So, you’ve slaved over a well-organized CV and sent applications out far and wide. After weeks of holding your breath, you finally have an interview – now what? Most interviews are not quite as bad as we think, but every once in a while, a prospective employer will throw you a curveball… and you’d better be prepared.
“So… what are your weaknesses?”
This question can feel like a trap. Here you are supposed to show yourself in a good light and the interviewer is asking about your weaknesses. What they really want to know, however, is if you are aware of your weaknesses and what you’re actively doing to fix them.
Don’t say: “Oh, I’m just a big old perfectionist!”
Say: “Well, I had a tendency to take feedback a little too personally at my last position, but I’ve learnt to handle it a lot better. Actually, I joined an entrepreneur’s group recently to improve…”
Don’t try to evade the question by reframing a strength as a weakness – this in fact looks weak! Rather, be honest but immediately follow up with something that shows your employer you care about being better.
“Why did you leave your old job?”
With this question, the employer wants to find out how trustworthy and reliable you are, and get a sense for your level of ambition. Be honest, but be careful. Your employer wants to see that you make smart long term decisions, so show them you take leaving a job very seriously.
Don’t say: “I needed to do something new… and I hated working for them…”
Do say: “I learnt so much at that job. But honestly I wanted to find a position that was a little more challenging and a better fit for my skills”
While it’s OK to mention practical reasons (the company folded, you had a baby) always relate this back to the bigger picture: what role did your old position play in your career in general? Whatever you do, don’t badmouth past employers – even if they were awful. Politely say that the fit wasn’t right and move on. No matter how much they were in the wrong, complaining about them makes you look bad.
“What’s this big gap on your CV?”
So, you’ve been unemployed for a long time and the interviewer wants to know why. This can be one of the hardest questions to answer gracefully. Primarily, your interviewer wants to be sure that you actually have enough drive and initiative to succeed at the position, so frame your answer carefully.
Don’t say: “The economy’s really bad!” or “I took time off to find myself and practice my photography”
Do say: “I’ve been steadily interviewing at different places but I want to make sure a job is really the best fit for me. In the meantime I’ve been volunteering/learning a skill/networking”
The interviewer won’t mind so much that you have empty gaps in your CV as long as they actually aren’t empty: show you’ve actively used the time to develop yourself and seek out appropriate work.
In many ways, the question an interviewer asks is kind of incidental – while they may want to know specific details about you, a prospective employer is also assessing you for how well you cope with pressure and whether you can think on your feet. So take a deep breath, think positively and keep an eye to how you’re a perfect fit for the position.
UPDATE: We created an addon to this post entitled with more interview questions to prepare for.