Six Common Interview Trap Questions and How to Handle Them
Never Badmouth a Former Employer or Your Coworkers
Perfecting your interview skills can be critical when searching for jobs or internships. A good interviewee can break the barrier between being a potentially hirable candidate based on an excellent resume and being a must-have addition to any staff. I've recently had these conversations with some recent college graduates and shared with them several techniques that some interviewers use to get to know the "real" job candidate; rather than the rehearsed candidate. These techniques involve several common questions that are meant to bait the interviewee into saying something that could potentially hurt their chances of getting the job or internship. Six of the most common "trick" questions are:
1. What would you describe as your biggest weakness?
Don't give the cliché turn-a-negative-into-a-positive answers such as "I work too hard" or "I'm a perfectionist." While these answers may seem like the smartest way around the question, the interviewer has heard it before. The best way to answer this question is by picking a skill you have already improved in your professional life. For example, "I realized that I needed to be better at communicating my workload to my project manager and letting him know when I start feeling overwhelmed. So, while it's still a work-in-progress, I have learned to communicate more frequently and clearly with my team.
2. Describe a weakness of your former boss.
Never badmouth a former employer. It doesn't look good on you and your future boss. Instead, talk about the positives or list a minor fault and explain how it did not negatively affect your productivity.
3. Describe an example of a project that failed or fell short of expectations.
There are two critical takeaways about this question; don't blame coworkers, and state what you learned. An interviewer wants to see that you can think critically and work well with others. Talk about how you recognized a problem, created a plan to fix it, and what you learned.
4. In which areas do you feel you need to improve your knowledge?
A thirst for personal improvement is endearing in the eyes of the employer. It shows that you want to strive to be as effective and productive as possible. Instead of selecting one thing you are not good at, discuss recent workshops or new skills you've gained.
5. What's the most difficult challenge you've ever faced, and how did you respond?
Employers want to hear about your response, but they are also learning about what you consider a "challenge." You can choose a circumstance that's regarded as life-and-death ("I was working as a lifeguard at the beach when I noticed a young boy struggling to keep his head above the waves…") or something directly relevant to the job ("I was working for a project manager with…"). Choose your story carefully, and recognize that the situation will carry as much weight as your reaction to it.
6. What do you like least about your current (or past) job?
I always suggest using the "sandwich" model in this situation. Offer some positivity about your job, state why you want to leave, and then follow up with a positive statement about what you've learned at your job or something you will miss. Avoid negativity. Remember, the interviewer is looking for red flags here. Instead, discuss opportunities for your growth or taking on more responsibility. For example, "I've accomplished a lot in my current role, but now it's time for a new challenge. I learned so much and built great professional relationships, but I get energized by solving unique and exciting problems. I'd love to be a part of the team here, where I can work on…
All six questions turn a possibly negative statement into a positively themed example of professionalism. Knowing how to answer these questions correctly can make you seem like a problem solver, critical thinker, team player, and possibly the best candidate for the position.