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Interview Time: Don’t Get Flustered, Get Factual

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There appears to be an epidemic of inappropriateness pervading the job interview world these days. Several people I know have gotten questions that left them, literally, speechless—and one wasn’t so much disconcerted by a question as by the manner in which it was asked.

The following are a few suggestions I made for how each of them might have responded. If any of you have additional ideas, I’d love to hear them. (Alternatively, if you’ve been asked anything, or experienced anything, that left you confounded, I’d love to hear those stories, too.)

Inappropriate Question: “Do you know the average age of the people who work in this company?”

This was a question an older client of mine got when she applied for a position in a very youthful organization. While I can only speculate about what the interviewer’s intention might have been, I can tell you the result was my client was left feeling shamed for even applying.

How did I recommend she handle this kind of leading question?

Leading questions demand fact-based responses. You don’t want to get into what you think your questioner is after, or do the dirty work of negating something that hasn’t been overtly stated.

Consequently, my Monday-morning quarterbacking coaching to her was to have responded, “I do.”

Inappropriate Statement: “You realize you’re going to need to ugly-up if you get this job.”
This leading question was asked of one of my, admittedly, extraordinarily beautiful clients. As always, we could only speculate about the questioner’s intention—though I have to say we both found the pigtail-pulling undertone distinctly underwhelming.

In this instance, again, I didn’t want her to do the troublemaker’s dirty work for him. Consequently, my 20/20 hindsight recommendation was to go with the factual, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Admittedly, thinking on your feet when you’re asked these types of questions isn’t easy, but if you can keep your answer short, sweet, and fact-based you’re likely to disconcert your questioner as much as he or she has disconcerted you.

Finally, one of my clients went into an interview during which, in her words:

Inappropriate Action: “The interviewer turned his back to me throughout the interview and asked his questions while looking out the window.”

How did I recommend she handle it? Well, calling him on his behavior was going to end in a lose/lose. His reaction was unlikely to be positive, her outcome was therefore likely to be negative. Consequently, I suggested saying,

“I find it hard to answer your questions without being able to see your face. May I ask you to turn around, or may I join you at the window?”

What makes this statement powerful is that she takes the onus on herself—it’s not that he’s being difficult, it’s that she finds it tricky to talk to someone who refuses to look at her. Also, it reminds him that her goal is to be her best self in every situation, no matter how difficult.

And, as I’m sure you’ve discovered, if we can be our best selves—regardless of the circumstances—not only do we wow others, we wow ourselves: the ultimate challenge.

Originally published on Frances Cole Jones

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