By Pat Schuler
Interviewing is a dance. Are you dancing by yourself or partnering with the interviewer to give yourself a significant advantage? Are you answering only the questions that are asked?
Take a tip from the successful salesperson who puts herself in the shoes of the prospect. If you put yourself into the mind of the interviewer, you'll realize there are many issues and concerns on her mind. For reasons of legality or political correctness, the interviewer may not be able to ask questions that would be perceived as biased or insensitive. You can create a significant advantage for yourself by addressing the concerns, even if the questions aren't asked.
1) You look too young for the level of responsibility you're applying for. Recognize the interviewer really wants to know if you can be counted on and if you have the maturity to handle the responsibility. If you look young, you can address the issue by saying, "I've always looked young for my age, but I'm really 30 years old and my extensive experience in managing retail operations gives me the breadth of expertise you seem to be seeking. As you review my background, what do you perceive to be missing?"
If you are young, couch all your answers in ways that demonstrate your responsibility and seriousness. If asked about hobbies, include examples of community service and/or offices you held in high school or college organizations. When asked about a particular position on your resume, after describing your duties say something like, "... and in the two years I was there, I had a perfect attendance record." Or "After the first six months, the manager felt comfortable taking vacations for the first time in ten years. He said it was great to know everything was in such dependable hands."
2)You are a mature candidate for the position.
You understand the interviewer may unconsciously carry stereotypes concerning your stamina, energy, health or ability to get along with younger co-workers. As you answer basic questions, orient your answers to demonstrate your energy and health. When asked about interests outside work, you mention your work with Junior Achievement or as a Big Brother or Big Sister. Or a comment like, "My grandson and I are training for the Boston Marathon [or other event]. I've been amazed how much energy I get from those runs." If the interviewer doesn't offer an opening, create one of your own. "I'm really dedicated to my daily workouts. Is there a workout facility on the premises or does the company have a benefit like reduced membership in a health club?" Or, "I find it really revitalizing to walk at lunch. Do many people here do that?"
3) You are a female professional. This is not about discrimination or being held to different standards. For instance, if you can legitimately create an advantage for yourself, shouldn't you? For instance, if you're in childbearing age, and you've made a decision not to start your family for a while, it could be in your best interest to share that information. "Mr. Manager, I know there are questions you can't ask me. I thought you should know that I've made a firm decision to dedicate the next six to ten years to creating a strong career before I begin my family."
4) You're a female professional with small or school age children. The interviewer may say, "You're aware the position requires 60 percent travel." Or, "This position occasionally demands long or unpredictable hours." You could answer simply, "Yes, I'm aware of the requirements, and there won't be any problem." Or you can reassure the interviewer that you have day care, transportation and contingency plans in place so you can focus your energy and attention on the critical position that's open. "My husband is a consultant who works from home and takes care of getting the kids to and from daycare. In the unlikely event we both are required to travel the same week, my mother is retired and loves having the kids for extended stays. She dotes on them and they love every minute of it."
Whatever your potential challenge - real, perceived or unconscious cultural stereotype - put yourself in the mind of the interviewer or hiring manager. Ask yourself what questions might be worrying that person. Determine what information you can honestly and candidly offer to allay the concerns. Practice your answers and find ways to work them into the standard questions. Or, be candid and say, "In your position, I'd have the following concerns. Let me address them for you." Then ask what other concerns they may have that you failed to address. You will find you have a huge advantage over those who can't or don't take this extra step.