How to Answer Easy Job Interview Questions

I do not believe that there is such a thing as “difficult” or “hard” interview questions. If you do your homework, you should know what to expect. If you prepare, you’ll know how to respond. Given that, what are traditionally seen as “difficult” questions, are really quite easy. For example:

Why did you leave your last job?

Simply tell the truth. It is amazing to some people when I relate to them the number of HR professionals I have had as career counseling clients who, when I ask them this question, give the usual responses: It wasn’t a good fit. The company went under. There was no room for growth. In other words, the people who interview candidates have been candidates themselves and have had, or know people who have had, the same experiences as the people they are interviewing. So just tell the truth. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, they won’t. They’ve lived it too!

Of course, if you were fired, that’s a different matter. In that case, look the interviewer straight in the eyes, briefly tell them what happened and then turn a negative into a positive. Tell them what you learned from the experience and why it will make you a better employee.

Some clients come to me especially concerned because they believe they were fired when, technically, they may not have been. As a general rule of thumb, if you are fired your employer will challenge your request to receive Unemployment Insurance. If no such challenge is made, and your employer never said, “You’re fired,” but, rather said something like, “Your services are no longer required,” then you can honestly tell the interviewer that you were let go and no reason was given. If they ask specifically if you were fired, you can then say, “No. If I had been I would not have received Unemployment Insurance. They would have challenged my claim. They never told me I was being fired, only that my services were no longer required.” (This is also why you should refrain from asking why they are letting you go! After all, if they tell you, you’ll have to tell the interviewer.)

Why do you want to work here?

Now is your time to shine. No matter what position you are applying for, you want the interviewers to know that you prepare well for meetings. Employers expect you to sing the praises of their companies. Don’t do it! It will sound phony. Get into the weeds, so to speak. Show off your research skills. Mention, for example, the number of their staff who have received awards for their volunteerism. Then tell them that you want to work for a socially conscientious company, one that is involved with the community. Or, check out the LinkedIn profiles of their staff and, if it’s true, say, “When I was reviewing your staff’s LinkedIn profiles, I noticed that many, perhaps the majority, have been here for a long time and you promote from within. That’s the type of company I want to work for.” No phony praise; just meaningful facts. And the last example has the added advantage of sending the message that you are looking for a long-term engagement, something that is especially important for “older” candidates.

Tell us about yourself.

Don’t summarize your resume. They have read your resume. They know what is there. Tell them what isn’t. Talk about your morals, values and principles. This is your time to differentiate yourself from your competition. The key is to tell them a story about you that will resonate with them and will make them want to hire you.

(Storytelling is both art and science. I will be writing a separate post on it in preparation for a presentation I will be making as part of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Series. If you are interested, here are the details.)

Tell us about your biggest failure.

It is surprising how many people are shy about talking about their failures. They are nothing about which to be ashamed. In fact, you should be proud of them, as long as you learned from the experience and knew when to pull the plug. Most employers, at least the good ones, want risk takers; they just don’t want irresponsible risk takers.

What are your weaknesses?

If you do not have any weaknesses, you won’t get the job. Everyone has weaknesses. Saying you don’t means that you do not recognize your limitations or, worse, you’re a liar. So be honest. Tell them a weakness and how you cope with it. It’s as simple as that. Just make certain it’s a real weakness. “They tell me I work too hard,” is not a weakness, it’s an insult to the intelligence of the interviewer.

Do you have any questions?

If you do not have any questions, it’s a sign that you are not really interested in the job. You have to have questions to ask. They should primarily be based on your research. Without saying so, you want to continually show the interviewers how well you prepare for interviews/meetings. But you also want to show maturity. For example, a popular question is, What happened to the last person who held this position? In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it sounds gossipy. And, frankly, it’s none of your business. So ask what is your business and lets you come across as a consummate professional: What did the last person who held the position do that you want to see continued and what would you like to see done differently?

What are your salary expectations?

I end with THE question, the one I get asked most often, “What do I say when they ask me about salary?” People work themselves up over this to such an extent that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The answer is simple: If you are employed, “I am currently earning X, not including benefits.” If you are recently unemployed, “I was earning X, not including benefits.” If you have been unemployed for a while (your definition), prepare a budget and say, “I need X, not including benefits.” All you are doing is answering a question, you are not negotiating. The negotiations will come later. And “not including benefits” sends the message that you will want to negotiate.

Just remember, the candidates who are the best interviewers and don’t have to fear “tough” questions, are the ones who research the company, research the interviewers, and research the company’s employees. They know everything they can about them and, of course, are prepared to talk candidly about themselves.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse:

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