It’s happened to us all: You’re in a middle of a job interview and things are going great. The tone is conversational and upbeat. You’ve been able to answer every question with ease.
And then, suddenly, you loose your footing. The interviewer hits you with an especially tough question, and you don’t have an immediate answer. You hear yourself stammering and fumbling over your words. You feebly answer the question, but realize immediately that your answer has fallen flat.
How do you recover after that? The remainder of the interview feels stiff and forced. You’ve lost your mojo. What happened? Better yet, how can you make sure this never happens to you again?
It is impossible to predict exactly what question will trip you up in your next interview, but there are a few tricky queries that interviews use regularly. Here are five of them, along with some great advice on providing the right answers.
1. What’s Your Greatest Weakness?
Some people will tell you to take a positive trait and restate it as a negative trait. For example, you might claim to be too willing to help others when they are need of assistance, or you might state that you are a stickler for remaining on task the entire workday. Don’t do this. It’s completely transparent; the interviewer will see right through you.
Instead, state an actual weakness, and then elaborate on what you have actively done to make improvements. If time management is an issue for you, say so. Then, tell the interviewer that you have begun using an organizational app to keep your list of tasks organized and that you have learned to ask for help if you are not sure which tasks should be a priority.
2. What Are You Looking for in a Manager?
It’s okay to use a bit of instinct when you answer this question. If you get a relaxed vibe from your interviewer, it is fine to say that you like a manager that encourages a relaxed but productive environment. Just be certain not cross the line into sucking up or obviously courting the preferences of your interviewer.
A second option is to simply answer the question honestly. Do you really want to work in a place where the management style doesn’t work for you?
3. Why Were You Out of Work for X Period of Time?
This is an easy question to answer if you were raising a family, traveling, finishing a degree, or accomplishing some other admirable task. It is not quite so easy to answer if you had simply been unable to find a job, or were dealing with a legal, medical, or mental health crisis.
If you have an employment gap that is difficult to explain or that could cause you to be seen in a negative light, plan your answer to this question ahead of time. Remember that it is okay to leave confidential or embarrassing information out of your response, unless it is something you are ethically or legally obligated to disclose. If that is the case, answer briefly, honestly, and ask if the interviewer needs more information. Otherwise, it is perfectly fine to say you were taking some personal time.
4. Tell Me About Yourself
This one is difficult because it is such an open-ended question. Many people feel as if they either spend too much time answering this question or not enough. Don’t worry about that. Just focus your answer on your development as a professional and keep your tone upbeat. Writing about your personal experience ahead of time using “power words” to punch it up is always an effective way to formulate a great answer to this question.
5. What Would Your Former Employer Say About You?
If this makes it seem as if your interviewer is going to check your references, that’s because they are. This question gives you the chance to provide an honest response, along with the opportunity to add your own take on the situation. If the reference is going to be glowing, that’s great. If you left your last job under less than ideal circumstances, things can get awkward. Whatever you do, don’t badmouth your boss. Simply say that you and your former employer had conflicting ideas or simply did not work well together.
Keep in mind that you can have a good interview and leave a good impression with your interviewer even if you do stumble over one or two questions. The best things you can do to set yourself up for interview success are prepare thoroughly speak positively and focus on the traits that will make you a valuable new employee. If you do these things, the positives in your interview will outshine any of the negatives.