As a conversation progresses, the interviewer accumulates information about you. The better your preparation and fit, the higher the interviewer’s comfort level will be. No matter how successful you are, however, the interviewer will likely have questions or concerns about your skills and abilities relative to the specific job needs in one or more areas. The concerns may be caused by something that was (or was not) discussed. It may be caused by a word here or a phrase there. There may have been a misunderstanding of a question asked or an answer given or of a nonverbal sign that left a little question.
Frankly, this is natural. Part of this relates to the fact that seldom does any candidate fill the job specification 100 percent. Another part relates to the role of the interviewer in the negatively oriented screening process. The very nature of the process speaks to finding the things that are wrong so that another person can be screened out. You must be prepared to counter that thought process.
A concern in the mind of the interviewer is not fatal. It can often be corrected, sometimes easily, especially if it is a misunderstanding. What can be fatal is a concern that is not corrected by the end of the interview. It then becomes a damning statement if the interviewer thinks, “You know I really liked Susan; there was just one thing she said….” The need to deal with concerns, then, should be clear and obvious. Yet the interviewer does not introduce the subject and the vast majority of job seekers won’t touch this issue. Why not?
Dealing with concerns or potential weakness in any form is difficult under the best of circumstances. When the concerns deal with your skills, abilities, or personality, it is that much tougher. But you need to balance the difficulty of this task with the need to have the information out on the table where you can deal with it and resolve it. To us it’s no contest. Having the information is crucial.
The issue, then, becomes finding the best method to test this area while maintaining your comfort level and that of the interviewer. The best method is to request a comparison between the targeted (“ideal”) professional and personal characteristics and your own. You might ask:
“Ms. Jones, earlier I asked you to define the targeted professional and personal characteristics for this position. Now that you know a little more about me, can you compare my characteristics with the targeted ones?” Or, “Ms. Jones, now that we have had an opportunity to talk about the position, I feel more confident than ever that I can be of assistance to your organization. Do you have any concerns about my ability to do the job or fit into the organization?”
Having asked the question, you must now be ready for the response and how to deal with it. You have asked a very direct question that requires an open, direct response. Some interviewers are able to deal with the question openly and some have problems with it. If you hear a vague response like, “Oh, I think your skills are fine” or “You certainly could do the job,” you are probably not being given the information you requested. You might come back and say, “I appreciate those kind words. I am feeling good about the fit as well. What I was trying to do was to see if you had any concerns about my ability in any specific area so that I could address them while we’re together.” This again lays the issue right out there.
Let’s suppose that the interviewer is willing to deal with your question. The response to your question can be varied. At the positive end the interviewer may say, “I’m feeling very good about your background and abilities. I am comfortable with what I’ve heard.” You may want to come back to ask about concerns in specific areas, or if your intuition tells you the comments were genuine, you may accept them at face value. A response totally at the negative end is highly unlikely since the organization has spent time and money attempting to screen out individuals who do not have the technical skills before they reached the interview process.
What you are most likely to hear is something in the middle that gives positive feedback yet raises a legitimate concern. Let’s go back to the example of the candidate seeking a sales position. In response to the question about the ability to do the job, the interviewer might respond, “I am very comfortable with your responses to my questions. My concern lies in the fact that you don’t have as much sales experience as we had targeted.”
Okay, a concern has been raised. Now your preparation gets the real test. The question in front of you demands a response, and you don’t have a lot of time to prepare your response. Yet, obviously, this needs to be your best prepared and presented response. One that you would spend a weekend on if you had the time, but the reality is that you only have a few seconds to gather your thoughts. However, you’ve spent the time prior to the interview identifying strengths and weaknesses and preparing answers to potential weaknesses. You’re ready. You say:
“Ms. Jones, I did say that I did not have five years of direct sales experience in a consumer products company, but I believe that my marketing and sales experience in financial services is an excellent fit.” From there the conversation will continue for as long as the interviewer finds that it is productive and until all of the concerns are raised and addressed.
Does this exchange guarantee that the interviewer’s concerns are overcome? No. But it defines the concerns, gets them out in the open, and gives you the best shot at resolving them. In the example, you not only had a chance to resolve the interviewer’s concerns, but also had an opportunity to reinforce a number of your skills and abilities. You may also have the opportunity to present additional skills that afford the opportunity to continue the business dialog. This extends the time you are with the interviewer, which increases the probability of success. Remember, you have another opportunity to overcome the interviewer’s concerns in the thank you letter.