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5 Tough Interview Questions--and how NOT to answer them

Updated on June 19, 2013

Tips On Being Your Best At An Interview

  • Dress professionally and no matter what the trend, wear undergarments, socks, and/or hosiery.
  • DO NOT over do the perfume or cologne. I suggest wearing none. You never know how small the interview space will be or what allergies the interviewer has. Light scents are best!
  • Never bring a friend with you to wait in the waiting area. If you borrowed a ride, ask them to wait in the car.
  • Visit the gym the morning of an interview...even if you NEVER go. It will give you a natural boost of confidence.
  • For Phone Interviews- SMILE and be dressed! You are more confident and alert when you are not wearing pajamas.
  • Arrive 10 minutes early. Be prepared with no cell phone, a pen, and ALWAYS take a copy of your resume. EVEN IF THEY HAVE IT.
  • Do your research. Look into a company before you interview. Know what they do, how they started, and what their plan looks like.
  • Practice shaking hands before you go! A firm handshake makes a great impression...especially for girls!
  • Have a list of questions ready for the time when you are asked if you have questions! Don't ask about salary! Ask what their growth plans are like, employee development paths, etc.
  • Show interest and thank them for their time. A simple firm handshake and "thank you so much for meeting with me. I look forward to hearing from you soon " will do. Do not beg or stalk after this!
  • Connect on Linkedin and send a polite thank you ONLY ONCE! Do not stalk them as that will take you out of the running for future openings!!!
  • Be prepared for a next step! Some interviewers will put you directly in the next interview so allow time and take extra resumes!

Interviewing Or is it Online Dating?

While I would not profess to be an expert, I would like to think that I have experience when it comes to the art of the interview. In my career as a Professional Management Recruiter, I interview roughly 10-15 people a day. Many of these interviews will take place on the phone and many in person. No matter how it takes place, it is true that I have usually decided in the first five minutes if I want to represent a candidate. Believe it or not, it isn't always because they are the BEST candidate or have the BEST is simply because they are masters at the interview.

There are also a handful of candidates who, despite their glowing resume, sharp image, and ivy league education, are destined to stay as a job "hunters". Again, it boils down to the interview. Here are 5 questions and how Not to answer them!

1. So tell me about yourself.....

Boy, this sounds like such an easy question doesn't it? Insert a resounding buzzer sound! This is usually the first question in an interview and is known as an "icebreaker question". Do they REALLY want to know about you? Yes and no. They want to know a few things....your energy level, your drive, your passion, and what you bring to the table.

Here is what they don't want to know.....

  • "I am a single mother" OR "well...I have 5 kids".....While many of us regard this as a strength attribute, to an employer this screams days off and missed meetings. We ALL know that this isn't true of all parents but the reputation is there so stay away from family talk until you get the offer letter.
  • "I am currently going through a divorce" sorry again. To an employer it says trouble. They foresee harassing phone calls, requests off for lawyers meetings, and personal time for court date.
  • " I was laid off from my last job" or "I left on disability, maternity leave, etc" never withhold this information if asked but certainly don't LEAD with it.

Think of interviewing as Online Dating. You made a profile (resume), and sent it into cyberspace (applications), and someone poked you (interview). What wouldn't you say on a first date?

Try using descriptions like: Ambitious, Motivated, Thorough, Passionate, Eager, get the picture.

2. How do you measure success?

This may come up or it may be asked indirectly so even if you haven't heard ready to answer it even if not asked.

Please do not answer

  • "By my paycheck." Really? Many people are paid until the day that they are fired. The paycheck assures that you are employed BUT not successful.
  • "When my boss tells me that I am doing a good job." Sounds harmless BUT not every company likes to have to lead their people. They people who are driven to find and create success. They don't like to micromanage and if you have to be told that you are doing well to know may need that extra attention.

Try saying....

"When my goals are exceeded"

"When my team members are earning promotions. I know then that I have succeeded in developing them to beat goals"

"When I can go home saying that my customers/clients/guests were happy and my team was happy to take care of them"

3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? This is your chance to show that you plan to be with the SAME company for at least 5 years! Don't set yourself up for failure!

Do not say....

  • "Owning my own company" Its ambitious and admirable to want to do BUT to an employer it screams that you will always have a foot out of the door and once you have learned their will kick it open and leave.
  • "I am not sure...I tend to let things happen naturally" It is true that you don't know this company and don't know what their promotion trends are but you are showing that you may lack drive.
  • "I want to be the President of this Company" Only say this if you are interviewing for the President position. Its great to show drive but you may be a little too pushy. Companies want to see that you are invested in your own growth and will stay with them for the long haul. If you are worried about getting to the top too quickly, they may worry that you are in too much of a hurry for them.

Think this answer through but make sure you express that you will be growing with their company. This answer will vary based on the position and promotion track.

4. What Salary are you looking for?

  • Never, never, never.....did I say NEVER say...."What are you paying?" You and only you know what you need to survive.
  • "Well, at my last job I made X at least that" Quite frankly, they don't care what you were making. If your last job was so great you would not be looking or not there anymore.
  • "Depends on the job" This answer drives a hiring manager CRAZY. This tells an employer that you may not be willing to put the work in to earn your way. Not everyone can start at the top. Case in point, I recently had a management candidate tell me that if she had to do dishes in her restaurant due to an hourly team member calling off, she would require a bonus pay. A restaurant managers job is to do whatever it takes to run a great operation. Yes, that means that you sometimes cook, clean toilets, and even wash dishes. She had interviewed EVERYWHERE and had no prospects and my guess was that it was because of that answer. She sacrificed a $50,000 a year job for pennies per dish.

If you know that they are paying less than what you made previously, it is okay to say what you made before BUT express that you are open for discussion. Talk up the opportunities available to grow within their company and the added value of them.

Never throw out a number then clam up....that comes after the offer. Right now, you are dating so keep the door open. This is where many "overqualified candidates" mess up. They throw out a huge number and won't budge. AT LEAST GET THE OFFER ON THE TABLE. Then you can politely decline or ask for more.

Example, "You know I am pretty open for discussion. I was making 65K at my last job but the advancement opportunities weren't there as the company wasn't growing. Right now, I am looking for m long term career and a company where i can see myself in 10 years so I can take a little less for the right opportunities."

5. Tell me about your last employer


  • Company Hiring managers usually know each other making it easy to get an inside reference which is great if you are a great employee. Bad mouthing the company can burn a bridge.
  • It shows that you may not have the best integrity. Doing any of these can keep you from getting a job. After all, you will leave your new company someday and they don't want to be the company on the other end.
  • Hiring managers are smart and connected. They can smell a fib when they hear it and usually are up to date on what is happening in the field. They may already know what things were happening in our past company (Power Hungry President, huge layoff, etc). Best to be polite and explain.

These are just 5 of the VERY common interview questions. I hope that my answers have helped to see where you could potentially step into a trap during your short "Speed Date" with a potential employer. When in doubt, think of interviewing JUST LIKE DATING. The end goal is to find a long term commitment that is mutually beneficial for you and the company. Not every match is right and not ever "date" will be your happily ever after! You increase our odds by getting yourself out there, being prepared, and making a great impression!

Good luck on your next interview!

How do I know this.....

As a Professional Management Recruiter I work on a COMMISSION ONLY basis matching qualified candidates with my clients. There is NEVER a FEE to my candidates as I am paid for by the companies that I represent. It is my job to coach, develop, and assist my candidates from first interview to offer which is why I despise the term "headhunter". Most "headhunters" source a resume and after a 2 minute call throw it out to every HR person that they know regardless of if its right for the Candidate. I find my candidates the RIGHT job and coach them through any troubles that they are having. Sometimes....Its honestly just how they are presenting themselves and other times, they need a resume overhaul, confidence boost, and assistance in knowing what their right match is.

if you are struggling finding a position, reach out to a professional recruiter in your chosen field. They know WHO is hiring, what they like, and can guide you to a more successful job hunt.


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