How to answer tough interview questions

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In our latest installment of #CBJobChat (our monthly Twitter chat, which takes place on the first Monday of every month at 7 pm CST, for those who don’t know), we talked about one of the most dreaded parts of the job search: answering scary interview questions.

Scary interview questions are the ones that throw your brain for such a loop that you suddenly find yourself thinking about everything but the answer to the question (“I don’t have a good answer for why I want to leave my current job, but I did just remember that today is my grandmother’s birthday and that she is a Leo!”), or nothing at all.

Because we believe everyone, not just our Twitter chat participants, should know how to deliver impressive, relevant and blank-stare-free answers to tough interview questions, we’ve pulled together some of the best advice from Monday’s conversation.

Q1: How do you explain a layoff or being fired?

Be honest. Keep it short and professional. If the hiring manager wants to know more they will ask. — @KaraSingh

Seems like the stigma that was once there isn’t there for the most part. Just be honest about your situation. — @MatthewTForrest

Focus on the situation & not the individuals involved. It looks bad if you look like you are making excuses or blaming someone. — @SalarySchool

Q2: How should job seekers explain leaving their current job without badmouthing a boss and still sounding sincere?

I learned a lot but am ready for the next step … leadership role, new technology, responsibilities, etc. — @Amanda_Yates

There is no need to badmouth your old company. Be positive about them and focus forward. — @mtATL

New employers want to know you are choosing them,  not just another job — @careerchatter

Also important to figure out what didn’t work so you are clear on what you are looking for in a new job. — @TappOnline

Q3: If you are “overqualified” for the position, how do you explain your willingness to take the job?

Stress the fact you are looking to add to the bottom line, been there done that attitude and looking for a home — @TheStewartGrp

Sell the extra value the company is getting from you, while showing that you are on their side, like @thestewartgrp stated. — @SalarySchool

If overqualified, focus on the skills you love & explain why the job is a great fit for where you want 2 be now  – @TappOnline

Also understand the challenges of co. or dept. and show how being overqualified could save $$ and time w/ experience — @TappOnline

Q4: How do you explain a criminal record? Do you offer this information up front or wait for the employer to ask?

Great resource for tenuous backgrounds: No One is unemployable by Angel & Harney http://is.gd/Oq5rcU@DawnBugni

Wait to be asked. If you get to the interview it may not be a problem. Don’t get diarrhea of the mouth. — @St8Wkr

Generally- Do not volunteer negative information unless you can control it and know if will be asked — @careerchatter

Q5: Have you ever brought up benefits or salary first? Or do you always wait for the employer? Employers, is there a tactful way to ask about money early in the process?

I’ve seen candidates get to the offer stage and salary expectations are off 75+%. It’s okay to ask early in my honest opinion. — @mtATL

This is often an early question “What’s the salary range?” Not unheard of in the recruiting world. Comes up naturally. — @Redzonejobs

I have always felt that you wait for at least interview #2 to talk money and typically let the employer bring it up — @TheStewartGrp

For recaps of past months’ job chats, check out:

July CBJobChat

June CBJobChat

May CBJobChat

19 Comments
  1. Thanks for the tips, but I have tryed all of these & never made it to the 2nd interview, not even a phone call and/or letter. Plus, I receive a list from Career Builder of new job listings once a week & this a.m., it only had about 8, now tell me with kids going back to school & college, why can’t I find at least a part-time job?

    • Cathy, our situation is so similar to yours and just last week I couldn’t help crying “What am I doing wrong! My list of resumes out is huge. I’ve tailored each resume to each employer, followed all the tips I know of…but no bites.” This week, two job offers. It’s hard not to loose heart and the worry is awful but the truth is- it could be just around the corner. I am rooting for you with all my heart.

    • Hi Cathy, Please contact me and let me see how I can help you. I am pretty good with interviews and I feel your pain. I would like to help.

      • Hi, I’m seeking advice on how to answer the final question at the end of the interview, “WHY should we hire you?”  I’ve been unemployed for a full year now and interviewed several times but no job offer.  Was told at one that it was the best interview the panel had ever experienced but was not selected.  I thoroughly research the company I am interviewing with and have over 20 years in the field.  With my military background and federal experience, I can’t believe I am still unemployed!  I appreciate any info you may provide.  Thank you.  anabellhopkins@hotmail.com

  2. I agree with Cathy I have filled out hundreds of applications to so many diffrent companies. I have several diffrent resumes that I used based on what position I am applying for and all I ever get is “We went with a more qualified canidate”. In some areas I have over 10 years experience. I guess my question is, what should I do to stand out from the rest? The only advice I can give Cathy is to remain positive and continue to search best luck to you.

  3. Another tip to address the overqualified question would be to focus on skills that will make you more efficient in the position, allowing you to handle a bigger workload than your competition. Be honest about your previous work experience, but be sure to put more emphasis on your skills and responsibilities than your previous job titles or education.

    One can also take the approach of turning the tables on the interviewer. Ask the interviewer what their ideal candidate looks like, and show that you fit that description.

    We covered this subject not long ago. The full article can be found here: http://cot.ag/q1HabO

  4. @Kathy- I feel your pain Kathy believe me. It seemed like I was filling out 50 aps a week. Things started to change when I started reaching out directly to hiring managers as well as updated my cover letter. For reaching the hiring managers I used resources such as LinkedIn and other social media sites such as Facebook to find out who exactly the hiring mgr was and maybe a little bit about them personally. Obviously not to the point of stalking, but the tidbits I learned I incorporated into my cover letter. Reaching these guys and gals was KEY in setting myself apart from the other applicants. I also shortened my cover letter and took out the fluff words as much as I could. Put it in plain but well spoken English and dont go on about how strategic and dynamic you are! I would do the same on your resume, but maybe not as much as its a more formal document. Had few comment that it was what landed me the interview. After I started doing this I gained enough interviews that I was having trouble scheduling all of them. It put me in a place where I actually turned down two offers beforw I accepted the one I am in today.

    Please excuse any spelling mistakes as I am typing from my phone. :)

  5. Ever since the Fortune 500 companies have employed online application process, the hiring process for a job has become a nightmare. There is no longer any Human in Human Resources. The old department name of Personnel better suits today hiring and employee relations departments.
    I don’t understand how the Federal and State EEOC/Human Rights Office let this horrid of employment get out of hand. Back in the 1970′s and early 1980′s EEOC onsite reviews of company’s hiring activities brought the fear of god to all in the Personnel dept.
    Time to re-examine how Fortune 500′s handle ALL CUSTOMER related issues including the hiring process.

  6. Would your medical record say a heart bypass operation stop prospective employers from hiring you even though you got the doctor
    release to work wthout restriction?

    Joe

  7. Thank by your information and I’ll go follow it’s steps this touch is very clever.

    Regarding Chris don’t stop believe prayer to Jehovah God and he help you to be incessant in prayer him

    • I also have a questions I always get hung up on this one. What is your worst trait. I have no clue I think I always answer I dont no? anyone have any suggstions?

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  9. Thanks for the great post. I have a question about the stress interview. I’ve heard of situations (but never experienced) where the interviewer will be rude, ask inappropriate questions, and do all sorts of things to throw you off as part of their stress test. If that happens, how are you supposed to answer? Is it okay to be firm and confident with the interviewer and just say flatly, I’m sorry, but that’s inappropriate? It seems to me that that would be the best way to handle it, perhaps because that’s what I’d do in real life if that happened. But maybe I’m missing something?

  10. One way to help you land that job in your locale, is to attend BBB get-togethers, which are usually held once a month. It’s a great way to network, because many times, jobs are acquired through referrals rather than paper. Don’t be afraid to mingle and get into conversations to give or take knowledge — and let people know that you are eager to start working! Secondly, if you are seeking employment in a specific profession, check to see if those employers receive a regular bulletin as you can place an advertisement for employment for free or a nominal fee — be willing to do temp or part-time work as it will get your foot in the door. Lastly, check to see if the type of employment you are seeking has a club or group who meets regularly that you can join and get involved. This type of networking will give you a super advantage over loners seeking the same type of positions. Don’t get discouraged; just keep trying and get yourself known with your smiling face and good attitude! Hope this helps!

  11. Pingback: 4 types of interviewers and how to make them love you « Customer Service Jobs

  12. Pingback: 4 types of interviewers and how to make them love you | The Work Buzz

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