Verbal Cushions are a Powerful Interview Tool

Ever been faced with interview questions that put you on the spot and make you squirm?
“I see you never finished college (or high school).”  “It looks like you might be overqualified.”  “I see you haven’t worked in xxx months.”  “Seems like you’ve had a lot of jobs in recent years.”
Verbal cushions can help you handle the most challenging interview situations.  For that matter, they can help you in everyday conversation.
Let’s define a cushion.  It’s something you’d do or, most typically, say to acknowledge the person’s question, to help both of you to lessen the tension, and to buy yourself time to think of what to say.
Here’s another way to look at it.  Let’s say I raised my fist as though I might strike you.  You’d have three options.  Hit me, cower/run from me, or talk our way out of confrontation.  During your interview you don’t want to argue with me.  That’s like trying to hit me.  You don’t want to crawl into a defeatist shell.  That would be like running from me.
Instead, let me know you’ve heard the question/concern, and yet are ready to handle your response in a calm, professional manner.  Granted, you might be ready to throttle me, but that won’t help you land the job.  And, unless I’m being a real jerk, the sorts of questions I’d posed up top really aren’t “out of bounds” questions.  They’re legit questions/concerns for employers.  So don’t take it personally.
Let’s take a look at some examples of common cushions.
When asked about a gap in employment, try responding with words such as, “If I were on your side of the desk I’d have that same question.  Let me explain.”
Too many short term jobs?  Try, “I see that’s a concern for you.  Let me share a bit about my experience during that time frame.”
Not enough education?  Try, “That’s true.  And while I can’t change that as I sit here today, let me share with you what I CAN bring to this job aside from the education piece.”
Overqualified?  Try, “I can understand why you might be concerned about that – that I wouldn’t be challenged or maybe wouldn’t stay here long term.  Let me share some thoughts on that.”
Carry this over into your personal or work life.  When someone’s tone is accusatory and they begin with, “Why do you…” – instead of blowing up or keeping silent, try a cushion.
A cushion could also be humor, a grin, or a laugh.  Just make sure the other person takes it in the way you intend.  If you’re ultra-serious in the interview and suddenly you smile and laugh at a tough question, they’ll think you’re strange.  So be careful.
Stay away from two cushions in particular.  “That’s a great question!”  Or, “I’m glad you asked.”  If their question is negative, you’re NOT glad they asked and it’s NOT a great question!
Using cushions will help you get through some challenging interactions in both your interviews and in your daily life.  Good luck!