How Not to Answer Interview Questions

what not to sayA job interview is an interesting dish consisting of equal parts terror, elation, relief, and uncertainty. And like the process of concocting any gourmet meal, it takes a lot of preparation to get an interview just right. As such, an excellent way to calm wayward nerves is to try and anticipate questions that may be asked of you during the interrogation. By and large, employers aren’t out to trip you up and will generally stick to straightforward questions that have been proven to reveal your personality and test your ability to cope with being put on the spot. However, even given a full cheat sheet of what to expect from an interviewer doesn’t ensure a job offer. After all, answering questions the wrong way, even if you know what to expect, can immediately eliminate your from the contention.

One of the most popular, and enigmatic, requests from an interviewer is for a description of yourself. There are so many ways to go about approaching this interview question that it can be difficult to pinpoint a precise way to answer. What does the interviewer want to hear? What does the interview not want to hear? The ambiguity can be maddening. But, however you decide to depict yourself in this situation, avoid going off on tangents at all costs. Before the interview, write up a brief (two or three minutes) of your career and practice delivering the information. Keep the information relevant to the job you are seeking and be as succinct as possible. Consider describing your career trajectory and career goals as well as your history – keep it positive, motivational, and assertive.

Next up on the list of easily bumbled questions: “Why are you leaving your current job?” How you respond to this loaded question can swing the interview either in your favor or strongly against you. Vanilla responses such as, “I’m looking for a new opportunity” can easily be interpreted as, “I’m easily bored so I want a new job.” It is better to be more specific and note any changes in your workplace that caused it to become misaligned with your career goals, or how the organization’s financial stability has made you nervous about your future at the company. The more reasons behind your decision to leave the better, indicating that your decision was complex and multi-dimensional. Ideally, you want to show that you carefully considered all options.

Generic responses to this next question can come off as trite, clichéd, and entirely uninspired. When asked to identify your strengths, pick something that portrays your unique abilities and helps your stand out among applicants. Most importantly, put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and think about the day-to-day activities of the job – what qualities would most directly facilitate those daily tasks? When answering the dreaded “what is your greatest weakness” interview question, find something that can be addressed with a positive spin and discuss how you are consistently working to improve yourself in that area. Be honest, but make sure to describe how your weakness is not directly related to the position’s daily responsibilities.

Finally, hold off on salary discussions until the end of the hiring process. When the time comes to debate dollars and cents, avoid naming a specific number and instead give a range of acceptable salaries. Do some initial research to determine the salaries for comparable jobs in your region and decide on a lowest acceptable salary then add 10 to 25 percent to figure out the high point.

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Joshua Bjerke
Joshua Bjerke, from Savannah, Georgia, focuses on articles involving the labor force, economy, and HR topics including new technology and workplace news. Joshua has a B.A. in Political Science with a Minor in International Studies and is currently pursuing his M.A. in International Security.