Avoiding evasion, Cameron style

What was most significant about David Cameron being dragged into the mire of murky offshore tax avoidance through the Panama Papers wasn’t the fact that he was involved, but the way he reacted.

While it wasn’t particularly surprising that a member of the British elite had a large inheritance and funds stashed offshore, he made it into a bigger issue with staged denials and attempts to downplay the significance of the country’s leader avoiding his own tax laws. “Blame me,” he said, and they did.

Of course, there was nothing illegal about it, but it raises the point about being evasive and how much you should disclose when questioned. In a job interview, there’s a fine line between what you say (and when) and what you don’t.

Naturally, an interviewer will generally be trying their best to work out if the skills you’ve outlined will tie in with the role on offer. So if you come across as evasive and unwilling to discuss things, you’re on to a loser. Experienced hiring managers will soon pick this up, which makes for an awkward interview and instant distrust. Blame you? They will.

Instead, you can steer the conversation in a different direction – the Tories’ famed “dead cat tactic” – as used by Cameron in the aftermath of the Panama Papers leak to try to distract attention away from him. For example, you can reposition the question and answer by dropping a thunderous diversionary statement mixing a real life example and soft skills, or outlining your input and the associated output that would be difficult to challenge, as opposed to saying what level of technical skill you have or had in the role.    

Cameron’s evasiveness around tax avoidance made things look a lot worse than they were. By making tricky questions into ways of talking about yourself that will resonate with the interviewer, you’ll be playing to your strengths and able to show how you’re right for the role.

If you need some advice on how to do this, a good recruiter will help you with your interview technique. Listen to what they have to say, and play out your skills with confidence and care, so you get the job by focusing on your plus points and by not looking like you’re hiding something!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn 20.5.2016

Matt Penton