Today I sat down with a woman who hasn’t worked in the last ten years. “This is a huge problem for me. I mean, what do I say?” The look she gave me as she asked this question flooded poor self-image, a lack of hope, embarrassment; take your pick.
Well, I replied with the same reply I ask anyone who has been out of work for a period of time. I asked her politely to confide in me and tell me the real reason she’s been out of work so long. You see I have a mindset which is that there isn’t a problem I can’t solve or an issue I can’t strategize for when it comes to overcoming a dreaded question and performing well in an employment interview. That may sound cocky and I don’t mean to. What I mean is that anytime I sit down with someone who presents with a problem – big or small, I go in with a mindset of being able to provide this person with a viable solution at the end. If one doesn’t work, I’ll come up with another possible answer. The one that works for the person I’m helping is the one they choose and the one they feel they can pull off.
Maybe you’ve got a problem issue that you dread coming up in a job interview too. That question that inevitably gets asked just when you thought the interview was actually going well for a change. Take heart, maybe you benefit too.
So the reason? “I raised my girls.” Hmm… I’ve heard this before. Heard it before yes, but never from this woman. And this is crucial for anyone reading this who also helps others with interview preparation. You will hear over and over again the same tough questions people face, but please, never lose sight of the fact that this person sitting before you has never raised this issue of you. If you never lose sight of this and tune in like you’re hearing this for the first time, the person feels so validated and connected with just by your response, they’ll actually tell you more. And this was the case today.
In just a moment or two, I arrived at the real reason she’d been out of work for 10 years. It went something like this:
“So what’s the real reason you’ve been out of work for 10 years. Tell me.”
“I raised my girls.”
“That was important for you. (Pause) Any other reason?”
“Well, my ex; he was abusive.”
And there it was; the answer to the question. Well, if not THE answer, it was at the very least one possible answer she could consider giving if and when asked. The key in finding out if the answer would work for her is in letting her actually hear it delivered as she might deliver it so she could gauge the strength of the answer. Hence, I asked her to reverse our roles, and pose the question to me as if I was her.
“Okay, so why have you been out of work for 10 years?”
“That’s a fair question and I wish I had a better answer. The truth is I was in an abusive relationship with a controlling partner who refused to allow me to work. He kept me at home raising our children. I’m no longer in that relationship and it took some time to relocate, rebuild my self-confidence; something I’m still working on. I tell you though I’m mentally and physically ready to work and I will arrive each day with a willingness to learn, grateful for the opportunity and you’ll have a worker who does their best.”
“I like it” she said. When I told her this was just one possible way to answer the question and offered to give her other suggestions, she stopped me. This one resonated with her because of the honesty, and she felt for the first time she wasn’t on the spot to make something up, like totally fabricated employment, which she said she’d been told to do by someone else.
Do you know how I could tell this answer will work for her? I read her face. Whereas I’d seen low self-image, hopelessness and embarrassment at the outset, now I saw hope, possibilities, relief.
Now, here’s the hard part if you yourself have a sticky situation that makes answering some interview question a major problem. You have to find someone you can confide the truth in – whatever it is. Only when I know the real reason behind your problem can I offer up a possible resolution that you might adopt. If you hold back on that truth, any possible solution will be based on what you share, for how could it be based on what is kept hidden?
So, criminal record, abuse, fired, exploited…what’s your issue? What is the question you dread in an interview? Whatever you fear won’t be diminished until you come up with a solid response that puts fear in its place. The only way to come up with that solid response is to lay it out and that takes courage.
For the record, I’m confident that wherever you are in the world as you read this, there is someone with the empathy, understanding and most importantly the expertise to guide you and counsel you through your own situation.
Reach out in your neck of the woods and all the best my friend.