There's no single standard for how someone conducts a job interview.
Some interviews focus on your skills while others may examine how you handle various situations, or push to figure out more about your personality than your work background. It's possible a job interviewer will pepper you with trick questions or that he or she will take it easy on you.
There are some clear things to never do during a job interview, but actually landing a job may require more than just avoiding making a major mistake. In some interviews you will also have to navigate your way around traps set for you by the interviewer.
Below three Motley Fool writers share some potential traps that may be sprung upon you or ones you may walk into on your own. These won't help you deal with every possible interview trap, but they will keep you from falling into some common ones.
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Selena Maranjian: When you're asked in an interview what your biggest strengths and weaknesses are, it can turn into an opportunity to shine or it can turn out to be a trap that you fall into.
It doesn't have to be a trap. Interviewers want to know what you're good and bad at, as they try to determine how good a fit you'll be for the job and for the company, too. They are also looking for red flags or reasons to eliminate you from consideration, as they narrow down their candidates.
The strengths part of the question can be relatively easy, as long as you keep the position in mind. If you explain that you excel at teamwork but the job entails little of that, it's not going to help you much. Think about what skills are needed for the job and what you bring to the table. List relevant skills, ideally offering some examples of how you've employed them. For example, if you're a terrific project manager, describe how you successfully managed a particular project.
When it comes to weaknesses, of course you don't want to confess to being lazy, disorganized, or perpetually late. The interviewer is looking for honesty and is interested in how you answer the tricky question, so saying you can't think of any weaknesses won't fly, either. Instead, think of some weaknesses that can also be strengths, weaknesses that you can overcome, or weaknesses that wouldn't matter for the job.
For example, you might cite your impatience and how it spurs you to get jobs done as quickly as possible or how your attention to detail sometimes slows you down, but also leads to cleaner work. If you can explain how you're working on and improving any weakness, that can be a plus.
Above all, be prepared for this kind of question, so you're ready to answer it well when it's asked.
Don't be coy with salary demands
Maurie Backman: Candidates are often advised never to discuss salary early on in the interview process. But what happens when the person interviewing you asks about your salary requirements point blank?
It's a tricky situation to be in, because while you don't want to sell yourself short, you also don't want to throw out a number that's out of your interviewer's budget, and get yourself instantly disqualified in the process. That said, you can answer the dreaded salary question and come away unscathed. Rather than throw out a number on the spot, prepare for this question by doing your research. Sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor let you see the going rates for employees based on factors such as job title, years of experience, and geographic location.
Once you get a ballpark estimate of how much salary to expect, answer the question with a range rather than a hard number. It also never hurts to mention that you're flexible on salary (if you indeed are), and that you're willing to look at compensation as a whole rather than fixate on a single number. This will give your interviewer a degree of reassurance that you're open to negotiation.
Of course, if you have an ultimate bottom line you can't compromise on, it pays to be up-front about it. Though you don't want to ruin your chances of landing what could be a great job opportunity, if the salary just isn't where you need it to be, there's no sense in wasting your time, nor that of the company interviewing you. You're far better off moving on and finding a role that will pay you what you're looking for.
Don't just say what they want to hear
Daniel B. Kline: Many years back I interviewed for a job where I had some pretty strong insight into how the person at the top of the department felt things should go. I mostly bought into that vision, but certainly had my own take on certain things.
During my interview process with some of the boss' staff, I answered questions about where I saw the product going using his ideas, not my own. I presented answers that I agreed with, but weren't my genuine opinion.
Delivering the message I thought the interviewers wanted to hear made me sound perhaps less than genuine. It also put me in a position where I stepped on the toes of some people above my potential boss who did not share the same ideas. That might have been OK if I had my own take and reasoning for why I thought of things that way, but offering a watered down version of someone else's ideas mostly made me come off poorly.
My example may be a bit specific, but it touches upon an important general idea. Be yourself and answer with full honesty because, if you don't, you may get a job you're not a good fit for and end up unhappy.
It's great to stress your open-mindedness and willingness to work with other people's ideas. But, if you really answer a question in a way that shows you won't be a good match for the company's direction, it's better everyone knows that up front.
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