You're at the job interview and you know they're coming ... the questions about your greatest professional success and your most embarrassing failure. And the questions about what you do in your spare time. There are even questions about questions! If you've ever found yourself groaning inwardly while stumbling over your answers, then what you need is a little practice responding to self-introspective questions. The good news is, you can ace these head-slappers with one old-fashioned strategy: honest hard work.
The Truth Will Set You Free
The most difficult questions, such as "Tell me about your greatest weakness," test your ability to self-reflect while speaking confidently and astutely at the same time, according to executive search professional Russell Reynolds in "Fast Company." Although the temptation to lie might be overwhelming -- as in, "Yes! I've always just loved all my bosses!" -- Reynolds notes interviewers would rather hear honest replies. Even though the truth might be hard to share, acknowledging your shortcomings and your efforts to make improvements demonstrate intelligent introspection and a willingness to make professional growth a continuing priority.
Bragging Without Bravado
Naturally, the interview won't be all about your bad habits and professional failures. What better time to toot your own horn than in the interview? But be careful ... rambling on and on with "I" beginning your every sentence won't leave a good impression on the interviewer; in fact, it may have the opposite effect. Instead, share the praise colleagues have lavished upon you in the past. You may even wish to furnish your most recent performance evaluation. Don't forget to share a professional anecdote that demonstrates this praise in action -- you get bonus points if it's funny.
Practicing your responses to questions like "What do you do in your spare time" instead of just answering them without thought separates the expert interviewee from the ill-prepared, according to career expert Chrissy Scivicque of "U.S. News and World Report." Avoid sharing personal anecdotes from your amazingly effective pole-dancing workout regimen and instead highlight your favorite professional development activities or career-relevant books you're reading. The idea is to sell yourself as a dynamic, in-charge go-getter who cares about your career, not someone who has been catching up on her sleep due to her slave-driver boss.
Answering a Question with a Question
Don't commit the unpardonable sin of not asking questions when the interviewer invites you to do so. Keep in mind this is your opportunity to find out more about what they're looking for in a candidate, not a chance for you to ask about salary and benefits. Ideally, you've spent time researching the company and can speak intelligently about it already, but Scivicque recommends asking questions such as, "What skills separate a good employee from a great one?" and "How well do you think my skills would suit this position?" Answering their hard questions honestly demonstrates self-awareness, but asking them your own questions shows you are as concerned about employee fit as they are.
Lisa Bigelow is an independent writer with prior professional experience in the finance and fitness industries. She also writes a well-regarded political commentary column published in Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester counties in the New York City metro area.