This question is going to sound like one of those questions that makes you scratch your head and wonder why they are asking it. “Tell me about a time you were treated unfairly. Or unjustly.” I want to stick with “unfairly,” because it is a simpler way of expressing it that most people can relate to.
What is an employer looking for here? The fact of the matter is if they’re using this question well, they are going to goad you into presenting yourself as being persecuted as being treated badly and encouraging you to give them a juicy description of what happened and how bad it was, and how horrible. They will say things like, “That’s awful..” Or, “Really,” or, “Wow!” And in doing so, they are going to instigate you into saying more.
That’s the sucker move.
What they are looking for is how you took ownership of the situation. Again, this is a question about ownership. This isn’t about vomiting some deep-seated resentment of your life. Follow that? It isn’t about vomiting deep-seated resentment, it is about how you took ownership of the situation.
Ownership can take a variety of different forms. For example, I remember one instance in my case where I set for the panel was evaluated and I thought I was treated very badly. They changed the rules of the game on but didn’t tell me so I way with one expectation; they went with a completely different one that they didn’t tell me about, at the end, I felt very frustrated and angry and hurt because I felt betrayed.
If I left the story at that point, I should be rejected because what they are looking for is someone who takes ownership. However, if I continue the story by saying, “Afterwards, there were some people who had the same experience. We got together and created a panel they made recommendations for a new process that panels could use to evaluate candidates. From that, we developed a model that is still used to this day.” Do you follow what I’m doing here?
It isn’t the story, but what you did with the story that’s important to the employer. Or what you learned from the experience at the most important part 2 what you relate.
To summarize, if you stick the feeling of persecution or being treated unfairly, you lose. If you convert the story into one that talks about how you use this experience to change process or change an organization or change the world, or do something, or what you learned from this experience that you apply even to this day, then you win.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2020
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1800 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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