Performing well in interviews requires an ability to recognize the important difference between rejections and objections. Virtually everyone must overcome several objections during the interviewing process before a job offer is made. People who perceive an objection as a rejection, however, may become defensive or simply give up and assume all is lost. Thus, the failure to understand objections and differentiate them from rejection can cause interviewees to sabotage their own success in an interview.

An Objection Is Not A Rejection

An objection is not a rejection. It is simply a request for more information. An employer may be very impressed with you, yet still have concerns such as your lack of experience in a specific area, or your four jobs in the last six years. Often all the interviewer wants is reassurance that you learn quickly or are now seeking a stable job. If the objection is handled well, a job offer may very well be made to you.

Good interviewees, like good salespeople, must learn to anticipate objections. Since cost is a common objection salespeople face, an effective salesperson might open with, “This is not the least expensive lawnmower on the market. But a recent survey showed that the average lawnmower lasts eight years, while ours are averaging over twelve years of trouble-free service.” This way the objection may be overcome before it is ever expressed. It is important to anticipate an objection because once an objection is stated, it is much more difficult to neutralize or overcome.

Predict The Objections You’ll Face

The first step in overcoming objections is predicting what they will be and developing effective responses to them. Objections are any aspects of you that raise doubts about your ability to do the job well or fit in well in the organization. The biggest objection of all is: “You don’t have enough experience.” The following circumstances are likely to give rise to some types of objections: you were fired from your last job; you appear to be a job hopper; there is a major gap in your work history; you’re changing careers; you don’t have a college degree and you’re applying for a position that normally requires one; you have three or more years of college education but never received a degree; you’re over 50 years of age; or you have too little or too much experience. The list could go on. Objections can also arise if you lack a certain type of knowledge or experience the employer is looking for in an ideal candidate.

Sensing a potential objection is exactly what Pat did. Pat was interviewing for a job in which she would train clients to use an accounting software package which cost several thousand dollars. The concern, which was never spoken directly but which was implied, was whether Pat could learn the package quickly enough to meet the employer’s needs. Pat looked for the earliest opportunity to address this objection. Before the objection was directly mentioned, Pat shared that she had learned a complex accounting software package very quickly at her current job. As a result, the invoice error rate had decreased by 80%. Pat never stated that because she had learned the one package so quickly she could learn theirs as well. She didn’t need to. Since the employer had not stated the objection, Pat was subtle in the way she dealt with it. She did, however, let them know how she had managed to learn the package so quickly—she had taken the manual home with her and studied it on her own time. Pat recalled that as she told her story, she could sense that her future supervisor was gaining confidence in her. By recognizing an objection and then neutralizing it, Pat was offered the job.

Since you will probably lack some desired skill or knowledge, look for ways to sell the fact that you learn quickly.

The value of anticipating objections is further demonstrated by John. His story was told to me by the person who hired him. Very early in the interview, John used an opportunity to reveal something about himself while at the same time selling himself. He knew it would come out during the interview that he had spent a year in prison for assault. When he was invited to talk about himself, he described how he had taught an English course while he was in prison. John emphasized that what made him feel really good was making valuable use of his prison time. Because of his candidness and the realization that he had a strong work ethic, this potentially disastrous piece of information was turned into something positive. He was offered a material handler position with a Fortune 500 company and became a valued employee.

Don’t Argue With Employers

When overcoming an objection, don’t argue with the employer. If the employer states, “You really don’t have enough experience in this field,” a good response might be:

I realize there may be others with more years of experience, but I really feel the quality of my experience is the key. Because of the variety of things I’ve done, and the level of responsibility I was given, I think my five years are equivalent to most people with eight. There’s no question in my mind that I can do an outstanding job for you.

Describe Related Experience

Another way to deal with the issue of not having enough experience is to describe all of your related experience. Related experience is similar to what the employer is looking for, but not exactly the same. Your challenge is to get the employer believing that your experience is close to what they need. The more successful you are at making the employer see this similarity, the more likely you are to overcome the objection and get the job offer.

A classic story told by John Crystal reveals the importance of recognizing related experience in order to overcome objections. In the mid–1970s, Bill was interviewing for a middle management position. During the interview he was told that the person who got the job, in addition to the many other management duties, would manage the company-owned cafeteria. Bill had never managed a cafeteria before, and neither had the other remaining candidate. In this position, the head cook and cafeteria manager would actually run the day-to-day operations, but Bill would be responsible for the budget and approving major decisions made by the staff. If Bill had been like most job seekers, he would have said, “Well, I’ve never run a cafeteria before, but I am an excellent manager and I learn quickly. I know I could do an excellent job.” He could have said that, and it would not have been a bad answer, but he had a better idea. In a flash Bill recalled that while he was stationed in Vietnam during the mid-60s, he was responsible for transporting warm food from the mess hall to troops in the field by Jeep, truck, tank, or even helicopter. Bill realized that his experience was not exactly what the employer had in mind, but he recognized that it was related to what they were seeking, so he decided to make the most of this example.

Bill also realized that he faced an objection if he did not successfully get the employer to buy his story. So he told the story with flair and vividness. He got the job and was convinced that his story had tipped the balance in his favor. He didn’t get the job because of his Vietnam experience. But when the employer had to decide between two very qualified people, Bill had demonstrated that he had related experience regarding cafeterias. That was enough to enable him to edge out his competitor. I also believe that by telling a vivid tale, full of strong visual images, Bill revealed many qualities that also helped sell him. I am sure that the executive hiring Bill realized that Bill cared so greatly about his customers—those soldiers out in the trenches—that he provided a service far beyond what was expected. The executive knew that Bill would do the same in the position he was being interviewed for. Bill was obviously the person for the job.

Clearly, Bill overcame a potential objection by selling his related experience. Pat overcame a potential objection by selling her ability to learn new systems quickly. Both succeeded in heading off an objection caused by their lack of particular experience. Sometimes, however, the employer will state that you lack some experience before you’ve had an opportunity to anticipate or deal with the objection. In that case, you should sell your related experience and your ability to learn quickly. Use a highly vivid story to demonstrate your willingness to do whatever is necessary to become proficient quickly.

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