I am totally convinced that Dante went ahead and forgot to include the circle of Hell reserved for perpetual job interviews.
And with the job market across multiple industries growing more saturated by the second, interviewers are getting crafty (read: cruel) when it comes to screening applicants.
Because so much weeding out has to happen (or because this world is a spinning ball of pain), they often ask questions that function as professional traps. Here’s how you can deal with the worst ones in the bunch.
1. “What’s your greatest weakness?”
I want to find the hellhound who decided that this question was a great idea and make them rue the day they were born. Sadly, I can’t. Neither can you. All you can do is deal with the fact that this is now considered par for the course. Instead of sounding like an egomaniac and saying that you’re a perfectionist like every other miscreant on Earth, think of one example of when you screwed up at work, explain what happened, and then quickly elaborate on how you remedied the problem.
Oh, and don’t use a personal downfall as a scapegoat. According to Kathryn Dill of Forbes, “Odds are that your interviewer is not interested in the fact that you never make your bed.” And why would they be? “What they’re really looking for,” Dill continues, “are your weaknesses in the workplace and how you’ve overcome them.”
2. “Why should I hire you for this position?”
You know how you’re supposed to focus on what you can do for the company and not the other way around in cover letters? The same logic applies here. Sure, that dream job is really going to beef up your resume, but employers don’t care about your LinkedIn headline. They care about what they’re going to get from you.
The short answer? Do your homework. Focus on key action words in the job listing. How can you perform those actions better than anyone else, given your experience? Have real-world examples ready. Did you totally revamp your company’s editorial schedule? Use that to illustrate your multitasking skills. Did you have a hand in projects outside your wheelhouse? That’s great if your potential employer is looking for someone who’s willing to work across departments. Don’t be like, “You should hire me because I love [something required of you for that job].” No one cares.
3. “Can you explain these gaps in your work history?”
Listen. People get laid off. People fall on hard times and have to resign. You don’t have to fire back with a defensive answer, because it’s a valid (if not tricky) question. Let the interviewer know that you’ve been proactive between jobs. Unemployment is rough, so it shows initiative if you can say that you were helping a sick loved one, freelancing, or volunteering in the meantime. You know what they say about idle hands and all that. Keep yours busy and then use that to your advantage when this question rolls around.
4. “If you could change one thing about your last job, what would it be?”
Repeat after me: Don’t burn bridges. Trash talking former employers or coworkers is never a good look. Why would someone want to hire you if you feel totally comfortable telling competitors that everything was awful and your boss was the worst? Instead of griping about people, pick something neutral.
In that vein, you should also probably choose something that you really couldn’t have changed even if you wanted to, since the next logical question would be, “Well, why didn’t you do something about it?” If you work in a STEM-related field, for example, you could air your grievances about how a new technological development would’ve made your life so much easier if it had been around back then. Saying the adult equivalent of “I’m a pissy baby and my boss was a meanie” isn’t going to do you any favors.
5. “Can you tell me more about yourself?”
See that guy’s face in the photo above? That’s what your interviewer will look like when you start telling them about how much you love Yeats and toy poodles. This isn’t your Match.com profile. They don’t care about your Holden-esque coming-of-age story. According to Forbes, you should stick to four topics: early years, education, employment history, and recent career experience. This will give them a well-rounded sense of who you are as a professional, and if you don’t come across as someone who stomps down every person in your path, they’ll get a good idea of who you are as a human being, too.
6. “What would someone who doesn’t like you have to say about you?”
Your old roommate might equate you to a pile of trash on fire. Don’t say that. Point out something about yourself that could be seen as negative if viewed through the wrong eyes. Are you picky? Good. That means you won’t let a terrible, inaccurate blog post hit their company’s front page. Impatient? You live for deadlines. See what I did there?
7. “Has a decision or idea you were passionate about ever been shut down by a supervisor? How did you handle it?”
Basically, the interviewer wants to know that you won’t take a lighter to their hair if they ever do that to you. When you lay your story down, present it in a way that highlights the fact that you’re humble and can take direction.
Employers are sometimes out to get us, folks. That’s why we need to do our best to dance through their professional minefields like the damn ballerinas we are.
For more information, check this out. Do you have an interview horror story? Tell us about it in the comments below! Let’s find solidarity in each other’s misery or something.