How to Answer Job Interview Questions

There’s only one way to answer interview questions

And that’s the answer that differentiates you from the other candidates while not raising any red flags for the interviewer. Plus, the answer you give the gatekeeper – typically HR – can differ from how you answer the hiring manager. My tip for getting past HR is to recognize that most HR interviewers simply focus on what’s in the job description by checking off  your credentials against what the hiring manager told them was important. Many of these gatekeepers  ask what they think are insightful questions, but actually make them look like pretentious wannabe therapists.

Your strategy for the HR interview is to give them what they’re looking for. Someone who doesn’t raise any red flags. Save the real you for the hiring manager, who we hope has greater ability to suss out what he or she really needs in an employee and with whom you’ll need a growing rapport.

Here’s how to answer the most common interview question:

Why are you looking to leave your current job?

Some people answer this question in excruciating detail.

Not a good strategy.

So am I advocating lying about the reason? Of course not. I’m pointing out that this question has very few good answers.

Because – let’s face it, folks – the real reason you are looking to leave or have already left your job falls into one of these categories:

  • You got fired
  • It’s been made clear to you that you’re not well thought of by your manager
  • The company’s about to implode, so you want to get out before you’re among dozens of colleagues who are also job hunting
  • Its corollary – the company’s about to merge, and there’s a good likelihood that your position will become redundant
  • You don’t see many opportunities for advancement
  • Working there is soul-sucking and you will absolutely die if you have to spend another month there

Not one of those answers are going to reflect well on you to potential employers.

The best answer can’t get you in any trouble. Just say, “it feels like the right time to explore other opportunities.” That doesn’t invite any follow up questions, and it also doesn’t actually mean anything.

How to answer this tricky interview questionhow to answer interview questions

“What’s your biggest weakness?” I’ve personally blown this one more times than I care to recall. So have many of my clients; so this is one I coach them through in detail. Here’s what not to do: 1) smugly note that you have no weaknesses, 2) frame a virtue as though it was a weakness (“I work 24/7 and don’t take enough time for my loved ones” [ouch]), 3) go on and on about some major flaw in your work habits.

Smile. Pick one fairly minor work related weakness (no one cares that you can’t pass up the donuts in the break room). Say, “I’d say that my lack of ability with Excel is a weakness” (NOTE: avoid this if you are in Finance, please). Follow that statement with, “that’s why I’m enrolled in an Excel class, so I’m being proactive about addressing that weakness.”

You just ducked another bullet.

How to answer salary questions

This topic is covered in a separate post.

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