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How to Answer Difficult Interview Questions

November 30, 2009

Top Five Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

With interviews few and far between there is no such thing as a “practice” interview. Your interview skills must be perfect the first time and every time you interview. While there is no way to anticipate every question you may be asked, there are some questions that come up on a regular basis that universally give job seekers a tough time. Here are the top five interview questions and suggestions for how to answer them.

  1. “So tell me something about yourself.” Here is when you need to have your 30 second elevator speech ready. Spend plenty of time in preparing your answer. You’ll want to include your profession, how long you’ve done it, what areas of expertise you offer and any pertinent technology skills. Keep your “speech” full of key words that will grab your interviewers attention. End your statement with an accomplishment that exemplifies what you can do for them. Write it out and practice it over and over until it comes out smooth and natural.
  2. “Why did you leave your last employer?” This question can be especially challenging if you were let go due to performance issues. Be particularly careful not to say anything negative about your past employer while keeping you answer as brief as possible. Some people tent to over talk when they are nervous, but do not offer more information than is absolutely needed. If you had the boss from hell, or your company had turned into a crazy zoo, avoid sharing that. Instead, put your emphasis on what you are pursuing in your next job, as in greater responsibilities, a larger team, a different industry or more opportunities for career growth.
  3. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” This is a question you’ll want to take care in preparing to answer. Make sure that the strengths you mention are those needed most for the job. Back up your claim with an accomplishment that illustrates your strength.

    Answering the “weakness” part of the question often stumps job seekers. None of us wants to admit to weaknesses. Avoid the clichéd answers like, “I’m a workaholic” or “I’m a perfectionist with myself.” Every interviewer will see through that. Instead, offer a legitimate weakness—but not one that would put you out of the running for the job. Then provide an explanation of how you have learned to compensate for the weakness so that it never compromises your productivity on the job. Have a success story ready to share that shows you have overcome your weakness.

  4. “Tell me a time when…” This question often causes a candidate brain-freeze reaction. The interviewer wants to know how you have handled difficult work-related situations. Get prepared mentally with lots of success stories where you have solved problems on the job. Take time to categorize the work place challenges where you had the opportunity to step up to the plate with the right solution.
  5. “What salary are you looking for?” With today’s level of competition for good jobs, salary is often a screening issue. This question will come up early as a way to eliminate candidates above the upper range of the salary range. Avoid stating a specific number. After all, total earnings are usually made up of several factors such as employee benefits, bonuses and commission. It’s best to give your answer in a range that provides room for negotiation.

No doubt, you will face one or all of these questions in your next job interview. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare so that you answer them with ease and confidence. Don’t get caught without a great answer! The time you spend will be well worth it when you get your next job offer.

About the Author: Deborah Walker, CCMC is a Career Coach helping job seekers compete in the toughest economy. Her clients gain top performing skills in resume writing, interview preparation and salary negotiation. Read more job-search tips and see sample resumes at: http://www.AlphaAdvantage.com

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