If you've been reading The Careerist for a while, I hope you have the good sense not to follow half the advice I dispense. And I pray that you don't take me literally (though judging from the e-mails I get, I'd say a distressing number of you do).
I'm warning you because I'm about to pass on an interviewing technique that's a bit out there. I'd like to take credit, but this one comes from Maseena Ziegler, a contributor at Forbes.
Recounting a time in her twenties when she'd "packed in dozens of job interviews in the manner of a serial dater" (sounds like early interview week, no?), Ziegler describes how she'd conclude the meeting:
I’d look at the interviewer square on and let the moment hang in the air, to the point where his eyes would dart nervously or he would start to slowly close the notebook in his hands, assuming I had no questions. Then I’d ask, in a measured tone with just the right mix of seriousness and lightness, “If you didn’t offer me this job, what would the reason be?”
I must say I love her ballsiness (sorry, that's really the best word)! Even better, it worked beautifully:
As I’ve only now discovered to both my surprise and chagrin, this question is one of the riskiest and quite possibly one of the most disconcerting to ask an interviewer. Yet every single time I asked it at the end of the interview, I ended up with a job offer.
Now, how could asking that kind of unexpected (maybe rude) question work in favor of the interviewee? First, it seems to change the power dynamics. "My interviewer [would] either squirm and smile nervously, or grin widely in response to being unsettled or intrigued by my forthrightness," says Ziegler.
It might also be an efficient way to address "a red flag or a shortcoming in your skills and experience," says Ziegler. "And if you articulate your response logically and succinctly, you could potentially turn around the interviewer’s perceptions and land yourself a job."
But could this interview strategy work in the corporate world? It certainly seems to breach the rules of corporate etiquette, where you're expected to make some bland summary of your skills, thank the interviewer, shake hands, and disappear. Ziegler says that the finance professionals that she contacted were horrified by her technique.
I'm all for being offbeat, but I'm not impractical. So I would ask that kind of impertinent question only in certain situations—like when you have nothing to lose. If you feel your chances of getting a coveted job are iffy at best (or you just want to have some fun), why not go for it?
Going rogue during interviews can work. For example, I remember a woman in law school who got a job with a stellar, stuffy Wall Street firm even though her grades were as prosaic as mine. What did she do? Well, she plopped herself in the interview chair and said, "I know your firm doesn't usually hire people with my grades, but let me tell you why you should hire me." By the end of her 20-minute slot, she had the hiring partner eating out of her hand.
I don't know if she tried that technique with other firms. Maybe she did, and most of them brushed her off. But the point is that she landed a great job by not heeding the rules, leaving the rest of us in the dust. There's a lesson in that, trust me.
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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.