Interviews can intimidate even the most prepared candidate. It may feel like the questions are meant to trick you, but the reality is that employers are trying to find the best fit for the position. The questions they ask determine how you handle conflict, whether you can think on your feet, and even how compatible your personality is with other team members.
Gauging your interest and qualifications is all part of a standard job interview. However, it’s possible to flip the script on those tough interview questions — and ace it.
Why Do You Want to Work Here?
You might be tempted to explain how you love to eat and have a roof over your head, but even if you have great comedic timing, this isn’t the answer an interviewer will be interested in hearing. It’s actually a great question. Why do you want to work there? What’s drawing you to the position?
The attraction might be consistent hours and a regular paycheck, but don’t fixate on those details. You could likely get the hours and paycheck in any number of jobs. Focus on the position in question and/or the company. This question is an opportunity to show your passion for the industry and to highlight your career goals.
You might be looking for a job purely to meet a financial need. It happens to the best of us. Research the company and the position before you go into the interview. They’ll be impressed that you took the time, and you’ll likely find a few things to talk about when they ask you why you want to work there. Leave the comedy routine at home, and shoot for sincerity instead.
Why Are You Leaving Your Current Position?
No matter how personable the person interviewing you, do not — repeat, DO NOT — use this as an opportunity to bad-mouth a current or former boss, colleague, or business. It doesn’t matter if your concerns are valid. Complaining about a former (or soon-to-be-former) employer will make you look bad.
Instead, talk about other reasons for your decision. Emphasize the fact that you learned a lot in your previous role but are looking for more of a challenge or more upward mobility. If you’re switching fields entirely, talk a little about what skills you want to acquire with a new role. Keep it positive here.
What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
Being perpetually tardy is not a weakness you want to share during your interview (even if it’s true). No one wants to hear that a potential employee will rarely be on time. The question may be, “What is your greatest weakness,” but they really want to know where you have the most opportunity to grow.
Avoid highlighting negatives like tardiness or conflict management; it’ll make you sound less desirable as a candidate. This may be the trickiest of interview questions, but you can prepare and have an answer ready to go.
Here are a few examples of weaknesses that go over well in interviews:
- I’m a perfectionist. Sometimes, I focus on all the little details and fail to see the bigger picture. I’ve been working on developing better time management so that there’s enough time to attend to those details while still meeting deadlines for the overall project.
- I have trouble delegating. I like to work independently, but I have to remind myself to ask for help when I need it and to delegate tasks to others so that I don’t get burned out.
- I have excellent written communication skills, but I struggle with public speaking. I’m learning to speak in front of both small and larger audiences, but it’s still uncomfortable for me.
In each of these examples, the weakness is really an opportunity for growth. It shows self-awareness, and it also gives the employer a better idea of where you might need training. Plus, it sounds much better than “I am 10 minutes late for work every day” or “I tend to blow up and threaten violence when someone touches my lunch in the breakroom.”
How Do You Explain This Employment Gap?
Employers hate to see a gap on a resume, and they will most certainly ask about it. Frankly, this is not the time for brutal honesty. It’s not a good time to mention that you just needed a break from working. It comes across as lazy. If you were fired, this isn’t the time to mention it unless you can spin it to having been laid off for financial reasons. If you took time out to have a child, don’t mention it.
You’ll need to come up with a plausible reason for being unemployed. Saying you were laid off and decided to take the time to find the right position rather than any position makes it sound like the employment gap was entirely in your control for the right reasons. While you shouldn’t outright lie, you’ll want to be careful when explaining an employment gap, so you don’t sound unreliable.
Describe a Time You Didn’t Get Along With a Customer/Colleague and How You Handled It.
This is the part in the interview where they want you to share your conflict management skills — or lack thereof. This isn’t the time to regale them of the ins and outs of the last employer’s water cooler gossip. This is the time to share how you successfully managed a difficult situation.
Think of a time when you successfully managed a difference of opinion with someone at work. If you can’t think of a time, imagine what it would have taken to peacefully resolve the conflict. Imagine it happened, and go with that.
The employer just wants to know that you realize conflict at work needs work-appropriate, peaceful solutions. If you once talked out a difference of opinion to find a compromise on how to approach a project, share that. If you found yourself in a position where someone just didn’t like you, talk about how you were able to build rapport and gain their trust. This is an opportunity to show off how well you work with others, even when there are challenges.
Interviewers aren’t trying to trick you. They’re trying to hire the right person. Just don’t forget that you’re also trying to find the right position for YOU. Be sure to ask questions so you can learn about the work environment, responsibilities, and general company culture.
To flip the script, remember you’re also interviewing THEM. This will help the interview feel more like a conversation than an interrogation. With a little preparation and a positive attitude, you’ll manage the interview like a boss.