Only an interview separates you and your dream job. But to get there, you have to navigate through a minefield of tricky questions. The good news is, the same stumpers show up time and again—so once you figure out how to answer them, you’re golden. We asked hiring managers and career coaches for tips on sticking the landing on four commonly asked questions.
1. WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
Canned answers such as “working too hard” and “being a perfectionist” come off as trite and planned—without giving the interviewer any real insight—so instead, focus on a skill you’re working on now that can be used to the new company's advantage should you get the new job, says Lori Scherwin, founder of the New York-based career coaching firm Strategize That. And offer an anecdote that illustrates your claims.
For example, suggest that you have trouble delegating (a responsibility that comes with a more senior position). “’I was recently promoted to manager, and now have two analysts supporting me,’” Scherwin suggests saying. “At first, I was hesitant to let them fly on their own because I was so used to doing everything myself and I was worried, but I’ve been learning how enabling my team leads to better performance for everyone.’”
2. WHY DID YOU LEAVE YOUR LAST JOB? (OR, WHY ARE YOU LOOKING TO LEAVE YOUR CURRENT ONE?)
A desire for growth and new challenges is always attractive to prospective employers, says Melissa Caravella, hiring manager at Bluespire Marketing in New Jersey. But if you were laid off or fired, you should be honest about it. “Employers know that good employees can be victims of reorganization, and it’s okay to say that the position wasn’t a good fit, and why the current one is a good match for your skills,” Caravella says. “Just keep it short, to the point, and don’t bad-mouth your previous employer.”
3. DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS FOR ME?
Start with "yes." ("No" is always the wrong answer here.) Then you should ask a question that shows you researched the company and industry—but take care it doesn't come off as you trying to showcase your knowledge, says leadership coach Jennifer Davis, founder of Minneapolis-based Jennifer Davis Coaching. “For instance, if you read that the company made an acquisition in a new industry, don’t start ranting on about the details of the deal,” Davis says. “Rather, say something like, ‘I’ve read a few articles about your recent acquisition, and am wondering if you think this will impact your base business and company morale.” She also recommends asking about the company culture, as well as how the interviewer ended up there or chose that industry.
4. WHAT ARE YOUR SALARY REQUIREMENTS?
Employers don’t want to waste time pursing a candidate whose salary expectations fall outside of what they can offer, says Michael Steinitz, executive director of the accounting staffing agency Accountemps. While you might want to wait until you have an offer in-hand to discuss salary, a Robert Half survey found that most senior managers believe it’s okay to ask about compensation and benefits in the first or second interview, so you should prepare yourself. A good way of answering the question without anchoring too low would be to give a salary range or to couch your desire in terms of your current compensation. In order to keep things open for discussion, you could could say that your salary is currently in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, and that you'd need to make at least that in order to leave your current position (for example).