Responding to challenging interview questions

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

This question is asked to find out about your job skills, recent educational background, and any experiences related to the job at hand. Refer mentally to your resume; briefly recap your skills and experiences as they relate to this particular job. Be specific and use examples to support your claim. This type of question requires you to take a few moments to describe your background, so don’t be too brief. Prepare for this question in advance by thinking about what types of experiences you would talk about if asked a broad-based question such as this.

2. “What is your major weakness?”

There are several techniques for dealing with this question. You could mention a weakness that will not significantly hinder you in the job for which you are interviewing. You can also highlight a strength that compensates for the weakness, and/or you can describe steps you are taking to overcome the weakness. Another strategy sometimes suggested is to mention a “weakness” that may also be viewed as strength (but be careful with this one – the “I have a tendency to take on too much” weakness gets overused and employers get tired of hearing it!). Finally, you could also point out something that they already know but does not appear to be a stumbling block (a low GPA, a lack of certain technical skills, etc.).

Here is an example: (1) “I’ve always dreaded talking in front of large groups, but I took a public speaking class to develop my skills in that area and to force me to practice. I think I am improving and gaining the confidence to do this when I need to.”

3. “How much do you expect to be paid?”

If you are asked about salary, try to avoid stating a flat dollar amount unless you know what the job pays. You should do some research on salaries beforehand so that you have an idea of the general range for positions in your field. In your response you can demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the going rate. For example: “My research has shown that my position most professionals are earning a range of $12 – $21 with an average of $15.00 an hour. Given my strong qualifications I feel that a salary in the range of $15- $17 would be appropriate.” Another option to the range is to turn the question back to the employer such as, “What would a person with my background, skills and qualifications typically earn in this position?” Or try a neutral statement such as, “While salary is certainly important, my main goal is to further develop my skills. I am sure that we can agree on a fair salary once we have determined that I am a good fit for the job.”

4. “Why do you want to work for this company?”

The employer expects you to show knowledge of and interest in the company. You can do this with an answer that indicates that you have researched the company before the interview. Examples: “I’ve talked with some of your previous employees and they feel that this is a good company to work for because…” or “I have been reading that your company is really growing fast. I want to work for your company because the

future looks promising.”

5. “Why did you leave your last job?”

The employer is trying to find out if you had any problems on your last job. Never say anything negative about yourself or your previous employer. If you did have problems, think of a way to explain without being negative. Don’t use the word “fired”. Use words such as “laid off” or “position was cut.” If you were fired and are not on good terms with your previous employer, maybe you should explain. Try to show that you learned something from the situation. Tell the employer that the former problem (if it is personal) will not affect your work. Common reasons for leaving: general layoff, job was temporary, moved to a new area, company went out of business, no room for advancement, wanted a job more aligned with your skills.

6. “What are your future plans?”

The interviewer wants to know if you are ambitious, plan ahead, and set goals for yourself. Usually an employer does not expect you to know exactly where you hope to go in the future, but your answer should communicate an awareness of where the position for which you are interviewing might lead. Example: “I know that your company has hired students full-time after they graduate, and I would look forward to that possibility and to the opportunity to be a full-time member of your legal team. My goals will become clearer as I gain experience and have the opportunity to learn more about what it takes to be successful in the field of law.” Remember to keep your answer to this question professionally-oriented (i.e., you don’t need to mention personal/family goals).

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