While it is the employer’s responsibility to conduct interviews as objectively as possible, the fact remains that he or she is a human being with human foibles. Whether out of perversity, the need to inject some interest in a process that may have become tedious, or the earnest desire to make distinctions among a field of highly qualified candidates, some interviewers will pose difficult questions designed to probe your background for areas considered as liabilities or weaknesses.
Aspects of one’s background considered as liabilities by most employers and recruiters include advanced age, current unemployment, gaps in employment, lack of educational credentials, and lack of career progression, among many others. While we do not and cannot purport to cover answers to questions in all liability categories in this article (whole books have been written on the subject), we have crafted effective answers to several questions. Extrapolating from these answers, you can then cultivate answers to other such questions.
“I see that you hold an Associate’s degree. Many of the other candidates I’m seeing have already attained or are working toward a Bachelor or Master’s degree. What makes you a more valuable employee than someone with higher education?”
Proposed Answer #1
“Having progressed in the work force for the past ten years, I consider my education valuable, but my experience even more valuable. Positions of increasing responsibility have enabled me to learn how to manage escalating workloads without sacrificing quality, negotiate with vendors, respect budgets, communicate productively with difficult people, and deliver complex projects through to successful completion. My duties have also included training and providing supervision to staff. While I would not dispute the significance of Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, the preparation required to attain the degree represents a training ground for the actual work experience. By putting into practice what the Bachelor and Master’s degree candidates were studying, I have provided my employer with long-term value. I come fully equipped to do the same for your company.”
“Why did you not pursue higher education?”
Proposed Answer #2
“My family’s finances did not support my intention to progress into a four-year program. As my salary increased, I researched Bachelor’s programs that I could manage at night, after work. But my duties had also increased, dictating that I put in more hours on the job. Since I give no less than 110% of myself to the goals that I set, I knew I could not devote the proper attention to a course of study while meeting and exceeding my work objectives. Throughout my career, however, I have completed a number of seminars and workshops that have enhanced my knowledge and proficiency. I consider these to be my continuing education and intend to continue to build upon my base of knowledge and skill.”
Women entering or reentering the workforce often face questions regarding their lack of experience or of recent experience. It is not uncommon for women to have lengthy gaps in their work experience. Nonetheless, the candidates most successful in making the transition back into the workforce are those who build upon the skills developed as homemakers and mothers as a foundation for future employment responsibilities. The following questions and answers exemplify this:
“There is a long gap in your employment. Can you explain that?
Proposed Answer #3
“My husband and I made the decision for me to raise our child during his formative years. It was a sacrifice, but it was worth it. I feel that I’ve raised a responsible, caring child who is also very bright. He respects others, including his teachers, and is always the first to volunteer for a school-drive benefiting those less fortunate. Last month, I convinced more than 50 people to donate their old cell phones for use by the troops in Iraq! Now that my son is older and has proven that his father and I can depend upon him to do the right thing when he is home alone on the days that he is not involved in after-school activities, it’s time for me to return to the workforce. I’m eager to start working again!”
“So, you haven’t held any sort of job over the past ten years?”
Proposed Answer #4
“Well, in addition to raising my son, I took care of my family’s finances, juggled a complex logistical schedule, oversaw a renovation of our home, and negotiated cost-savings by comparison-shopping and negotiating with the contractor. All of that required strong analytical and multi-tasking skills, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate properly. You had said that the job opening for which I’m interviewing requires all of those skills. I am confident that I have them and can use them to your company’s advantage.”
These questions, and others like them, represent a stumbling block to many job seekers. The key to answering such questions effectively is to challenge the premise of the question. In Questions 1 and 2, the premise is that a candidate with more education will perform better on the job than one who has less. In Questions 3 and 4, the premise is that during periods of unemployment, you neither develop nor use skills of value to a prospective employer. When challenged via an articulate, reasoned answer, these premises are exposed for the fallacies they are. In the process, you demonstrate your /communications competencies and enhance your prospective value to an employer.
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