Job-Hunting Tools:Search for Jobs
Corporate Job Sites
Order a New Resume
Career Tools:Career Job-Hunting Blog
Search this Site
Career Categories:Career Networking
Resumes and CVs
10 Sticky Job Interview Situations and How to Handle Them
by Katharine Hansen Ph.D. and Randall S. Hansen Ph.D.
Job interviewing can be an unnerving experience but if you know how to handle some of the stickiest situations encountered in interviewing you can be that much more confident. Here are 10 of the stickiest.
- The Bad Interviewer. Not every professional who conducts job interviews with candidates knows how to conduct an interview effectively. In fact some are downright lousy at it. A bad interviewer might be unfocused disinterested unprepared. He or she might dominate the interview by doing all the talking or might ask inappropriate and illegal questions.
- The "Tell Me about Yourself" Question. Of course this question is not a question at all but a request for a command performance. It's the most commonly asked interview question yet it frequently still rattles interviewees. The trick is to make your response a succinct summary of information that is specifically targeted to the job you're interviewing for. (Sell yourself!) For example:
"My background to date has been centered around preparing myself to become the very best financial consultant I can become. Let me tell you specifically how I've prepared myself. I am an undergraduate student in finance and accounting at ___________ University. My past experience has been in retail and higher education. Both aspects have prepared me well for this career."
- The "Weakness" Question. The conventional wisdom about responding to "What are your weaknesses?" used to be that the candidate should spin a weakness into a strength. For example: "I'm a perfectionist and don't believe anyone can do the job as well as I can so I sometimes have a hard time delegating." That type of response has however worn out its welcome with interviewers. Other approaches include offering a weakness that is inconsequential to the job (such as being a poor speller and relying on spellcheck) or denying that you have any weaknesses that would stand in the way of your performing the job effectively. The former approach may work but be seen as shallow while the latter sometimes lacks credibility. After all everyone has a weakness.
- The "Why should we hire you?" Question. The unspoken part of this question is: "Why should we hire you [above all the other candidates]?" This is your chance to shine to really make a sales pitch for yourself. Use your Unique Selling Proposition to describe what sets you apart from other candidates. The employer will make a significant investment in hiring and training you so tell the interviewer that this investment will be justified. For example you could say: "I sincerely believe that I'm the best person for the job. Like other candidates I have the ability to do this job. But beyond that ability I offer an additional quality that makes me the very best person for the job -- my drive for excellence. Not just giving lip service to excellence but putting every part of myself into achieving it. Throughout my career I have consistently strived to become the very best I can become. The success I've attained in my management positions is the result of possessing the qualities you're looking for in an employee."
- "Off-the-wall" Questions also known as "Wild Card" or "No-Right-Answer" Questions. Occasionally you'll be asked an interview question that's just downright weird and certainly doesn't seem to have anything to do with the job -- for example a question like this: "If you were an ice-cream cone what flavor would you be?" Interviewers often ask these oddball questions to see how quickly you can think on your feet and whether you can avoid becoming flustered. Others unfortunately ask them because they enjoy seeing interviewees squirm. Still others are amused by the range of creative -- and not-so-creative -- responses they receive.
- Illegal Questions: It's illegal to ask about age marital status children childcare arrangements and the like but employers still do -- or come up with subtle ways to ask such as by inquiring about when you graduated from high school/college. It's best to address the concern behind the question rather than the question itself by saying something like: "There is nothing about my personal status that would get in the way of my doing a great job for your company." While it may also be tempting to point out the illegality of the question doing so likely won't endear you to the interviewer.
- Salary Questions: As a screening device interviewers often ask early in the interview what salary you are looking for. If you ask for more than the employer is willing to pay (or occasionally on the flip side undervalue yourself) the interviewer can eliminate you before spending a lot of time with you. That's why the best tactic for salary questions is to delay responding to them as long as possible -- ideally until after the employer makes an offer. Try to deflect salary questions with a response like this: "I applied for this position because I am very interested in the job and your company and I know I can make an immediate impact once on the job but I'd like to table salary discussions until we are both sure I'm right for the job." Read more in our Salary Negotiation and Job Offer Tutorial.
- Questions about Being Terminated from a Previous Job. It's always uncomfortable to be asked your reasons for leaving a job from which you were terminated. Don't lie about it but don't dwell on it either. You could explain that you and the company were not a good fit hence your performance suffered. Or that you and your supervisor had differing viewpoints. Emphasize what you learned from the experience that will prevent you from repeating it and ensure that you will perform well in the future. Read more about handling termination.
- Questions about Reasons for Leaving a Current Job. This question is similar to the previous question even if you haven't been fired. Responses about fit with the company and differing views from your supervisor can also work here but remember never to trash a current employer. Always speak positively about past and present employers even if your experience has not been positive with them. Another good response in this situation is to say that you determined you had grown as much as you could in that job and you are ready for new challenges.
- Questions about the Future. Interviewees are often asked "Where do you see yourself in five (or 10) years?" Strike a delicate balance when responding to this kind of question with just the right mix of honesty ambition and your desire to be working at this company long-term.
Final Thoughts on Succeeding in Job InterviewsJob-seekers need to think of each interview question as an opportunity to showcase an accomplishment or strength. Every response should build momentum toward convincing the interviewer that you deserve to advance to the next level whether that level is another round of interviews or a job offer.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen Ph.D. creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers is an educator author and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers edits QuintZine an electronic newsletter for jobseekers and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University Cincinnati OH is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press) as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen Ph.D. Dynamic Cover Letters Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed) and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author with several books chapters in books and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally Dr. Hansen is also an educator having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Have you taken advantage of all of our job interviewing resources? Find articles tutorials and more -- all written to help job-seekers learn how to succeed in all types of job interviews.