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Why pointing to the elephant in the room is the best approach to dealing with the elephant

You've got pre-interview jitters. There's something about you you're worried they'll object to. If your strategy for dealing with the potential problem is to pray they won't ask, do yourself a favor: try this instead.

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“I’m worried they might think…”

  • I’m too old
  • I’m too young
  • I’m too expensive
  • I have too much experience
  • I don’t have enough experience
  • I’m too bouncy, jolly, and loud

Sound familiar? The voice in our head says these things, and we’re easily convinced we’re in trouble. Sometimes we get feedback like this from others, and then, we either get defensive or even more convinced we’re in trouble. (And yes, that last one was just for me. Just giving myself a dose of my own medicine.)

So how should you deal with this worry, this proverbial elephant in the room, in an interview situation? How can you make sure that the person on the other side of the table doesn’t count you out?

Here’s my answer. It’s a two-step process.

STEP 1: VALIDATE THE PROBLEM

First, let’s make sure you actually have a problem, shall we? So often I hear people worry about things that they don’t need to worry about.

I was at an Andreesen Horowitz event about board roles last year. A board recruiter said that by the time you get a phone call, the background check is already complete. You, in this case, are the last to know about being a candidate. It’s genuinely pointless to worry.

Did you apply for a job? If you made it to the interview stage, then an algorithm vetted you. It scanned your information, confirmed you have the right keywords, and moved you onto the next step in the process.

But if you’re still wondering if you have a problem, there’s a simple way to make sure. Ask the other person, “Do you worry at all that I might be a bit fill in the correct adjective here for this role?”

Yes, I know that’s terrifying. Not an easy thing to do on the spot.

So do yourself and me a favor. Practice on someone senior to you who already thinks you’re great. Ask this person the “Do you worry…” question.

If you’re brave enough to do that BEFORE you go in for that important interview, you’ll reap these rewards:

  1. You’ll hear something validating. I guarantee it.
  2. Because you practiced it out loud in a less scary situation, it’ll be easier to ask the question with confidence and conviction when the stakes are higher.
  3. You’ll hear useful language explaining why the thing you’re worried about is not a problem, which will help you out during Step two.

STEP 2: POINT AT THE ELEPHANT

What do I mean by this? Own the narrative around the potential objection. Let me explain with a simple example. The scene is outside a Hermes Store. Me, an avid shopper. You, someone who’s never heard of Hermes.

Me: Hey, we should go in here. Hermes has some fantastic bags called Birkins. Let’s take a peek, shall we?
You: I’m game.
Me: Oooh. Look at this one. It’s $50,000. I think I’m going to get it. It’s bright red and just my color, and it’s a deal.
You: *softly* “Have you lost your mind?”

Remember, you have not heard the lore of the Birkin Bag. You’d think I lost my mind, wouldn’t you? Now let’s change the script a little.

Me: Hey, we should go in here. Hermes has some fantastic bags called Birkins. They’re fantastically expensive. Sometimes even $300,000. Let’s take a peek, shall we?
You: I’m game.
Me: Oooh. Look at this one. It’s $50,000. I think I’m going to get it. It’s bright red and just my color, and it’s a deal.
You: That is a deal!

Yes, I know this is a dramatic example. But the point is when you’ve had a price anchored at $300,000, $50,000 sounds much more palatable. In this scenario, the elephant is price, and the narrative shift is that $50,000 is reasonable in the greater context, a bargain, even.

Now that we’ve established the idea, let me share a real-life example involving an interview situation.

The person in question had been working from home for the last four years. Before the interview, a recruiter mentioned that the managers were concerned with how he’d handle the noise, hustle, and bustle of an office. (Which, by the way, he wasn’t worried about at all.)

What could he do with that feedback? One option would be to wait and see if the hiring manager brings it up. The other would be to bring it up himself.

He could say, “Working from a quiet home office, I’ve found self-motivating to be a big challenge. So I’m looking forward to feeding off of the bustling energy of the corporate office.” Or, “I’m looking forward to being surrounded by the energy of an office. I’ve technically been working from home, but I found that I needed to recreate the office energy by working out of the local coffee shop.”

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. You’re thinking, “Hmm. He’s been working from home. I wonder if he can handle the noise.” Which will be the more convincing answer? The one he gives after you asked or the one he shares upfront?

It’s worth noting that the revised narratives need to be true. I’m not telling you to be dishonest. I am saying, we’re all human and make emotional decisions when we’re “buying” things. And in the interview process, the thing they’re purchasing is you.

So let’s review. Next time you’re worried about being too much of this or not enough of that as you’re going into an interview,

  1. Validate the problem (and get some practice with the process)
  2. Point at the elephant (using the language you heard in Step 1)

And before I leave, I want to turn the tables to those of you in the hiring or recruiting chair.

The world of talent these days is very competitive. I know you’re all more than aware that candidates choose you as much as you choose them. They might be looking at your company and thinking:

  • They’re not cool
  • The opportunity is too risky
  • They don’t pay well
  • There’s not an opportunity to learn
  • There’s not a career path opportunity
  • They’ve got a poor reputation in… (think social issues here as an example – yes people care – a lot)

Saying “We’re a cool company” is not the way to deal with this problem. Instead of distracting your candidate’s attention away from the potential negatives, can you address their concerns upfront? Can you shift the narrative around your candidate’s objections? That’s showing how cool you are.

So whether you’re a candidate or a hiring manager, the way out of worry is to step outside of it— and see the situation from the other person’s point of view.

You’ve got this.

P.S. I find the “buy on emotion and justify with facts” concept endlessly fascinating. I’ve been teaching this to people for years and it seems to trip virtually everyone up. Why? Because you have to step out of your shoes and walk in the other person’s—to consider what they might be thinking—and that requires you to first be confident in you.

My friends, this is why The Amplification Process we follow starts with Know – Understand what makes you uniquely awesome. Then we move onto Believe – Be Confident in Yourself before we get to Teach and Amplify. (The lesson today sits firmly in the Teach bucket.)

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