Ever get the sense you might have bombed an interview when an interviewer’s body language or tone suddenly changes? We can all get caught off guard with unexpected questions. But, it is important we focus on positive answers and avoid answers that make us look ignorant or negative. Here are some examples of disastrous answers and suggestions for a better response.
Question: Good to finally meet you. Can you please tell us about yourself?
Answer: I’m a divorced, mother of five, and just moved here from Texas. I’m staying with friends while I’m looking for a place to live.
You’re done. Regardless of how friendly and folksy the hiring panel is, even if you know them, this is not a cocktail party where you disclose things about your personal life. You never discuss marital status, children (unless the job involves children), your housing situation, or suggest a lack of familiarity with the community. Be professional and focused on what will make you attractive to an employer.
Better Answer: I’ve been visiting family and friends in Santa Fe for many years and have wanted to move here for a long time. I recently completed my degree in (field related to job), started looking for jobs and was so excited to see this posting that would allow me to move here.
Question: You’ve told us about your strengths. What are some of your weaknesses?
Answer: Well, I just finished my degree in this area, so I don’t have any experience yet
You’re done. Never admit to a real weakness for which you have no defense or explanation about how you are changing it. Don’t provide a list of weaknesses, even if you’ve provided a list of strengths. Find one weakness that can be turned into a strength.
Better Answer: I just completed my degree, so don’t have a lot of professional experience in this area. But, I did a semester-long internship at XYZ Corporation and got to apply a lot of what I learned. They said they would have hired me, but they don’t have any openings right now. They promised to give me a great reference. I also found out I already know a lot from my work at ABC Company, which is why I got interested in this field, decided to go back to school and get this degree in the first place.
Question: Why did you leave your last position or do you wish to leave your current position?
Answer: It’s kind of a dysfunctional and disorganized place. I’m looking for a healthier work environment that’s not so stressful.
You’re done. Never complain about or speak badly about another employer. The hiring panel will think you are a whiner, indiscreet, and might eventually speak badly about their business, too.
Better Answer: I’ve wanted to work for you folks for a long time. I’ve heard great things about your company. So, I was really excited to see you have an opening in my field. I think this job is a great fit for my skills and will allow me to learn a lot of interesting, new things.
Question: Can you tell us about your experience working with diverse populations?
Answer: I’ve always gotten along with everybody. I really don’t see color or differences. I treat everyone the same.
You’re done. Ignorance or naïvete about the various challenges of living and working in a world of many ethnic populations, religions, ages, disabilities, and experiences of overt and unintentional discrimination mean you’re not ready for a workplace that asks questions about diversity – which tends to be most workplaces, these days.
Better Answer: My neighborhood and schools have always had a mix of people; Hispanic, Native American, African American, White, and we learned a lot about different cultures in school. I used to work in a restaurant where everyone in the kitchen spoke Spanish, so they taught me some basic Spanish. I love meeting new people and learning about them. I like how this job will get me working more with LGBTQ and older populations. I hope you have training to help me learn more about how to be sensitive to their specific needs.
Question: How does this job relate to your professional career goals?
Answer: I hope to work here a few years and gain experience in this field and then go to graduate school in California.
You’re done. Even if this job isn’t your first choice, you must express enthusiasm and commitment for this position and imply you will stick around, even if that’s not in your plans. Who knows? You could fall in love with this job and be so great they keep promoting and appreciating you, so you change your plans and stay.
Better Answer: This job allows me to use both my previous experience and my new credential. I think I bring a lot and can learn a lot. I hope you choose me for this position.
Question: If we decided to offer you the position, how soon would you be available to start?
Answer: About a month or six weeks? I’ve got some other commitments and wouldn’t be ready until then.
You’re done. Employers usually want you to start right away. If you’re not ready within two weeks, leaving a respectful amount of notice for a current employer, you’re not indicating sufficient interest in the job.
Better Answer: As soon as possible. However, my daughter is getting married out of state soon, so I’ll need to take some unpaid time off for that early on. But, I’ll try to minimize it and be respectful of your needs. I’ll also be available by e-mail and will have my cell phone with me.
Question: Do you have any questions for us?
Answer: Yes. How much would this position pay for someone with my skills and experience? And, what benefits do you offer?
You’re done. This is information you get from the Human Resources office at the time you are offered the position. Sometimes, a salary range is posted, and you can research salaries for similar positions in your area. But it is inappropriate to bring up salary and benefits in an interview.*
Better Answer: Yes. Can you tell me your timeline for making a hiring decision? This job sounds very interesting, and I could see myself working here a long time, with lots to learn and contribute. I’m ready to get started!
*If they ask you about your salary requirements, say “I’m very interested in this position. I’m sure we can figure out something mutually agreeable.”