In my experience, sometimes 418215_face_-_questionse-mail and interview questions can present a similar danger: it's easy to misread cues and hear a tone of voice that isn't there at all.

Case in point: I recently spoke with a job seeker who was completely frustrated by interview questions on his decision to wait tables in college. He wants to be a teacher, and hasn't made it through interview round 3 yet. "Everyone wants to know why I've chosen to wait tables during the summer," he said. "I'm sick of having to justify it. Why am I always asked to justify it?

This particular chap has a background that would likely appeal to any independent school faculty in need of new hires: he has strong grades, he's an athlete, and can coach a sport (with little league experience to boot). He has great experience working with kids and has worked as a tutor for years in his spare time.

But he's not making it through the interviews, and it seems to me that part of his challenge is how he has decided to view the "why waited tables question." He sees the inquiry as a challenge: When asked the question in interviews, he raises his back and defends his position: "Why do I need to defend it? I can't teach without a bachelor's degree and permission to teach?"

I see the question as an open-ended one--with room for explanation. After all, most employers haven't the time to invite candidates for interviews if they aren't serious about a potential hire. My suggested approach: the truth. "I am aware of the salary range for starting teachers, and I am trying to reduce the debt I will incur post graduation. Waiting tables for 50 hours a week has allowed me to cover many of my own expenses--and reduce my future debt so that I can pursue my career goal of teaching post college. I've been able to maintain the student contact in the interim through tutoring. I don't want to spend my career in food service, but it's helped me make it to this interview--and ensure that I can live within my means as a teacher."

Looking back, are there opportunities you have missed simply through misreading the tone or intent behind a question?

If, yes, how have you trained yourself to respond differently, and--do you have any suggestions for others? How do you keep an open mind to what you hear?

Personal experiences welcomed and encouraged. Share your stories below.

To Your Success,