How to Deal

In Interviews, Take Control of Your 'Story'

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, July 25, 2007; 6:25 PM

I recently interviewed with a top-notch consulting firm for an associate position. I sailed through the telephone interviews and was invited in for the final round.

I was scheduled to meet with several people. The first was one of the principals of the firm. While the interview was OK, he focused on the fact that I have switched jobs pretty frequently in the last few years.

While it is true that I have switched jobs, the primary reason was that I have had to deal with a lot of visa restrictions and associated issues because I was born in India and have had to engage employment agencies who work with technology firms in order to get a break overseas. Some of the firms I have worked with have been sold or have turned to other businesses.

I explained this to him. But this became a recurring theme with every interviewer, who focused on that to the exclusion of everything else. Incidentally, I had to undergo a case interview as part of the final round and I nailed it well and good.

As you can imagine, I did not get the job despite having the requisite qualifications and experience. When I wrote back to the HR manager asking for some pointers, she said that the team felt that I was not a "cultural fit" for the firm. I am not sure how to interpret this. More importantly, I would like avoid this in future interviews.

I would highly appreciate your advice.

The lesson here is to take control of the interview by raising potentially contentious issues up front.

Before your interviewer has the opportunity to question your stability or commitment -- or to explore whatever else it might be that that they infer from frequent job changes -- tell your story. And make sure that it is a good one.

Use this as an occasion to highlight your perseverance in the face of a significant logistical challenge and your absolute commitment to securing a job in the United States to match your skills and talents.

Leave them with nothing to talk about other than what you can do and how well you can do it. This is a universal principle for all interviewees concerned that something in their record will detract from their professional abilities.

I commend you for following up with human resources for feedback. Although I regret that you received such an ambiguous response, I can't say that I am surprised. In fact, most human resources professionals will prudently decline to answer such a question because the potential for liability to the employer -- particularly if, as in your case, their response proves to be unsatisfactory -- si just too great.

You are more likely to get honest feedback outside of HR. Reach out to the one or two interviewers with whom you felt you had the most rapport and ask whether they can offer any advice on how you could present yourself better in future interviews. I have personally had terrific luck securing helpful pointers with this approach.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail lilymgarcia@gmail.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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