandable dreaded topic – and don’t think the interviewer isn’t wondering about your age. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that your resume says you graduated from college in 1978. A quick math calculation and voila – this candidate is probably not 39.

No Job Experience?
If you’re right out of school you may not have much work experience. That’s a concern for employers because they want to know about your work ethic, how well you work with others – and why you haven’t held a job. This topic needs to be handled the same way any dreaded topic should: Head on. More about that later.

Multiple Job Changes?
Does your resume look like you’ve been job hopping? That too is an understandable concern for an employer. If you’ve changed jobs in the past, why should he trust that you’ll stick around his company? It costs a lot to train an employee.

How to Handle Dreaded Topics
So what’s the best way to handle a dreaded topic? The overriding rule is: If the topic is a concern to you, it’s very likely a concern to the interviewer. And my strong recommendation is: If the interviewer doesn’t (or can’t) bring up the topic, you should. Confront the issue head on.

Get the dreaded topic off the table as soon as it’s appropriate in the interview. If you don’t it could affect the way you come across. You might be hesitant or distracted. When you address the topic it gets diffused. It’s no longer a threat. Prepare your explanation before the interview and be ready to address it. If the issue is not mentioned, you explain calmly and confidently what happened.

Here are some examples:

 Work Gap – “In 2007 I was laid off from my job as were many people at my company. As you know, it was a very difficult market. But while I looked for an engineering position I took a part-time job and volunteered in my community.”
 Experience – “I may not have a lot of work experience because I just finished school, but I want you to know about the things I learned in my volunteer jobs and as a teaching assistant…”
 Age – “I’ve been in the work world a while but want you to know that I plan to work for many more years. I’ve got a lot of experience but I also know I have more to learn and more to contribute.”

These answers may not sound perfect but they’re the truth and you’ve addressed the issue head on. The interviewer is likely to admire you for this plus it will resolve any qualms he may have had about you. Most important, you’ll feel more confident and be able to present yourself clearly.

The bottom line? You’ll be a much stronger candidate. 
 

Gale Dunlap is President of Standout Strategies, a company that helps business owners and job seekers market themselves and their businesses more effectively. Her career has included management consulting and operating management. in marketing strategy and management training for companies such as Amoco, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the Kauffman Foundation, and many start-ups and nonprofits. For more detail visit www.standout-strategies.com, call 303-250-8039 and connect with Gale on LinkedIn

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