Positive Framing

contributed by Dr. Stephen E Bangert, PhD

Recently, I visited some friends who were building their dream house. The house was under construction; nonetheless, as I approached I had a strong sense how the finished house would look. It was set high on a hill, on a fingerlet surrounded by a large lake. I could see that the framing had just been completed and it was without a roof or siding. Having done some construction of my own, the floor pattern and the location and size of rooms was obvious to me. I could easily envision the finished look. The framing told all I needed to know.

The same is true of interviewing. The framing tells it all.

Well, maybe not all, but certainly enough for an interviewer to form an opinion and make a decision. The manner, the style of responding to the interviewer’s questions reveals an attitude– an attitude that tells a lot about you, how you communicate, and how you typically interact with others. Is it aggressive, negative, cautious, positive? Listen to yourself. Do your responses suggest that the glass is half full, or half empty?

Consider some questions and situations that commonly occur in an interview.

The Apology

A friend recently told me about some interviews she and a committee were conducting. There were several open positions scattered in a four state region, and candidates came some distance for the interview. Two candidates were late: one because of the distance traveled and not allowing enough time, and the other misread the directions to the interviewing site. Now you might be thinking that this is unacceptable, yet this was the reality in which the two candidates found themselves. The first candidate apologized with a quick explanation and accepted responsibility. The second candidate profusely apologized several times throughout the interview and offered a variety of excuses, but never took owneship. The framing of their apologies differed greatly, and the impressions on the interview committee was quite distinct.

In another situation, I was interviewing a candidate in the evening after work. We were seated at a restaurant and I offered him a drink. Rather than a simple: “no thank you,” he went off on this long explanation which turned into an apology and suggested to me that there might be other issues. The drink was offered as a social gesture. It was the early stages of our interview and I wanted to establish a relaxed environment and some rapport, but the long, awkward explanation and apologetic tone negatively framed the conversation that followed.

The Objection

Generally during an interview, a candidate will be faced with an objection or two. Perhaps there is concern for the number of job changes, or the number of lateral moves; or perhaps the interviewer questions the lack of an MBA. If a candidate focuses on defending their position, they will be negatively framing their response and they are not likely to win the argument. Better to frame things in the positive, argue from a position of strength, tell the interviewer what you do have verses reinforcing what you lack.

As an example, the interviewer expresses concern for the number of positions held in the last five years. A positive framing response would include acknowledgment, perhaps empathy and an explanation that accented the benefits of such moves. Consider: “I understand your concern, yet each of the three positions that I have held in the last five years were a result of being recruited away due to my talents and achievements. In each position I also gained valuable experience which might benefit your company. Perhaps you would like hear more.”Keep your response short, positive and focused on what you have and can do for the prospective employer

The Negative Question

Much the same might be said regarding questions that are framed in a negative manner by the interviewer. It is common that you would be asked to describe any weaknesses. Your response needs to address the question but not dwell on the negative. Acknowledge some weakness or some criticism but point out some positive result. As an example: “I’ve been criticized for giving too many second chances; yet if I perceive an employee to have the drive and desire to change, I’ll work with them in a systematic way to improve. I can think of several examples where these “second chance employees” have proven to be leaders in the company.”

The Close

Another situation that seems to invite negative framing is the closing. I’ve heard a lot of candidates says things such as: “Is there anything we’ve missed” or “Is there any reason why we shouldn’t meet again?”or “Do you have any further questions or concerns?”

Such negative framing, especially at the close, does little to advance you as a candidate. Instead, frame things in a positive way summarizing the points of agreement and further highlighting the benefits that you would bring to their situation.

In summary, be sensitive as to how you frame questions and responses. Your framing sets the tone for the interview and suggests how you view the proverbial glass as being half full or half empty.

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