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The "Hidden Agenda" Interview

Q: "I recently went on an interview for a school paraprofessional position. The head of the school board asked me if I was a team player, and what I would do to become one?

I didn't know what to say because I didn't know exactly what he was referring to. Is it OK to be direct and ask for specifics? What happens when interviewers lead a person on in a guessing game of, "Do I know what kind of school population I am dealing with?" In both these cases, is it all right to be direct and ask questions, point blank? Or, do I assume I know what they're talking about?"

A: How do you deal with someone whose questions are unclear at best and, more likely, contain a hidden agenda? Here are two approaches you might consider, using your team player issue as an example.

Given most people have a common, straight-forward idea of what it means to be a team player, you might answer his question by saying, "My definition of a team player includes pursuing a common mission and goals with my colleagues, recognizing the sum of our experience and talent is greater than mine alone, covering my responsibilities and pitching in to help others as needed and presenting a united front on important issues. By my definition, I am a team player." Listing the specifics of your teaming behavior not only shows you know how to work on a team, it also explains how you would slip easily into an existing one.

You can also follow up on your answer by asking if your interviewer's definition differs from yours. If it does, find out how, then respond to those differences.

A second approach might be, "I think I'm a team player. However, it would be helpful to hear your description of one, so I can answer your question more fully." Listen to his description and respond point by point.

The school population issue sounds like a political mine field. Put yourself squarely behind the man with the map, and only go where he leads you. To keep your answer from blowing up in your face, you might say something like, "While I am familiar with the demographics of the school population, I'm not sure that is the question you are asking. From your perspective, what kind of population will I be dealing with?" Then answer accordingly.

I hope you won't be working directly with the school board chair. He sounds like he enjoys playing with people's heads while they twist in the wind.

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