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4 Job Interview Traps & How to Avoid Them

A generation ago, interviewers would sometimes use multilayered wording and questions with double meanings in order to mine a candidate's response for insights into his or her personality. This has never been an effective hiring strategy, and the resulting "insights" bring questionable value (if any).

But some hiring managers just can't seem to shake off outdated approaches to the interview process, and they still see this conversation as adversarial rather than cooperative and constructive. Here are a few of the questions you might encounter in this type of interview.

1. What would you describe as your biggest weakness?

Don't let a question like this fluster or rattle you. And don't bother answering with cliché's like "I care too much" or "sometimes I try too hard." Describing yourself as a "perfectionist" or an "overachiever" isn't a clever way to turn a negative into a positive. (Besides, perfectionism can actually be a serious detriment that holds you—and the company that hires you—back.)

Instead, simply launch into a description of your strengths. You can even announce that you're doing this, as in: "Well I'd rather talk about my strengths, for example, my five years of relevant agency experience…"

2. Give me five reasons why I SHOULDN'T hire you.

If you're asked for a list of reasons why you shouldn't be hired, answer the way politicians and experienced media professionals often do: simply ignore the wording of the question. Answer the spirit, not the letter. Don't hesitate or sit there blinking at your interviewer in stunned silence. Just start talking about whatever you'd like to talk about. Consider listing five reasons why you SHOULD be hired, or five ways in which your previous experience aligns with the needs of the job.

3. When we contact your previous employers, we'll be asking them to describe the responsibilities you handled poorly. What will they probably tell us?

You can't answer this. Your previous employers will answer questions in any way they see fit. You can't speak for them, and under no circumstances should you try to avert a potential disaster by blurting out a confession of all your failures. ("They're going to tell you about an important deadline I missed, but in my defense…")

Again, keep smiling, and give your interviewers the answer they need, not the one the question is asking for. Describe the terms that your previous bosses and coworkers would use if they were asked to talk about you—and as you do so, find a way to stay both honest and positive.

4. What's the most difficult challenge you've ever faced, and how did you respond?

Employers want to hear about your response, but they'd also like to know what you consider a "challenge". You can choose a circumstance that's universally considered life-and-death ("I was disarming roadside bombs in Afghanistan…") or something directly relevant to the job ("I was working for a client very similar to the ones you deal with…"). But in either case, choose your story carefully, and recognize that the situation will carry as much weight as your reaction to it.

Land Better Interviews with a Better Resume

If your interviewer baits or traps you with leading questions, this may be a red flag, and you may not want to pursue this job any further. But with a great resume, you'll always have a long list of alternative options. Visit MyPerfectResume for editing and formatting guidance.

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