Here you are (minding your own business) interviewing for a highly desirable “work opportunity” and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a question is raised about your knowledge of a specific topic.
If the issue being raised was on the position description, shame on you. I have to assume that you carefully read this obvious document and are clear in your mind where you have shortcomings. These areas are the proverbial “elephant sitting in the room” and are part and parcel of your preparation process.
Given that you have been selected to be interviewed, one must assume that on balance you are a good fit and under active consideration. If you have a “knowledge void,” with respect to a specific expertise, you should be prepared to draw an analogy. If they want knowledge of one accounting program and you know another that does almost the same thing, be clear in your explanation why this is the case.
If you honestly don’t have a required skill covered, my suggestion is to indicate that this why you are interested in the job. If, for example, international experience is needed and you don’t have any, saying that filling out your resume in this arena is one of the attractions of the job.
One of the very obvious approaches that interviewers take, either in person or in particular during phone interviews, is an attempt to deliver a knockout blow that will disqualify you from proceeding to the next step.
Here, answering a question with a question may get you through the day and give you a few moments to come up with a thoughtful response.
Again, my assumption is that the issue of specific experience was not on the provided position description. If this is the case, I believe it to be a fair question to ask how important this “request” is to the overall job description.
I can’t believe that there is a single job in this entire world for which there is a candidate that hits all 500 criteria. By requesting some sense of how this fits into their scale of priorities you will be in a better position to highlight your other strengths and demonstrate how they outweigh other considerations.
In evaluating candidates for specific jobs, a point scale of sorts is generally applied. For example, local candidates can have more flaws than candidates living across the country. Candidates with industry experience are more likely to be accepted when missing specific experience than candidates from other industries. It is assumed that if you understand the industry your learning curve will be shorter and provide available time to pick up things you don’t know.
The most important thing NOT to do is give off any signals that what they are requesting is unimportant, silly or easily learned (even if it is). Very simply, they aren’t going to believe you.
By repeating their request and giving it a fair hearing in your conversation, you may be able to bring them back to the overall picture (of you sitting behind the desk at that new job).
There are no right answers to questions that catch you by surprise. But, expressing shock that something is important or dismissing it isn’t going to get you where you need to be.
You also need to know that you “can’t win them all.” There is no purpose in kicking yourself around the block when caught off guard. It happens even to the best of interviewees.
Your goal is to minimize surprises. You do this through extensive preparation. After all, these days most folks don’t get many opportunities to be interviewed. If you do, don’t blow it.
Anyone who would like to add their two cents to this discussion is invited to send their comments to Leads@TheFENG.org and we will publish them in our Notes From Members column under “Ambush Questions.”