No matter their professional experience, educational accolades, or computer skills, no person’s resume is a spotless record. Whether it’s an unexplained gap in your work history, a firing from a recent job, or a period of “job hopping,” we all have a professional Achilles heel: a weakness that future employers may try to exploit during a job interview.
Thankfully, according to Pierre Drescher of The Creative Loft, these professional thorns do not have to be deal-breakers. Instead, if handled correctly, they can actually work to the job interviewee’s advantage. Drescher’s trick? “Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes beforehand and think of all the hard questions that might come up and prepare the best answer. If you actually have to think about it during the interview, you’re in trouble.”
Here’s how to handle the three most common hard-to-answer interview questions:
1. Could you tell me why you were fired from your most recent job? Career expert Joyce Lain Kennedy explains that the best way to handle this question is by answering the interviewer directly and briefly in order to move on to other topics. If you were let go due to a merger or downsizing, there is no shame in letting an employer know; these reasons have little, if anything, to do with job performance. If, instead, you were fired for reasons related to your work, briefly explain that the job wasn’t the right fit for your skills — but here’s why the job you’re interviewing for is. Blaming or bad-mouthing a former employer is always unacceptable. If you left your employer on agreeable terms, it’s also advisable to check in to see what they will say if contacted for a reference.
2. Why is there a gap in your employment history? Tackle this question just as you would answer the infamous, “What’s your greatest weakness?” You want to remain honest, but you also want to emphasize a positive in the situation. For instance, if you took a year off to travel, be sure to mention how your communication and language skills improved during the experience. If you decided to work on a novel, demonstrate that you learned self-discipline and honed your writing and editing skills. Every experience — even if it was sitting at home on your parent’s couch — can have an employable benefit. Your job is to find out what that is before the interviewer interrogates you about it.
3. Why do you think you were unable to keep a stable job over the past few years? For those who have “job-hopped,” do not make this a focus of your resume or your interview. On your resume, a little stylistic tweaking can go a long way. According to the Undercover Recruiter, you should turn attention away from employment dates by putting the dates at the end of the description of the job, rather than bolding them. Use years instead of months. Devote the top third of your resume to education and skills, rather than your work experience. This takes the focus away from your job-hopping and shifts it to the breadth of skills you now possess as a result of it.
While answering an interviewer’s tricky questions is an important skill, sometimes the best way to approach the hard-to-discuss topics is by bringing them up before you’re asked about them. By stating, “You may have noticed I was recently let go,” and addressing the issue head-on, you will appear in control of the situation and confident in the eyes of your interviewer. By being open, honest, and confident, you can prove that hard-to-answer employment topics make you even more qualified for future jobs.