One day, an interviewer is going to look you in the eye and ask a question that stops you in your tracks and has the potential to end the interview…badly. Preparing yourself for the awkward questions will help keep your name on the short list.
1. “What have you been doing since you were laid off?” Make no mistake, this question is a live mine and if you’re not prepared, your potential job could explode.
Most people will answer something like, “I’ve been going on job interviews and babysitting for my sister’s children.” Some might optimistically proclaim the wonders of unexpected time off by describing a beach vacation or a new hobby. These are not the answers your potential new boss wants to hear.
Before answering, consider your audience carefully. Who does he or she want to hire? Your behavior defines you, so be prepared to answer, truthfully, that you have conducted an organized job search, joined some professional organizations, and taken steps to further your industry knowledge. A proactive approach that includes industry research, classes, and seminars is far more impressive than your athletic prowess on a surfboard.
2. “Why do you want to work for this company?” Far too many people cite money motivation or availability. “I saw your ad on Craiglist and it sounded like something I might be interested in.”
This is a prime time to express admiration of the company and of its policies, progressive attitude, reputation for ethical business practices….insert whatever the company is most proud of here. Before you go to the interview, check their press releases. They are usually happy to announce new initiatives and policies. Your answer should reflect knowledge of the company’s direction and a desire to be part of it.
3. “Why did you leave your last job?” This is not an opportunity to rail against your former employers, although many people climb right on that soapbox. Complaining bitterly about unfair treatment will not land you a new job.
Instead, focus on you and what you’re looking for in your next position. For example, your last company was a great learning experience but offered limited opportunities. You’re looking for a new challenge with a more innovative company and greater potential for growth.
4. “Why should we hire you?” It’s tempting to answer, “I’m the best choice for this position,” but that answer has no legs; it just lays there. It’s not what he’s asking for. He wants to hear something that can’t be expressed on a CV or resume.
Give concrete examples of how you have added value in past positions: your ideas were often adopted, you’re a self-starter who needs minimal training and supervision, you know how to meet deadlines in order to keep costs down on a project. Working in a reference to budget awareness is golden.
5. “Explain the gap in your employment.” This might be the most difficult question. The wrong answer can make it seem like you didn’t try very hard to find a job, or weren’t really motivated. Or worse, you tried really hard and no one wanted to hire you. Even in a market with high unemployment, this question is tricky. Your answer should reflect a purpose and reason behind the gap, like you chose to not work.
Explain that you were not willing to settle for just any job. That you wanted to move to a company that offered a real future, one that seemed like a good fit for your skills and ambition. You took your time, did your research, and waited for the right opportunity to become available. You used that time to work on the skills that would make you more attractive to your future employer.
6. “What is your biggest weakness?” The most common answer is an insincere, “I work too hard.” Even if you really do work too hard, giving common answers makes you just one of the crowd. Every answer should be something thought provoking and relevant.
Everyone has a weakness that will potentially impact the job. This is an opportunity to say something he will identify with, let him know you’re aware of the problem, and tell him that you have found a way to overcome it. For example, “Like most people, my focus wanders in the middle of the afternoon. So I set a reminder to take a break for a brisk five minute walk and a healthy snack. That way, I can return to my work alert and focused for the rest of the day.”
The common thread in good answers is that each answer should reflect positively on yourself and tell the interviewer something he did not know before about your character, attitude, or work ethic. Your answers should not be egotistical, jokey, or generic. Prepare in advance to give a thoughtful and sincere answer, but don’t memorize a script.