Interviews aren’t fun for most of us. Being evaluated by strangers, worrying about getting a job you need, fearing rejection, finding parking, getting there on time—any one of these things can jar even the calmest job seeker. The part that usually keeps us up at night, though, is wondering what questions we’re going to be asked.
For many of us, “What is your greatest weakness?” is a question we dread because it feels like a trap—and it can be one. However, it’s not the only question that gives job seekers nightmares. Anything else that preys on your insecurities, whether it’s explaining a gap in employment, an illegal question about your family planning, or an explanation of why you had to leave your previous position abruptly, can also be anxiety-provoking.
Here are some strategies to help you get the sleep you need the night before your interview and get through the questions you may or may not be asked.
Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
Preparing good answers for the questions you dread most may help you feel calmer and more composed going into the interview. Invest some time in thinking of tactful ways to handle difficult questions, but try not to obsess.
Keep in mind that you might not have anything to worry about. The interviewer might not even ask you the questions you fear. It could be an easy interview, or it could be challenging in a way you can’t possibly anticipate or prepare for.
Know You’re There Because They Wanted You to Be
You are being interviewed for a reason. The interviewer likely recognizes no candidate is going to be perfect, and compared to everyone else in the pool who didn’t get an interview, you are qualified to do the job.
You are demonstrating a key skill for the job by handling awkward questions with aplomb.
The interview is more about finding out what kind of person you are, how you present yourself, and how you handle difficult questions in a meeting. So take a deep breath and relax a little. Just because the interviewer asks you about something doesn’t mean they are concerned enough about it to rule you out. If they were that concerned, you wouldn’t be meeting. The interviewer just wants to see how you handle the question.
Keep Your Answers Succinct
Answer questions honestly without offering additional, unnecessary information. When it comes to interview questions, even the nice ones, the goal is to get the interviewer to talk to you as much as possible. Yes, as a candidate you want to sell your skills and abilities, but even when it comes to that, people will tend to like you more if they think you want to listen to them. So even if you get your favorite question, keep your answer short and to the point.
When it comes to awkward questions, give an answer that provides enough information to ward off a follow-up question, but nothing more.
Redirect Inappropriate Questions
If you are a young woman and the interviewer asks if you are planning to have children, that is a red flag. Questions about your family plans, religion, health conditions, and more are not only rude and none of the employer’s business, they’re also illegal. Obviously, pointing out to an interviewer that the question is illegal is not a way to score points. You may want to ask yourself if you want to work for someone who engages in these practices, but you can consider that later. An example of how to handle this type of question is to say something like, “I am currently focused on the next step in my career, and I believe this meeting is a good opportunity to discuss how the position you are trying to fill could fit into that.”
Always bring the conversation back to how you plan to move forward and the skills you have to offer that could be a good fit for the position. It may feel a bit like playing politician, but that is a role people sometimes need to play in business meetings. So, don’t worry. You are demonstrating a key skill for the job by handling awkward questions with aplomb.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/practices/
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