Mark Zuckerberg attended a hearing in front of the United States Senate on April 10, 2018 to address a variety of concerns, ranging from online privacy to the influence Facebook had in the 2016 Presidential elections. Rather than focusing on the political impact of what transpired, this article focuses on smart, effective techniques to answer very difficult questions. Let’s move into this review knowing that Mark admittedly took responsibility for needing to improve campaign, content and data management in the last 24 months (while also protecting Facebook’s reputation) and focus on his answering techniques.
For those going through tough interviews (and if you haven’t seen it) I recommend watching the Senate Hearing, as a study in how to use language, definition (and sometimes deflection), and tone to come across clearly, confidently and defend your ideas. This post is specifically about seeing how Mark was able to answer really difficult questions with the full capacity of his intellect, in an authentic way. Admittedly there a few moments where he struggled, but who wouldn’t with this vast array of questions coming their way?
Here are the qualities and tactics he portrayed which helped him complete the Senate Hearing, fairly unscathed. These techniques would also work well with or against tough interview questions, since many of them are designed to be pointed, pressure oriented, and expose weaknesses:
1) He was extremely prepared (being prepared for interviews shows you are invested in the experience and you want to provide value to your interviewers, it says simply “I really care” and to go one level deeper, in psychology when you illustrate ‘a way of being’ to others, they are very likely to reflect it back to you — don’t you want your interviewers to care about you?).
2) He was clear when he didn’t have detail on a current law or policy, so he deferred to the Senate’s definitions on them (this showed he knew when to relinquish expertise to this body that focuses on legislation. In other words, when you have experts in the room, let them be experts. Arguing with professional opinions when you have little basis can lead to disaster, as it speaks to your insecurities or can be viewed as a need for premature leadership. In an interview, letting ‘experts be experts’ illustrates when you can step aside and let another illuminate an issue)
3) He disarmed extremely abstract and pointed questions with truth and what I would call ‘the very best intentions’ and forcing clarity (when abstract questions come your way, a good rule is to reiterate those questions back to the interviewer in your own words. Examples of this would be saying something along the lines of “I think what I am hearing from you is…” and inserting your interpretation here. This shows deep understanding of the existing concepts, as well as shows a fantastic level of authenticity — because it’s an exercise in understanding the interviewer’s deepest concerns)
4) He was clear to argue definition when there was ambiguity, and then built his arguments after the group had agreed upon terms and definitions (this shows empathy, and a need for the group to have a universal understanding of what is at stake — it says “I care about all of us understanding, not just some of us” or to put it more bluntly “are we all talking about the same thing?”)
5) He was clear to distinguish when (questioned) goals were personal, Facebook’s, or for the common good of the users. (when answering multi-layered and complex questions (in this case, for the good of society), it’s very important to know the ‘point of view’ of the answer. What person, entity or spirit is guiding that answer. It’s amazing how different those answers can be built and delivered based on what their true source should be.)
I sincerely hope these tips give you some powerful tools to leverage during difficult interviews. And remember, these tools are universal, and can be used in business, the classroom or even in social media. If we all communicated in a way that really exercised a true understanding of those asking the hard questions, not only would we be in much better career positions, but we’d also have a more unified country. And here I was trying not to be political. Now go wow your interviewers with your ability to really understand, articulate and address their wonderfully complex concerns.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Martinez is a Design Advisor from Southern California helping startups, enterprise and government tell better stories through visual design, interaction and user experience. He has worked for the likes of: City of Los Angeles, LegalZoom, Gamefly, Velocify, iRise, CAKE Marketing, IJHANA & Prosum Technologies. He’s currently ranked as one of the top contributors in the popular Facebook Group: Designer’s Guild. Learn more about him at davidmartinez.dunked.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org