Beware the Question of Capability in an Interview

“Are you sure (blank) is the right person for this job?”

Have you been asked this question? If so, pay close attention both to the question and to the implications of your answer. The higher up the person asking it, the more carefully you need to listen and consider your response.

For example, when a president asked one of his vice presidents this question regarding a director, the VP quickly answered, “yes.” It was the expected response and it disappointed the president.

Why? It was a response triggered by personal loyalty and friendship. It came quickly, without proper regard for the importance of the director’s role within the organization. It also signaled a lack of sensitivity to the fact that by asking the question, the president was voicing some dissatisfaction.

The VP would have been wise to probe the question, uncover the dissatisfaction, and understand it. Was the dissatisfaction mild or severe? Was there an event that triggered it or had a pattern developed? What, specifically, was the nature of the disappointment?

Without this kind of dialogue and understanding, an automatic defense of a subordinate creates risk for the defending boss. It can shift doubt from subordinate to boss.

How so?

If the VP had taken time to understand the president’s concern, consider the director’s performance in the context of this concern, then judge it accordingly, his response would have been more complete and more convincing. The president would have been reassured that his VP is tuned into the needs of the organization and capable of making people decisions objectively.

The quick affirmative answer provided no such assurance. In fact, it may have caused the president to wonder whether the VP is the right person for his job. That’s a nasty unintended consequence that is impossible to prevent without thoughtful attention to the initial question.

If you find yourself blindly defending someone who works for you, beware. Listen carefully to questions about capability and take time to consider them objectively. Be mindful that an automatic response, no matter how well intentioned, may invite scrutiny of your own judgment and capability.

Categories: General Advice

About Susan Marshall

founder susan marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.