When I was 16, my parents moved our family from Bogota, Colombia in South America to a very small town in Canada called Sooke. I remember when my dad was showing me on the map where we’d be moving to. Sooke didn’t even show up on the map!
That’s how small it was back in 1996 when we set up camp there. It’s grown since then, and you can find it on a map now, but when we moved there, there wasn’t even a traffic light. Today, they have 4 traffic lights, a Subway, a McDonald’s, a TD Bank, and at least one large housing development.
Although my parents still live there, I’ve since moved on from this little town. I was bored growing up there, and didn’t like being so far away from the ‘big city’ of Victoria, which was about an hour’s drive away.
And for someone without a driver’s licence and an inadequate bus schedule, this was not a fun situation. So, I decided I wanted to get a job at the local video store since the options were limited, and movies sounded more interesting than groceries to my 16-year-old mind.
I waltzed confidently into the only video store in town with my resume in hand, dressed as well as a chubby 16-year-old girl with a side ponytail in a scrunchy could be. I approached the man at the counter, who happened to be the owner. His name was Farhad.
I said, “I’d like to apply for a job here at your video store.”
The first thing he asked was “How old are you?”
I replied, “16, and yes, my parents know I’m here, and they like the idea of me getting a job here.”
He didn’t look impressed with me one bit, and he wasn’t. In fact, he said (in his thick, Iranian accent), “I don’t hire young people. They are very unreliable.”
I responded, “Well, I live here in town, I have my driver’s licence, and I have my own car–I would have no problem getting here. I also won an award for perfect attendance in school, so I actually AM reliable.”
He was still not impressed. I guess he didn’t want to admit he was wrong right then, and he huffed in disbelief and told me that this was not the right place for me, “but thanks for coming in.”
I said, “OK,” and disappointedly walked out the door.
I came home, and I told my dad what happened. My dad was proud of me for what I said.
He said, “Wow, he has a lot of preconceived ideas about young people doesn’t he?”
Then my dad said something interesting.
He said, “But you never know, maybe he’ll still call you. You left your resume with our phone number, right?”
And–low and behold!–a few hours later, we were sitting down to dinner as a family, and there it was: a call from Farhad. I almost fell out of my chair at the dinner table. I couldn’t freakin’ believe it. I started work the next night.
What does this story have to do with you?
Well, Farhad was my hiring manager. He had some very real and very personal concerns about me. He’s the only hiring manager who has ever voiced them so directly and unapologetically. In fact, looking back on it, there were some very clear HR “no no’s” in there. He was very openly discriminating against me because of my age, and he seemed to think that was completely fine!
What is your hiring manager thinking but not saying?
Your hiring manager won’t tell you straight out what his concerns are, but you can bet that he has them. Maybe it’s because he had a prior bad experience with someone at the company that was young. Or was blonde. Or wore a certain type of shoes (probably not, but these weird things are possible, & happen all the time).
More than likely, the concerns will centre around:
- Not being reliable
- Showing up late
- Missing deadlines or not following through on tasks
- Poor communication
- Poor people skills
- Poor team player skills
- Or just poor execution skills in general, to name a few common ones.
However; there are very specific concerns for every industry and job function, as well as for age dynamics and different cultural norms that a company adopts. They might be concerned you won’t fit in with their culture for a specific reason, or if you’re an older applicant, they might be concerned that you might not want to take direction from a younger, less experienced manager.
More often than not, they won’t tell you upfront what their concerns really are about you. They probably won’t ask, “Are you OK with taking direction from someone younger and less experienced than you?”
And if they did, they wouldn’t necessarily believe your answer anyways because that was a leading and obvious question, and it’s clear at that point what they already think. (Sometimes they might ask directly, and I’ll explain how to answer in just a minute.)
Once you get a feel for the situation, and if you’re looking for them, you can start to see these concerns.
How do you know when hiring managers have concerns?
You won’t always know for sure–this is something you have to be aware of and sniff out. That’s the first step.
Once you are aware that there will be concerns, it’s your job to identify them and address them head on–in a tactful and skillful way, of course–before they bring them up (if they do). And remember that they don’t say them out loud, but they do drop hints in the questions they ask you.
How do you preemptively address the hiring manager’s concerns?
So, whether they flat out ask or not, you want to always address the underlying question. Let’s continue with the example from above:
“Are you OK with taking direction from someone younger and less experienced than you in this industry?”
How do you answer this without it sounding like you’re just saying what they want to hear?
You use a story. It’s the only way to effectively communicate this important point. A story that proves that you’re happy to work with a younger manager. If your story resonates with them, then you’re golden. They will no longer be concerned about this.
These things are important in determining whether the job is a fit for you, too, because perhaps you’re not OK with working for a younger, less experienced manager than yourself. Perhaps upon asking yourself, you know that seeing a less experienced manager make mistakes and having them be in charge and you not having any control over decisions might drive you crazy and cause you a lot of stress. In which case, that’s not the right fit for you, and you’ll wind up moving on anyway, so if that’s the scenario you discover during your interview, don’t sweat it–it’s time to move on to your next opportunity.
But if you really don’t mind, then tell a story about it, the way you tell the story will be key. You’ll want to be, calm and enthused about watching a younger person learn and succeed, and if you can tell a story of a time you learned something from the younger manager yourself that helped you as a professional, then that’s going to be a bonus! This is music to an interviewer’s ears.
If you just say: “Oh yes, I’d have no problem with that”
You’ve lost them.
You will need to prove it, and we prove these things with our stories.
What you can do to find out what the concerns are if you don’t know?
If you’ve been in the same industry for a while, chances are you have an idea of what the concerns are.
For example, I’ve hired a lot of administrative assistants before, and my main concerns with hiring was that:
- They wouldn’t want to stay in that role for long
- They’d want to move up and do something different as soon as possible
- Or they wouldn’t follow through on everything and let things slip through the cracks, and that would make me look bad.
Based on this, I would ask questions like “How do you keep track of things or tasks on your to do list?”
Note: “In my head” is not a good answer.
If you are new to an industry or a job function or you just don’t know where to start, start by asking! During your networking conversations is the best time to ask because you can just ask up front:
- “What are the top 3 main concerns teams (or hiring managers) have when hiring for this type of role?”
- “How do you know if someone will be good (or not good) at this type of work? Are there any tell tail signs of a person’s personality, character, skills or abilities?
The first step is knowing that all hiring managers have very specific concerns. If you didn’t get hired, it was because of a concern they had that wasn’t put to rest in the interview. Often, the most frustrating part is never pinpointing what it was.
You can prevent this with simple awareness and the right preliminary research. They will quite often drop hints in the interview with the questions they ask, so if you’re on the lookout for those, you’ll be able to address them intuitively, and take that extra step of re-assuring them that other candidates won’t take.