8 Dos and Don'ts for Acing Your Interview

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

You've just received word from the human resources manager that your resume made the cut. Next stop: the interview.

The job interview is your opportunity to create a positive impression of yourself, and can mean the difference between the door opening, and the door slamming shut. Here are eight tough but frequently asked interview questions, with eight kick-butt answers designed to help you create a favorable--and memorable--impact.

Question 1: What can you tell me about yourself?

Don’t brag, try to make yourself look interesting by sharing offbeat information, or prattle on and on about mundane or irrelevant facts. The interviewer doesn’t need to know you knit sock puppets in your spare time.

Question 1: What can you tell me about yourself?

Do stick to your education, work history, recent career experience, and mainstream interests. Craft a brief yet riveting story that takes two minutes or less to tell.

Question 2: Why did you apply for this job?

Don’t reveal that you are looking for a way to pay the mortgage, need a job with health benefits, or heard that the position pays well—even if these things are true.

Question 2: Why did you apply for this job?

Do talk about how the job suits your skills, experience, and most of all, your passion. Example: “One of my passions is horses. My previous experience at XYZ Publishing Co. would allow me to be an editor just about anywhere. But when I heard about the opening here at Equine Magazine, I got really excited thinking about combining my passion for horses with my passion for writing.”

Question 3: If you could, what would you change about your last/current job?

Don’t complain about past bosses, co-workers, corporate policies, salaries, or, as a general rule, anything at all.

Question 3: If you could, what would you change about your last/current job?

Do say that you wouldn’t change a thing. Example: “I wouldn’t change anything about my last job. I feel the experiences I had there, good and bad, were integral to my growth and success.”

Question 4: What is your ideal career?

Don’t talk about careers that aren’t related to the job you are applying for. If you are applying for an accounting job at a paper factory, the interviewer doesn’t need to know you harbor a secret desire to be on the PGA tour.

Question 4: What is your ideal career?

Do be specific. Example: “I love business and I love teaching people. So I know that whatever happens, my ideal career is in training.”

Question 5: Where do you want to be in five years?

Don’t show a lack of interest by talking about long-term goals unrelated to the job for which you are applying. The hiring manager at a pharmaceutical company does not need to know that your five-year plan includes an Olympic medal in curling.

Question 5: Where do you want to be in five years?

Do talk about how you would like to grow, change, and evolve. Example: “I plan to hone my current skills and learn as much as possible about pharmaceutical sales, so I can someday manage my own staff.”

Question 6: What do you like/not like in a supervisor?

Don’t complain, be negative, or bad-mouth your former boss.

Question 6: What do you like/not like in a supervisor?

Do focus on the positive. Give three positive comments, and one that is slightly negative. Example: “I loved his energy, his ability to motivate, and his positive attitude. I wish he had more time to share his knowledge.”

Question 7: Why are you leaving (did you leave) your last position?

Don’t mention personality conflicts or complain about your former organization.

Question 7: Why are you leaving (did you leave) your last position?

Do tell the truth, taking care to protect yourself if you need to. If you were laid off, simply say so. If leaving was your idea, say something like, “It was a terrific run at XYZ Corp., but it was time to look for new challenges and advance my career.” Don’t mention being fired unless they press, in which case say something like, “It was a good run, but we decided to part ways.”

Question 8: What are your greatest weaknesses?

Don’t take a strength and present it as a weakness. The interviewer won’t fall for this old trick.

Question 8: What are your greatest weaknesses?

Do pick a weakness that is possible to overcome, and discuss the steps you are taking to tackle it. Example: “I’m not great at time management, but am taking a class on how to prioritize my time.”

There’s no need to get hung up on tough interview questions. Just be sure to practice. When you are well prepared with the right responses, you ensure that your answers—and you—stand out in the crowd.

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