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How to deal with tough Interview Questions

Matt Kirk Interviews, Interview Advice, Skills gap...

Let me teach you a small, extremely subtle, very simple technique. 

I learned how to do this originally as a sales technique, but have adapted it over time whilst working with and advising candidates who have a tough time interviewing. Particularly if they have a gap in their skillset when it comes to a particular job. 

I recruit Architectural Professionals for the most part. One big recent change in the industry is BIM (Building Information Modelling software and 3D / 4D / 5D, it goes on, I've even heard someone talk about 8D). But not everyone in the industry is lucky enough to have had experience with particular pieces of software or even particular concepts. It's a hot topic and most jobs these days require someone to have BIM experience.

Sometimes, just sometimes, even though I'm open about it with employers, a candidate will get invited in, in the full knowledge that they don't have this specific piece of experience, but they might have every other skill the employer wants, or might have an impressive portfolio. More often than not, the candidate won't get the job, just based on that one area where they might only be a beginner or intermediate. 

Slowly, over time, I've devised a way to help most people get past problems like this. This technique on it's own is not going to get you the job if you don't otherwise interview well, it will simply help get you a pass on an important area you might be weak in and help the employer see past the problem. 

Dealing with the Question:

So your prospective employer asks you the question. Doesn't matter what the question is or how it's phrased. But they ask you about your experience or knowledge in a certain area. In Architecture it could be something like this:

Employer: "So as you know we use Revit in this company on every project. What level are you at with the software?"

And of course, it's your weakness, but you have to answer truthfully. No point in getting found out later on, when you're employed... that's not going to go down well. So you answer truthfully and tell them you're a beginner when it comes to this certain skillset, or that you're lacking experience in that area. Say it confidently in one sentence, but immediately follow it up (before they've had a chance to talk again) with a question: 

"Do you think that's going to be an issue for you?"

Very simple... but bear with me. On its own this is useful because you're going to get an instant answer, it's a closed question so you're only going to get a yes or a no, very rarely are you going to get an uncertain answer. There are ways of dealing with the answer if it comes back negative and the employer tells you it is going to be a problem, but in my experience, most are going to reply:

"It shouldn't be a big problem"

Now they could well be lying. In fact they probably are, so without the follow up, you might not be any closer to getting past the issue. So you need to challenge them at least once, but advisably twice more in a totally none pushy none threatening way and you do that like this:

"Are you sure?"

Now if they've already said it's not a problem they're going to say the same thing again in all likelihood. But ideally, even if they do give you a good reason at this point that it really won't be an issue you'll challenge them one more time:
 

"That's great. But I can see how it might be a problem if I end up needing extra support or time to get to grips with it"

At this point, if they haven't already, they're probably going to rationalise this to you. Hopefully, you've actually got an interviewer to SELL THEMSELVES TO YOU BECAUSE OF YOUR OWN WEAKNESS. At the very least they're going to tell you it's "something most people can probably pick up..." (That's them rationalising it to themselves and you). 
 
You've given them three opportunities to tell you it's a problem. Three opportunities to address that problem, even if they don't rationalise it to you directly, they will be doing that exact thing in their own mind at this very moment, just watch the cogs spin. 
 
You've also done a number of other things which are very, very important in this situation which you might not realise. 
 
You've pushed them away... yes you read that correctly. You've pushed your prospective employer away. You've given them a way to get out of a situation that they previously thought they didn't want to be in and they didn't take it. Naturally, their reaction will usually be at the end of all this is to push back... to convince you that it's all fine and they're still a potential employer for you. Read up on the Benjamin Franklin Effect for more around what the psychology of this will do for you in this interview (yes, there is a good reason for the portrait at the top of this blog post). 
 
At the very least you've shown a few other skills... tenacity, resourcefulness, calmness under pressure...
 
You've taken away their buyers remorse... this is why it's so important to challenge them more than once. The first time they might give you an answer that isn't entirely honest, later, after the interview do you think they're not going to have that as a concern? Of course, they are! But if you push back; if you challenge them 2 or 3 times, you've done all of the above, and you've gone some way to taking away their buyers remorse; you've made them agree in their own mind that this isn't an issue and you've done it so many times that they have removed the barriers in their own minds and removed any remorse they might feel after the interview. 
 
So now you know how to turn your biggest weakness into what I would almost say is a strength in an interview situation. You've done it in a completely none threatening, none aggressive way and though it's not a fix-all solution, it will give you an edge in nearly every interview you attend where you feel you might be weak in a certain area. 
 
There are similar techniques you can use if when you ask "is that going to be a problem?" and the interviewer says "yes, it's a big problem". But that's for another day and you'll find most won't do that. If they do, at the very least, you've got your answer from that interview and can cross it off your list and move on to the next one... valuable in itself. 
 
Is interviewing a problem for you? Do you lack confidence? Have you had trouble with them in the past? Get in touch with Matt for more coaching and advice: 0161 672 1061 or Matt@aspirantcareers.com