Turn Questions Around to Your Advantage

In our primer on answering difficult questions, we shared Woodall’s advice on how to respond to challenging queries. The trick is often to adjust or turn the question around in such a way that you can talk about what you want to. Several of her techniques work well for fielding those interview questions that don’t offer the chance to paint yourself in the best possible light:

Refocus the Question

If there’s part of a question you don’t think it’s a good idea to speak to, focus on an aspect that will allow you to highlight one of your matchups. You do that, Woodall writes, by taking “one word from the question (usually not the main topic word) which you are willing to talk about, and [building] a strong, supported response around it.”

So let’s say a candidate doesn’t have the advanced degree usually required of a position, and is asked:

“This job requires a strong knowledge of the subject area you’ll be creating exhibits around. Initiative is important as well. In what ways do you exhibit those traits?”

A good answer could be something like: “My initiative is one of my greatest strengths. I have a passion for diving deep into a subject and I’ve always been able to teach myself new things very quickly. For example, the summer after college, I taught myself both Spanish and French.”

Build a Bridge

With this technique you build a bridge from what the question asked to what you really want to talk about. This technique is similar to the refocusing strategy, but the break between the content of the question and that of your answer is sharper.

The trick is to bridge to your talking points as smoothly as possible so the transition isn’t too awkward or noticeable. To do this, first acknowledge the significance of the question’s subject, and then look for a logical pivot point towards what you think is the more important factor:

“Tell me about an on-the-job experience where you managed a project from start to finish.”

“While on-the-job experience can be important [acknowledging the significance], experience in other areas can be equally valuable [pivoting]. I spent last summer heading up a project to build wells in Africa. I not only had to manage a team and understand differences in the working styles of its members, but also had to navigate cross-cultural differences. The job taught me how to overcome obstacles similar in many ways to the ones it seems like I’ll encounter in this job. For example…”

“I see that there’s a year-long gap here on your resume. What were you doing during that time?”

“I had to take care of some family issues that year. But as you can also see, the work I did both immediately preceding and following that year is directly aligned with the responsibilities of this position. For example, while I was working at Acme Co., I was responsible for…”

Use a Funnel

With the bridge technique, you pivot entirely away from the question’s main subject. But sometimes you just want to narrow the field of discussion, while also encouraging follow-up questions and continued conversation on one certain aspect. With the funnel approach, you can accomplish this by acknowledging the larger issue and then using narrowing words to direct the interviewer’s attention to the area you most want to spotlight:

“What work experience do you have that makes you a good candidate for this job?”

“I have experience in the hospitality business and as a customer service representative, but the experience that most aligns with what you’re looking for is the five years I spent managing an after school program for at-risk youth.”

Use Your Closer

The final way to take charge of a job interview is to use the final moments/questions to your best advantage.

If the interviewer closes with “Is there anything you’d like to add?” highlight 1-2 of the matchups from your original worksheet that you didn’t get to mention over the course of the interview. “The job description noted that you’re looking for someone with editing experience. Part of my last job included editing the company’s newsletters as well as its blog posts.”

If they ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” feel free to ask the most effective of the standard variety, but also ask a question that allows you to bring up one of your yet-unmentioned matchups. For example, you can say, “I noticed that the job description indicated that this position requires some graphic design experience. My favorite part of my job at Acme Co. was redesigning their website, and we even won an industry award for it. What kind of graphic design responsibilities will be part of this position?”

The key with what you bring up is to avoid making the interviewer feel like they have subpar interviewing skills, or putting down the company at all. For example, you wouldn’t want to say, “I noticed that the job description mentioned graphic design but you didn’t ask me about my experience in this area.” Or, “I noticed your company’s website is in need of a significant redesign. I have experience in this area and would be happy to help.”

To review, taking control of a job interview involves:

  • Knowing what skills, experiences, attitudes, etc. a potential employer is looking for in a candidate.
  • Figuring out how your own skills, experiences, attitudes, etc. match up with those requirements.
  • Weaving these matchups into the answers to as many of the questions you’re asked during an interview as possible, even if this means adjusting the question and giving information they didn’t explicitly ask for!

You don’t have to approach an interview passively and hope you get an interviewer and a set of questions that allows you to give a complete picture of why you’re the best man for the job. Come prepared, control how things go, and make the ideal interview happen for yourself!


Source: The Art of Manliness

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