Career Center Blog

January 31, 2012

Use verbal jujitsu to overcome interview objections


Superman had Kryptonite. Achilles had his heel. And Bill Gates somehow managed to get ahead and be marginally successful (ha ha) in business without having a college degree.

My point? Everybody has weaknesses and vulnerabilities. And if you're seeking work in today's competitive market, you've got to be fully prepared to address your weaknesses in the interview process or your candidacy will quickly become derailed.

Simply praying that the interviewer won't notice the issue in question (e.g., job gaps, recent termination, lack of educational credentials, lack of relevant industry experience) is not likely to cut it. Neither will getting angry, becoming defensive or giving a tight-lipped answer that instantly signals to the hiring manager that you're embarrassed about or uncomfortable discussing something.

Luckily, though, there are some practical strategies you can follow in interviews to address any glaring hurdles to your candidacy. Where do you learn them? From salespeople and sales training books, where the skill of overcoming objections has been a core competency and a pivotal part of the sales process for decades.

Here are three steps you'll want to take in approaching these situations:

First, get your attitude right. If an interviewer asks you a tough question and you get hostile or defensive, you're sunk. Instead, go the opposite direction and embrace the objection like it's a long-lost friend you've been absolutely dying to see.

Sounds crazy, I know. But by showing a total openness to talking about the issue, you'll not only demonstrate courage, but will immediately suck most of the power out of the objection. You'll starve the elephant in the room.

Second, build a bridge of rapport by demonstrating an empathic understanding of the employer's fears and concerns, relative to the issue at hand. Tell them you can appreciate where they're coming from. Paraphrase their worries back to them. Make it OK for them to feel the way they're feeling.

Getting argumentative certainly won't help your cause, after all. And the more you show a decision-maker you understand their perspective, the better you'll be able to jointly problem-solve around the issue. And get past it.

Which brings us to the final step. Once you've demonstrated a willingness to talk about your résumé weaknesses head-on, it's time to make the best rebuttal argument you can about why the limitation (or limitations) in question won't be an obstacle.

Hit the hiring manager with a few great sound bites. Indicate why the issues in question aren't as worrisome as they might first appear, show how you've worked around them, or talk about other assets you can offer to compensate for your lack of qualifications in a certain area.

Weave these three steps together, in sequence, and your response to a tough objection might sound something like this:

"You know, I was hoping we'd have the chance to talk about that issue, since I can understand why it might appear to be a concern on paper. Why I don't feel it's going to be an obstacle at all in me knocking this job out of the park for you, however, is because ..."

"I'd probably ask that same question myself, if I were in your shoes, and be wondering if the short-term job gaps on my résumé perhaps signal that I'm a 'flight risk' of some kind. But I assure you nothing is further from the truth. I actually consider myself a very stable and loyal employee, and the reason I had to leave these jobs after such a short duration is ..."

"Mea culpa. You've got me. As much as I wish otherwise, I never did get the chance to finish my degree, because at the time I had a job opportunity that was too good to pass up and my career just kind of took off from there. So if a degree is absolutely essential to this role, I'll confess, I'm probably not the person you should hire. At the same time, I want you to know that I love to learn and have made a conscious effort throughout the years to take classes on the most critical, cutting-edge issues in my field -- and that I can bring a boatload of hands-on experience to this job that few other candidates, ultimately, may be able to match."

Simply put, hiring is a risk-management exercise. Employers have a very limited amount of time to figure out which candidates will turn out to be superstars and which ones might instead burn them due to a missing credential or potential red flag in their background.

That doesn't mean the door is closed and they're not open to persuasion, however. You just have to anticipate the tough questions, practice your responses to them and be armed with a confident, collaborative answer that will mitigate the issue at hand and help turn the tables.

Never forget, too: If you had a fatal flaw on your résumé that disqualified you for the job at hand, then why did they invite you to the interview in the first place?

Matt Youngquist is the president and founder of Career Horizons, a career counseling and corporate outplacement firm. Email him at

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I hate the term "verbal ju-jitsu." Ju-jitsu is a martial art characterized by joint-locking which inflicts severe pain on your opponent. Inflicting pain is not the objective here. Easing tension and removing fear is.

Great content. Crappy title.


Craig: No question about it, inflicting pain is certainly not the outcome I'm recommending here! And while you're right, perhaps the use of the term jujitsu in the title was a bit over the top, what I was trying to convey is that you want to EMBRACE the objections you're going to face from employers, and fluidly counter them, versus ignoring them or getting defensive around them. In this sense, I was trying to conjure up the aspect of jujitsu, as stated on Wikipedia, that involves "manipulating the opponent's force against himself rather than confronting it with one's own force." Perhaps "verbal judo" would have been a better choice or a different title altogether. But the spirit of what I intended was that you would be ready with a graceful response that would work WITH the employer's fears and concerns, not against them. Not sure if that will exonerate me with martial arts purists, but that was the intention behind the title, for whatever it's worth. Thanks for chiming in.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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