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Student Success Center - Career Services

Tough interview questions - how to handle them

Let's face it, some employers feel the interview is a search for negatives: trying to find out what (if anything) is wrong with you. Here are some of the questions which may make your life tough in an interview - and suggestions for handling them. Look them over, think about them and prepare your answers before you walk in for your interview.

How did you hear about our organization?
The key here is to demonstrate a real interest in the organization - you are not just applying because you happened to see an ad last week or a friend mentioned it in conversation. Cite any contact you have had with its employees, customers, products, etc. which have given you a positive impression.

Where do you think you will fit in best?
This is designed, in part, to measure how much you know about the organization. Thanks to prior research, you may know of places that need strengthening, areas in which it is expanding, etc. and can base your response on that information. But, unless you are interviewing for a specific job in a specific department, keep your response general by indicating several areas in which you'd be excited to work.

Tell me about yourself?
This is always one of the toughest. The only way to handle it is to prepare ahead of time. Work up around a two-minute summary of your past experiences (successes) and challenges (faced and met) and the kind of things which interest you the most. It should be positive and enthusiastic - sound like you're alive.

What are your weaknesses?
Tough. If you try to outthink the interviewer and use things like "I am impatient" (meaning I like to get things done) or "I tend to work long hours and shortcut leisure," these are overused. Think of a couple of things which you can improve on - not basic to the job - and be quiet. Some employers love to sit in silence after you answer, hoping you'll feel nervous and spout out more negatives about yourself.

What are your strong points?
Don't list more than three, as some employers may ask you to list as many weaknesses as you cite strong points. Cite one or two really strong areas and then one or two less strong.

Why did you leave your last job?
If you say "it was a personality clash," you might as well walk out of the interview. Never criticize a past employer or the atmosphere. The best answer may be your desire for a job with a better future, the chance for new or broader work experiences, etc.

What kinds of people rub you the wrong way?
Danger. You shouldn't admit much here. It would be safe, however, to say something like, "People who loudly claim they are going to do something and then fail to produce" or "people who have a preconceived notion that a task can only be done a certain way."

Minichart prepared by the Career Opportunities News, PO Box 190, Garrett Park, MD 20896.