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Five Interview Traps and How to Avoid Them

Five Interview Traps and How to Avoid Them

Debra Wheatman

There are several techniques that interviewers use to get to know the “real” candidate behind the rehearsed “perfect” candidate. One technique is to ask questions to bait a candidate to reveal negative information or express unbridled feelings. The interviewer will ask a question on a premise of something negative. You may expand upon that negative point and veer from your well-crafted talking points. In some cases, you may let something slip, such as a little jab against your former boss. Here are five common questions that hiring managers ask, and how you can avoid flubbing them during the interview process.

1. Describe a weakness of your former boss

Most candidates know that the cardinal rule in an interview is to never say anything negative about past employers. Focus on positive experiences with your managers and how you have been fortunate to work with great managers. If forced to share something negative, select something minor. Then show how you dealt with it, so that it was not an issue for either of you. An example may be that a manager that did not update staff on corporate news, so you worked around it by asking questions in order to keep informed.

2. Describe an example of a project that failed or fell short of expectations

Spare the interviewer the gory details of the “project from hell” that would never end and the incompetence of others. The blame game is never a good idea during an interview. What is more effective is to explain your understanding of why the project failed and how you learned from the failure. Focus on processes, not people. Most importantly, express what you learned from this so that it won’t be repeated. This question tests your analytical and team-building skills, and your resiliency.

3. In which areas do you feel you need to improve your knowledge?

The answer is not, “I really stink at Excel.” Stick with the theme of positivity. An easy answer is you are always eager to learn. You might say that in this industry, change is rapid, and you are continuously building new skills and knowledge. Reference recent workshops that you’ve attended and industry groups in which you participate. 

4. Tell me about your biggest problem at work and how you handled it

This can be a big or small problem. This is a test of how well you solve problems. There are three main components to work into your answer: How you analyzed the problem, the plan you devised, and what you learned from the situation. Just like the failed project question, don’t be tempted to blame a coworker, even if asked by the interviewer. 

5. What did you like least about your last (or current) job?

This is a fairly common question. It makes sense. You would not be looking for a new job if you were very happy. This is where the “sandwich feedback” model is effective. Start with something positive, such as, “I have learned so much in my current position.” Then insert your reason for seeking a change using the most respectful language. It might be that you are ready to expand your skills and scope of responsibility. Avoid talking about failures, regrets and issues with the management. Finish your sandwich with something like this: “I have met so many supportive and talented people. I’ll miss it when I leave.” 

Practice with a friend or a career coach until you develop excellent interviewing skills. Soon you will be adept at turning every potentially sour statement into an example of your professionalism. You’ll stay on point, even when facing a seasoned interviewer. 


Debra Wheatman is the president of Careers Done Write and an AMA Career Resource Center contributor. Read more from Debra here or follow her on twitter at @DebraWheatman.