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Tough but Typical Interview Questions 

One of the easiest ways to build confidence before a job interview is to prepare answers to questions you might be asked. Whether you’re applying for a position as a web programmer, accountant, or legal secretary, interviewers often use some general questions to assess candidates, so you’ll increase your chances for success if you prepare for them in advance.

Here are some insights from several recruitment professionals about how to answer these tough but typical interview questions. As part of your interview preparation, take the time to formulate answers to each question, focusing on specific tasks and accomplishments.

1. What are Your Strengths and Weakness?

This is one of the most well-known interview questions, and interviewers often ask it indirectly, as in, “What did your most recent boss suggest as areas for improvement in your last performance review?” Lindsay Olson, founder of Paradigm Staffing Solutions, a firm specializing in hiring public relations professionals, suggests tailoring your “strengths” answer to skills that will benefit the prospective employer. Though you may have a knack for building gingerbread houses, it might be of little value for the job at hand.When it comes to weaknesses, or areas of growth, Olson recommends building on your answer to include “how you have improved, and specifics on what you have done to improve yourself in those areas.”

2. Why Did You Leave Your Last Position?

“Interviewers will always want to know your reasoning behind leaving a company particularly short stints,” says Olson. “Be prepared to tell the truth, without speaking negatively about past employment.”

3. Can You Describe a Previous Work Situation in Which You….

This question comes in many forms, but what the interviewer is looking for is your behavior on the job. Your answer could focus on resolving a crisis, overcoming a negotiation deadlock, handling a problem coworker, or juggling multiple tasks on a project. The theory behind this type of question is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, according to Yves Lermusi, CEO of Checkster, a company that offers career and talent checkup tools. “The key to responding well is preparing real job examples, describing your behavior in specific situations that demonstrate important skills that the job requires.”

4. How Do You Handle Mistakes?

The best strategy for this general question is to focus on one or two specific examples in the past and, if possible, highlight resolutions or actions that might have relevance to the job you’re interviewing for. “Employers want to know they’re hiring someone with the maturity to accept responsibility and the wherewithal to remedy their own mistakes,” says Debra Davenport, a master professional mentor and columnist for the Business Journal in Phoenix.

5. Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?

The best tactic: Talk about your values.Don’t get too detailed about your specific career plan. Instead, discuss things that are important to you professionally and how you plan to achieve them. If growth is a goal, mention that. You can also talk about challenge, another value that employers prize in their employees.

6. What Salary Are You Looking For?

Most people will tell you that whoever answers this question first loses. But that’s not necessarily true. When an interviewer asks your salary requirement, try first to gently deflect the question by inquiring about the salary for the position. If the interviewer presses you for a number, give a range. To decide on a range, think about the salary you want, your salary at your most recent position and the industry-standard salary for the job.

The bottom line: The salary question is one of the most important, so you should prepare for it in advance and plan what to say.

7. Why Should I Hire You?

There’s a fine line between boastful and confident. And you need to learn it. When an interviewer asks you why they should hire you, you’re going to have speak confidently and honestly about your abilities. But you should avoid sounding overly boastful. Aim for earnest and prepare by practicing. That’s right: Stand in front of the mirror and acknowledge your abilities and accomplishments to your reflection. It’s sometimes hard to praise yourself, but after a few sessions you’ll sound sincere.

8. The Silly Question – If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? What if you were a car? Or an animal?

These type of questions can bring your interview to a screeching halt. First, don’t panic. Pause and take a deep breath. Then remind yourself that there’s no “right” answer to these questions. The job isn’t hinging on whether you choose to be a spruce versus an oak.

Interviewers usually ask these questions to see how you react under pressure and how well you handle the unexpected. It’s not so important what type of tree (or car, or animal) you choose as that you explain your choice in a way that makes you look favorable. So, be a spruce — because you want to reach new heights in your career. Or be an oak — because you plan to put down roots at the company. Either way, you’ll get it right.

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