Handling Tough Interview Questions and Unusual Situations

The odds are very high that you could be eliminated from consideration for jobs based on your answer (or, more likely, your lack of a good answer) to one or more of the interview questions or issues I bring up in this chapter. None of us is perfect. We all have things about ourselves and our past that could be or will be a problem for some employers. You may have "too much" or "too little" education or training or gaps in your work history; you may be "too old" or "too young" or have other characteristics that concern some employers. Some of these things you can't change, but it is your responsibility to make these matters less of an issue in a decision to hire you over someone else.

I mentioned earlier in this book that about 80 percent of all people who get interviews do not, according to employer surveys, do a good job in answering one or more interview questions. These problem questions vary for each person and depend on your situation. The job seeker's inability to answer these problem questions is a very big obstacle in the job search and has kept many good people from getting jobs they are perfectly capable of handling. They didn't get those jobs because they failed to convince employers that they had the skills and other characteristics to do the job. In many cases they left employers with a sense that there was an unresolved problem. That is to say that the job seekers would have gotten the job offer if they had done better in the interview.

One of the difficulties with problem questions is that the employer often does not ask these questions in a clear way, or does not ask them at all. For example, if you live a long distance from the employer's job site, the interviewer may be wondering why you would be willing to commute daily to a distant location. His concern may be that you would leave once you found a job closer to home. The interviewer may never directly ask you about working so far away from home, so you would not have the opportunity to address his concern, and that job is likely to go to someone else. It is not fair, but that is the way it is.

So the issue here is not your ability to do the job, rather the issue is your ability to communicate clearly that you can and will do the job well. This chapter helps you quickly identify problem questions an employer may pose about your particular situation and gives you some ways to handle them in a truthful and positive way.

Dealing with Illegal Questions

Technically, this is a free country. Our Constitution gives all of us the right of free speech, including the right of an employer to ask inappropriate questions. (Some people would disagree, however, saying that an employer does not have this right.) Employers can ask almost anything they want in an interview or on an application. They can ask offensive questions, personal questions, and even just plain dumb questions.

The problem arises when employers use that information to hire one person over another based on certain criteria, such as race, gender, or religion. That action is illegal, although it is very difficult to prove that an employer actually does that. The truth is that some employers base their hiring decisions on things that should not be an issue at allthings such as age, religious affiliation, weight, family status, physical beauty, race or ethnic background, and other inappropriate criteria.

As a job seeker, the more important issue might be whether or not you want the job. If you want to insist that you do not have to answer a certain question, fine. However, realize that the question was probably intended to find out whether you will be a good employee. That is a legitimate concern for an employer, and you have the responsibility, if you want the job, of letting the employer know you will be a good choice.

There are situations (thankfully, very rare) where an interviewer's questions are offensive. They may be offensive in the way they are asked or because of the type of questions they are. If that is the case, you could fairly conclude that you would not consider working for such a person. You just might, in this sort of situation, tell that employer what you think of him or her. You might also consider reporting that employer to the authorities. (A follow-up thank-you note for the interview would not be required in this case.)

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