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Interviewing Sarah Palin

Kennedy's Column

Job candidates and political candidates have something in common: they do not like to answer tough questions. One technique they use is to hand a tough question back to the interviewer with a new question of their own.

This type of interview behavior was illustrated in the TV interview between Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and ABC’s Charlie Gibson. In the interview Gibson asked Palin, “Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?" Instead of answering the question, Palin sought hints to the answer by asking her own question, “In what respect, Charlie?”

At that point, Gibson could have remained in control of the interview by responding, “Whatever you think is important for voters to know about your position on the Bush Doctrine.” This would have kept the ball firmly in Palin’s court, requiring her to answer the question as presented.

Instead, Gibson gave her an opportunity to change course by responding “What do you interpret it to be?” Palin took the opportunity by answering “his worldview.” There was still no indication at this point that Palin actually knew of the Bush Doctrine and whether she agreed with it or not.

Similarly, in the employment interview, if the question is asked , “Tell me about your last job?” the candidate can deflect with a question such as “What would you like to know about it?” At this point, many unsuspecting employers may unconsciously provide the expected answer by saying something like “I would like to know how you built teams, managed stress, and maintained quality standards.”

The employer could instead say, “Whatever you think is important for me to know about your last job in terms of considering you for this one.” Such “opportunistic questions” hand the original question back to the candidate and require an answer.

Learning how to avoid a pitfall like the one Gibson stepped into during his interview with Palin is just one of the skills that we teach in our training.