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So You Aren’t Perfect; You Can Show ‘Em You’re Just Right for a Job



If you are looking to get promoted or hired, I guarantee that somebody somewhere will find something about you they won't like.

It's not because you have anything "wrong" with you. It's just how minds work.

In the psyche of the employer, you might not have the "right" degree. You may have, heaven forbid, a suspicious two-year hole in your work experience. Or perhaps you're a bit, ahem, older than they were hoping.

Your so-called imperfection doesn't have to be a major downer. In fact, at the first hint of disapproval or doubt, you've got an opportunity to show an employer the great stuff you are made of.

Let me introduce my Help Them Get Over It Formula - as in helping an employer get over any objections about your potential suitability for the job.

First, though, a word about what goes on in the employer's mind so you can better handle its effects on your interview.

Since employers are, yes, human, they do what psychologists call "negative filtering" - focusing on the negative and failing to pay attention to the positive, psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo says.

"The human mind is a mismatch detector, always noticing what's wrong before it notices what's right," sociologist B.J. Gallagher says. "Our brains are hardwired to notice what's missing, out of place or faulty."

So humans have a tendency "to see one less-than-perfect trait and over-generalize" that you're not the right fit, Lombardo says.

Since you, too, are human, this is also where you go, with a tendency to focus on what you don't have. This is especially true when you're stressed.

"People don't like to set themselves up for disappointment," psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert says. By "focusing on what they think they lack, they feel they have a more accurate view and won't naively approach a situation that they feel is doomed for failure."

Put together the employer's inclination to be on the alert to what's faulty, and your leanings toward dwelling on your deficits, and the interview could be short and not so sweet.

So, what's a stressed, wired-to-look-for-the-worst interviewee to do? Here's where my Help Them Get Over It Formula comes in.

Step 1: Expect the employer to have issues.

The hiring manager has a picture in his or her head of an ideal candidate. With the tendency to zero in on what you lack, the manager will looking for reasons to eliminate you. Think through what those might be and prepare to prove otherwise.

Step 2: Calm the air.

It feels good when someone agrees with you. So when you sense apprehension or hear the slightest inkling - "I'm not sure you have the right educational background" - agree. Say something like: "I can understand why you might feel that way." This lowers tension and opens up the conversation.

Step 3: Trot out your evidence to the contrary.

Now help them see why their concern needn't be a concern.

"I did get my degree in English, which has been quite helpful in (whatever way.) Since then, I've taken continuing education classes in (whatever those are). My last job included four years handling such-and-such, so I have first-hand experience with the kind of issues this job addresses."

Step 4: Mosey on back to discuss what else you offer.

Now that you've gotten over that hump, gently guide the interviewer back to your strengths and other value to the organization.

"Speaking of project management, I'm in the process of completing my Project Management certification."

No candidate and no hiring manager is perfect. That's why it helps to understand human nature and do what you can to influence it in your favor.


Andrea Kay is the author of "Work's a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go From Pissed Off to Powerful."

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