4 Proactive Approaches to Overcoming Weaknesses in the Interviewing Process
4 Proactive Approaches to Overcoming Weaknesses in the Interviewing Process

In the past decade or two, you've likely noticed job descriptions have inflated a bit regarding required qualifications. As a result, even when you're applying to a job that is an excellent fit with your background, there are likely to be a few skills, strengths or educational credentials you don't possess. Or areas where you know you don't quite measure up compared to other candidates.

How do you adjust your interviewing strategy when you suspect a weakness or missing credential could prevent you from receiving a job offer? Based on my experience as a career coach for the past several decades, here are 4 proactive approaches to overcoming weaknesses in the interviewing process I’d recommend job hunters consider.

1. Anticipate Your Weaknesses; Don't Get Ambushed by Them!

If you're in the process of preparing for an upcoming interview, I'll encourage you to be your own worst enemy. What rationale would YOU use if you were trying to eliminate yourself from being hired? What weaknesses (either real or perceived) would you be most concerned about?

For some applicants, the limiting factor might be the lack of the desired degree or educational credential. For others, it might be a shortage of prior experience in the industry or not having as many years of experience as desired. And for other candidates, there might be concerns based on a job-hopping pattern — or worries stemming from the fact that they’re applying for the job after extended unemployment.

Be honest with yourself and anticipate any potential concerns or objections an employer might have regarding your qualifications. Once you acknowledge these issues, you'll be much more prepared to address them adequately when the time comes.

2.  Embrace the Objection – Don't Get Defensive

If a recruiter starts to drill in on one of your identified weaknesses, you want to seem enthusiastic — if not downright eager — to talk about the issue. If you approach your weaknesses confidently and act like they're no big deal, the power behind the objection will melt away. Your positive reaction will starkly contrast with the average interview candidate who inevitably gets defensive, dejected or squirrely when a hot button issue arises. Such behavior only reinforces the hiring manager's feeling that there are legitimate reasons they should be concerned.

What does this sound like in practice? Let's say you've never worked in the employer's industry before, and they start to grill you about this fact. Instead of responding evasively, head the interviewer off at the pass and say something like: “Yep, you’re absolutely right — I was hoping we’d have the chance to talk about that” or “Yes, you’re correct, if you’re only willing to consider somebody with a background in your exact industry niche, I’m not the right person for the role.”

Attitude is everything. By embracing tough questions like a pro, you’ll set the stage for a serious discussion about whether the credential in question is mandatory (it usually isn’t). You’ll also signal to the hiring manager that you're fully confident you can perform the assignment at hand.

Additionally, I'd point out that if an employer asks you a tough question, that's usually a good sign — not a negative development. As a top sales expert taught me early in my career, objections are typically buying signals. Think about it for a second.

If a requirement was mandatory for a given job, and you didn't have it, why would they have invited you to the interview in the first place? Why would they waste their time if there was no possible way you could prove you’re the right person for the job? In most cases, when tough questions arise about your qualifications, assume the interviewer is on your side and wants you to help convince them that "issue x" isn't truly a deal-breaker.

3. Make the Best Counterarguments You Can Muster

Once you've acknowledged any objection(s) from the hiring manager positively, it's time to turn the corner and present a few counterarguments you feel compensate for any deficiencies you might have on paper. Why do you still think you'd be an excellent fit for the role, despite the missing credential? What other complementary strengths can you highlight that would allow you to address the employer's needs successfully?

Here’s one example of this approach. I had a client interview for a position at PACCAR —one of the world's top manufacturers of trucks and heavy equipment — and he reported one of the senior executives told him that he shouldn't even be in the running for the role since he'd never worked in the trucking industry before.

My client's response, which he'd practiced the night before: "You're absolutely right. I haven't worked in the trucking industry before. But correct me if I'm wrong — aren't we standing in a building with thousands of people with nothing but trucking experience? Is that the key thing you feel you're missing? Or would it make more sense to bring someone like me on board who can supply you with fresh ideas, innovative thinking and best practices from other industries that your competitors haven't even contemplated yet?"

While I'm not saying such an approach is always guaranteed to work, I'm happy to report that it did in this case. With a bit of anticipation, you can defuse almost any objection and pivot the conversation to the skills and strengths you'd prefer the employer focus on instead.

4. Ask if They Have any Questions or Want More Information

Once you've presented a compelling counterargument using the methods above, I'd recommend moving the ball back into the employer's court and asking them a follow-up question to see if you've influenced their thinking. Such questions might be along the lines of "Would you agree that these additional strengths I've shared are essential to success in this role?" or "Given these other qualities I bring to the table, do you still think that (the credential in question) is mandatory? And that nobody would be able to excel in this role unless they had that exact background?"

At this point, you should get a good sense of how effectively you've countered the employer's fears. Or at least opened the door to further discussions, allowing you to provide even more evidence around why you feel you could knock the role out of the park. Again, it all comes down to anticipation. Role-play the interview in your mind ahead of time to identify the toughest questions you'll face. And practice the steps above until you can address each of your weak spots smoothly and confidently!


For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Matt Youngquist

Guest writer Matt Youngquist is a recognized career coaching expert and LinkedIn trainer in the greater Seattle area. He’s the founder and president of Career Horizons, where he helps clients across the Pacific Northwest tackle the challenges of job hunting and employment transition.

View All Articles By This Author
  Get our email newsletter with career tips, event invites and upcoming program info.       Sign Up Now