How to Answer Three of the Trickiest Interview Questions

When you embark on a job search, there are many challenges, but preparing for an interview can be downright nerve-wracking. If you are like most people, you are not accustomed to selling yourself and telling total strangers why you are great, which is basically what an interview demands. I joke to candidates that interviewing is one of those things you get better at with practice; you just hope you don’t have to practice too much!

When getting ready for an interview, rehearse by telling someone about your work experience and some of your key accomplishments – whether a friend, mentor, significant other or even the mirror! You don’t want the interview itself to be the first time you tell your stories out loud. While you don’t want to be scripted, you don’t want to be tripping over your words either.

There are a few typical interview questions which can be stumbling blocks, so it’s especially vital to prepare for them ahead of time. Here are three I find among the trickiest:

1. Salary – With salary, the Goldilocks theory applies; you are always too high or too low and rarely just right, especially if you talk about it too early. Ideally you don’t have to talk salary until late in the process when everyone is in love and the company is hopefully more willing to negotiate. If asked what salary you’re seeking, you can answer by saying salary is important but you are focused on finding the right role, the right company, and finally, a competitive salary. You can also say you will consider all aspects of the compensation package such as base, bonus, benefits, stock, etc., when deciding on an acceptable salary. If pressed for a concrete number, emphasize again that you will factor in the whole package and try to give a range so you are not held to just one number.

2. Reason for leaving – The goal here is to be brief and neutral. Never appear negative, avoid discussing how you don’t get along with your boss or your coworkers and definitely don’t say it’s because you want more money! It’s tricky because many things you say can be perceived as negative, even if you don’t intend them that way. For example, “I wanted more room for growth,” can be interpreted as, “I get bored easily,” or, “I really want your job,” by a hiring manager. If there were financial problems at your company and you were laid off or decided to leave, say so, but don’t dwell on it. If you were let go, be honest, but make a short statement about what you learned. If by chance your last manager will still serve as a reference, then mention that, too. If you are passive job seeker who is just looking for your next great role, then say something like, “While I have very much enjoyed my time at ABC Company and have learned a lot and done a number of valuable things for the company, I am passively looking for that next opportunity where I can _____, and that’s why I am so interested in the job here.” The key is to get the reason for leaving out of the way and transition as quickly as possible into why you are interested in the company and role for which you are interviewing.

3. Your weaknesses – Of course, in an interview your inclination is to avoid sharing any weaknesses, fearing it will preclude you from getting the job. So, many people answer this with something like, “I can be a bit of a perfectionist,” or, “I have a tendency to work too hard,” which are thinly disguised attempts to really give a strength and smack of triteness and insincerity. While the common wisdom is to turn a weakness into a strength, there is a better method that can really set you apart.

1) Identify a weakness: “Sometimes I can get too focused on the details in a project.”
2) Talk about why it’s important: “While I do think details are important, I know it’s just as important to look at the big picture, and sometimes you have to let the small things go to move the project along.”
3) Talk about what you have done/will do to improve that weakness: “Therefore, on my last project, I really made sure I engaged with the business on what their long term vision for the system was to make sure we kept our eye on the prize.”
4) Talk about the results: “We were able to come in on time and on budget and able to deal with any leftover details after the overall rollout.”

Bonus points if you can actually address a weakness you know they believe you have that could affect your ability to do the role. This shows you are self-aware enough to know what your weakness is, and self-motivated enough to do something about it, both of which are hallmarks of a great candidate! (And, by the way, you basically turned your weakness into a strength.)

Being well-prepared for the tough interview questions will give you confidence going into the meeting and will help you rise above the competition!

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