It is a sad fact of interviewing that often times those sitting on the other side of the table hesitate asking questions that you would gladly answer. The kinds of questions I am talking about are things that might be grounds for a lawsuit because they skirt the edge of age discrimination or one of the other laws out there to “protect us.”
While it is your decision whether or not to answer questions you know are illegal, the real problem with questions of this nature is that when they are the “elephant sitting in the room,” very little real communication takes place between you and the interviewer unless you get them out of the way.
If you had a cast on your arm I don’t think you would hesitate to explain how it happened. It is an obvious situation that demands an explanation. In much the same way, why you left your last job, while not an illegal question, is always hanging out there. Although the answer to that question typically provides a future employer with very little useful information, until it is asked and answered, it gets in the way.
Another question that often goes unasked is “Why would you want this job when it pays so much less than you were earning previously?” (The idea that you need to feed your family apparently has never crossed the interviewer’s mind.)
Each of us in our own way comes to an interview situation with baggage. You can’t get to be a senior financial executive without picking up a few scars along the way. The question you always need to be asking yourself is which ones might be important to your interviewer to the degree that they are working to frame their totally useless questions during the whole time that you are trying to impart useful information.
As we know from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, an appropriate thought to keep in mind when answering questions is: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Any answer you give needs to be brief. If you tend to rattle on about why you left your last company, there may be more to the situation than you are willing to tell me. If you go on and on about how money isn’t important to you, I just may question if you are being truthful with yourself.
The goal is to get YOUR story out in answer to the question you think they should ask and in answer to the question as you would like it asked. If you let them drive the “debate” you are more likely to lose in some way.
Think like your interviewer and come up with the questions in your own mind that they will hesitate to ask and find a way to either answer them in your opening statement or find some way to work them into the conversation. Things like: “I had to do so much traveling in my last job that it really wasn’t worth the huge salary I was earning. I literally had no life. I don’t mind being at the office, but in that job I was out of town even on the weekends. I enjoyed the job and the people, but it was very hard on the family.”
Like our 90-second announcements, this tool can be applied to your cover letters and just about any significant communication you may have with potential employers.
While answering a question they really don’t want answered can be a concern, use your best judgment in identifying the ones that are never asked.
You just may set the stage for a big win.