Within the context of career management we are witnessing a remarkable Presidential campaign, for both obvious reasons, and some that are not so apparent.

Whether you are running for president of your school class, your homeowner’s association, the Parent Teacher Association, or competing for a coveted job, you probably will be asked all manner of probing questions.  Hopefully, in job interviews the questions asked good answerswill be purely to elicit useful information covering your successes that will lead to a good selection decision. Occasionally, you will have to deal with negative aspects related to bad decisions made and lessons learned.  In politics, questions are asked ostensibly to shed light on the candidates’ points of view but there is always the very real threat that the candidate will have to deal with a nasty curveball, a question they would just as soon avoid which clearly seeks information, but in a way that makes them uncomfortable, or casts an embarrassing light.

The point is  that we all know that tough, potentially uncomfortable, even embarrassing questions could very easily be right around the corner in an interview.  So why then do so many candidates for important jobs, including, apparently the GOP and Democratic presidential nominees, fail to come prepared and frequently end up “short circuiting” the real meaning of their answer or by demonstrating a total misunderstanding of how their answers will be perceived?

As we have learned over the past several months, wealth or  extensive experience is no guarantee against flubbing a question and alienating supporters. Some of the bad answers and detours off point have been breathtaking. 

Job interviews should be the last place you are surprised.  It is not as if you are not intimately acquainted with your successes and failures.  If you have any experience at all in changing jobs for promotions or in hitting the market to replace one that was lost, you should be able to anticipate, well in advance, any potential difficult or embarrassing questions.  Hoping the interview will avoid those subjects is a poor career management strategy, and not being prepared is more than a passing justification to offer the position to someone else. 

Here are four basic rules to following in preparing for an interview:

  1. Be prepared.  Even if you are an extemporaneous  speaking champion in job interviews there is no substitute for detailed, complete preparation.
  2. Conduct an honest assessment of your career, successes and embarrassing failures.  Write down the relevant tough lessons learned.  Create questions that in your worst moment, you think might asked.  Spare no detail in imagining the negatives.   Craft  your answers carefully deal with the key points and then learn those answers so they can be delivered with conviction and emphasis.  Hint:  if this negative ordeal is about a mistake — and they usually are — be sure you have clear and believable and important “lessons learned” points in response.
  3. We all have weaknesses.  Be prepared to discuss them in positive ways.  Have answers that are reflective of the fact that many  our weaknesses are just extensions of our strengths.
  4. Most job interviews are not about scoring “gotcha points” versus a political press conference.  So do not become defensive and do not show any frustration.  Being well prepared for the worst will help you avoid the big pitfall.  Hint:  most people, especially job candidates, do a poor job concealing their frustration or irritation which is another reason for good preparation.