The Final Interview: Transparency for the Win

You’ve been invited to do a final round of interviews for an enterprise sales executive role. The role feels right, you’ve been through the initial stages, and it’s down to this final step.

Here’s the problem, the job description has this sentence as its first bullet listed under “Requirements:”

  • 5+ years of experience in a business-to-business SaaS sales role.

You have none, but you now understand that the other finalists for the role you are interviewing for have the requisite experience.

What do you do?

This is exactly the story of someone who reached out to me a few weeks ago. Michael was a finalist for an enterprise sales executive role. He was strategizing for the final panel-style interview to take place over Zoom, concerned that his “flaw” would be his demise during the process. 

“Should I even bring it up?” he asked.

“Not only should you bring it up, I’d recommend you lead with it.” I replied.

His flaw turned out to be his greatest asset. Fast-forward four days, he received and accepted the job offer.

While attending college, I had the opportunity to take advantage of its robust career services programs. I remember being taught the following:

(a) It’s the interviewer’s job to uncover your imperfections/fit for the role; and 

(b) When asked what your weaknesses are, answer with a strength disguised as a weakness.

Disguising a strength as a weakness sounds a lot like this: “I’ve been told I work too hard. Once I’m passionate about what I’m doing, I don’t have an off switch.” Or, “I’m meticulous in the work that I do. Sometimes ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect,’ and I often have a hard time distinguishing between the two because I was taught to take pride in everything I do.”

In other words, we’ve been taught to hide our flaws–in hopes that the interviewer walks away believing you have somehow become the one person on Earth who is absolutely perfect, but our brains don’t work that way. 


Human Beings Are Wired To Predict 

Imagine the last time you bought something of substance online. You likely read the reviews (96 percent of us do), and probably skipped the 5-star reviews to read the lower-scored reviews (82 percent of us do). In the online world, a product with an average review score of between 4.2 and 4.5 has a higher conversion rate.

As decision-makers, we seek out the negatives of our decisions to paint a picture of a reality  where perfection does not exist. This behavior happens when a website is acting as the salesperson (e-commerce), but also exists in the business-to-business, human-to-human selling world, where transparency sells better than perfection. When we lead with our flaws, sales cycles shrink, win rates go up, and we’re better able to match up our selling time with the opportunities we should win. 

An interview is a sale; you are selling yourself. But just like a sale, while it may feel good to “get the sale,” selling the wrong product to the buyer is a lose-lose.


Leading with Flaws Builds Trust

As it turns out, leading with our flaws can build trust, control the narrative and fill the interviewer’s brain’s need to predict. In other words, when we present ourselves as perfect, the interviewer’s brain seeks to fill in that understanding of the downside of hiring you–and will do it with or without your help.

Michael led the discussion with: “Before we dive in, there’s one item I felt important to address from the beginning. Your job description calls for ‘5 years of business-to-business SaaS experience,’ and as you can tell from my resume, I have none. You’ve brought me in for a final interview, which is great given my excitement over the potential match myself. However, if that’s going to cause a big problem for you or for me, let’s talk through that first.”

He presented himself as a 4.2-4.5 candidate. Leading with his flaw built immediate trust, allowed him to control the narrative, and provided the “downside of hiring Michael” the panel’s  brains sought.  A connection was immediately made.

Now, if it had turned out this organization felt that missing requirement would be a show-stopper–sales executives who haven’t possessed that level of experience fail in the role–time would have been saved for both, and a potential mis-hire situation would have been avoided.

In this case, Michael’s other qualities outweighed this flaw. By leading with it, the foundation of trust built on transparency led to his job offer and acceptance.

Transparency sells better than perfection–online, in business-to-business sales, and also in your job interviews. Empathize with the hirer. What should they be concerned about in hiring you? Lead with it for the win.

Instead of disguising your strength as a weakness, turn your weakness into a competitive advantage.

Todd Caponi is the author of the award-winning book, The Transparency Sale (Best “Sales & Marketing” Book of 2020 | Independent Press Awards), managing director of Chicago’s VentureSCALE, and a speaker and workshop leader as principal of Sales Melon LLC.  

  • Originally published September 3, 2020