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Interview Techniques Employers Use to Psych You Out

Employers today are all too aware of the costs associated with hiring the wrong person, so they want to be sure they hire the best candidate. That desire can lead them to try to "trick" you into admitting background weaknesses, questionable ethics, and personal secrets that indicate you cannot handle the job. Although some interview techniques appear quite innocent, their effects can be deadly if you are unaware of what is happening.

Keep in mind, though, that turnabout is fair play. You can prepare for these devious interviewers by knowing what to do when subjected to scrutiny. As always, though, I do not encourage you to lie but to know in advance that your task in an interview is to emphasize your strengths, not reveal your weaknesses. If you have been honest in assessing your skills and have targeted a job that you feel confident about, you need only tell the truth and leave out all irrelevant information.

Although most interviewers will know less about interviewing than you (because you have read this book), some will be masters of the craft. Books

have also been written to help professional interviewers, and one of my all time favorites is entitled The Evaluation Interview. Written by Richard Fear (I just love the irony of his name), this book is a must-read for interviewers wanting to increase their ability to manipulate an unsuspecting job seeker. Following are some of Fear's suggested techniques for eliciting negative information. Learn to recognize them so they cannot be used to eliminate you from consideration.

Misleading facial expressions. Just as you use your postureleaning forward, smiling, good eye contactto express interest, the interviewer may also attempt to guide your answers with facial clues. For instance, lifting the eyebrows a little and smiling slightly conveys that the listener is receptive and expectantand that is all it takes to convince some people to divulge negative facts about themselves to their new "friend." This half-smile and raised eyebrows routine also takes the edge off a delicate or personal question. Don't be misled: You must still answer these sensitive questions with the careful wording you have rehearsed, no matter how concerned and nonjudgmental the interviewer appears.

The calculated pause. Experienced journalists have long elicited information from hard-boiled criminals, slick-tongued politicians, and interview-savvy celebrities by using the calculated pause. The technique works even better on job applicants. Most of us are not comfortable with silence and rush to fill the void with verbal noise. Therefore, when the interviewer says nothing but maintains eye contact, most job seekers feel pressured into either giving more details to their answer or starting another topic altogether.

The best way to handle silence is by remaining quiet and appearing pleasant. This response creates a non-hostile standoff; and, in the interest of time, the interviewer eventually asks the next question. Most pauses are measured in seconds, and it is rare for more than two to pass without the interviewer realizing you have not fallen for this ploy. If you are compelled to say something, at least turn the tables. "I think that answers the question, unless there is something else you wish to know," forces the interviewer to become the respondent.

Red-Flag Words and Phrases

Here, according to Richard Fear, are the most common words or phrases an experienced interviewer might use to encourage you to give them negative information:

To what extent did you...?

How do you feel about/like...?

Is it possible that...?

How did you happen to.?

Has there been any opportunity to.?

To what do you attribute.?

might.

perhaps.

somewhat.

a little bit.

Direct and indirect questions. Although you are not all that likely to run into many well-trained interviewers, they are out there. Experienced interviewers often use indirect language to encourage you to tell them more than you might if you were asked the same question more directly.

During the course of an interview, keep your ears tuned for phrases such as "To what extent did you...?" "How did you feel about...?" and "Is it possible that...?" Fear calls these phrases "wonderful" and "remarkably effective" because they turn leading questions into open-ended ones. But don't be lulled into missing their sting: "To what extent were you successful on that job?" still carries the meaning of its harsher counterpart, "Were you successful on that job?" Keep your answer directed toward satisfying that unspoken question, and your value will jump in the interviewer's estimation.

Two-step interview questions. Just as a dance partner leads you through a series of premeditated steps to complete a specific dance, so does the interviewer use questions that are designed to guide you into an overall pattern. The best way to do this is to introduce a general subject and then hone in on the reason for your answer. The method works like this: The interviewer leads off a round of questions with a query such as "What subject did you decide to major in?" He or she then comes back with "Why?"

Interviewers use the two-step method to probe for clues to your judgment, motivation, and other factors of your personality. So do not think you are completely off the hook with a smooth answer like "History, because I believe it ultimately holds the solutions to problems in the future." When you are in the hands of a master interviewer, he or she is likely to ask you why that aspect seems important to you or why that compelled you to spend four years devoted to it instead of just taking a course or two. The best way to perform the two-step is to be prepared before you ever enter the interviewer's office. The more you understand yourself, the more gracefully the two of you will dance.

Laundry-list questions. Beware of questions that offer a variety of options from which to choose (the so-called laundry list). The interviewer is not always trying to help you think in a stressful situation. In fact, it is just the opposite. When interviewers throw out a question with a series of possibilities from which to select, they are often trying to confirm details they picked up from a previous comment you made. Richard Fear provides an example: Assume that you, the applicant, have dropped some hints that seem to indicate a dislike for detail. The interviewer can often follow up on such clues by including a reference to detail in the laundry-list question at the end of the discussion of work history.

Double-edged questions. Another tricky technique interviewers use to probe a job seeker's weaknesses is the double-edged question. It is called this because you are asked to choose between a rock and a hard place: You won't choose the first option unless you have a high degree of skill or personality in that area; the second is phrased so that it is easy to choose it, even though it is the less desirable one. Ouch!

Here is an example: "What about your spelling abilitydo you have that ability to the extent that you would like, or is that something you could improve a little bit?" (Notice the liberal use of softening words thrown in for good measure.) If you select the first option, it implies you feel no need for improvementand you had better be prepared to back that up with perfect spelling! The second choice invites you to confess you are not up to speed in this area. Your best answer to a double-edged question is to frame it in the context of your strengths. Here's a sample response: "Because I'm a perfectionist, my spelling ability probably will not ever be what I hope for, but I am an above-average speller. And I am very careful to check any words that I am not sure of so that no spelling errors remain."

Key Points: Chapter 5

Think about the things in your background that an employer might interpret as a negative. Then make sure you have a response ready that will help turn that negative into a positive.

Make a list of questions that will be difficult for you to answer. Review the list of questions at the end of chapter 4 and include any you find there that you need to work on.

Use the Three-Step Process to answering interview questions used in chapter 4 to present your situation honestly and positively.

Ask someone you know to ask you these difficult questions and practice answering them.

 
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