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Handling Difficult Interview Questions

What questions do you dread being asked in an interview? Some of the more commonly asked dreaded questions include: "What are your strengths and weaknesses?", "Where do you see yourself in five years?", "Why should I hire you?", and "Why do you want to work here?". When you think about it, they are all legitimate questions. You may not have done sufficient soul searching or strategizing to handle them well, but each presents you with an opportunity to sell yourself.
 
 It is helpful to look first at why they ask the questions and then to strategize a response.
 
 "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" The employer may be assessing how well you know yourself and how honest and open you are. You have an opportunity to showcase your strengths and also to reveal a not too serious weakness. It is best if you demonstrate how you are working to improve your stated weakness. For example, you might say, "My computer experience is somewhat limited. However, I recently took a week long training program on using the MAC and I'm looking forward to building on the skills I learned."
 
 "Where do you see yourself in five years?" They want to know if you are ambitious. If you find it hard to look five years out, try this: "Five years seems like a long time. I can see myself as a programmer analyst in two years. Five years from now, I might be a software developer or a systems analyst. I won't know which direction I want to take until I've been in the field for awhile."
 
 "Why should I hire you?" Here's where they find out how well you understand their needs and how confident you are of your qualifications for the position. How about a response like this one? "I think you should hire me because I have the skills you need in this marketing support position. My technical skills exactly match the requirements as I've been using your software in my Co-op job. And my interpersonal skills are strong as a result of my student government experience."
 
 "Why do you want to work here?" This is where the employer finds out how much you know about their organization. You want to convey your interest in contributing to their mission or in being part of an important project they've been awarded. For example: "I've read about your contract to develop tax accounting software for the federal government and I want to be part of the action..."
 
 Then there are those questions that you hope no one asks but they inevitably do -- important questions that demand a well-prepared response from you. For example, if your resume doesn't show continuous employment, you should expect to be asked for an explanation. What positive results came out of your decision not to work? An upbeat way to explain might be, "That's correct, I did not work in 1988. I was nearing the end of my degree program at Northeastern. I realized that if I attended school full time I could complete my bachelor's degree in one year, rather than working and taking three years to finish. I feel I made the right decision: when I went back to work, I was offered a salary considerably higher than my previous earnings."
 
 Perhaps you were laid off last year, so you dread being asked why you left your last job. You want to frame your explanation in a way that dispels any shame or guilt you may be harboring. "I was one of 180 people laid off last September when XYZ Corporation went through a major downsizing."
 
 What if you were fired for some reason? This can be very worrisome to the job seeker. "To be honest with you, I just didn't fit into the organization. Finally, my supervisor and I decided it was best for me to leave. While this was a devastating experience, I feel I'm ready to begin again."
 
 These examples show honest, straight forward responses that will be acceptable to an employer. The important thing is for you to come to terms with the issue, see the positive side, and demonstrate that you are eager to move on in your career.


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