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Survive The Interview Stumpers

How to answer five of the toughest questions you'll hear.

Actors do it, musicians do it, and job hunters facing an interview should, too. Rehearse. "It's critical to prepare answers," says Mary Shapiro, associate professor at Simmons School of Management and coauthor of Your Job Interview: An Easy, Smart Guide to Interview Success. In deciding what to say, she advises, "Select information that addresses the three key concerns of employers: Do you have the skills? Do you have the motivation? Will you fit in?" Here, Shapiro coaches you in how to respond to five of the trickiest interview questions.

1. TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF.

"It's nuts to not prepare for this [question], although people don't. They think they'll be able to handle it off the cuff. They don't think about what is strategically important. We suggest people have one or two sentences on education and career history, then go to an example of an accomplishment that is meaningful to the employer. Create six stories you want to tell in your interview, or at least six that you can choose from. People remember stories. What skill did you demonstrate that you now bring to this employer?"

2. WHAT SALARY ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

"Often this comes up in the first phone conversation, before they even invite you in for an interview. They are trying to screen out people whose salaries put them out of range. You want to avoid putting a stake in the ground too early. Put it off by saying things like: 'I'm open to negotiating; it will depend on what the final job looks like,' or I'm open to considering the entire package, not just salary.'"

3. I SEE THAT YOU'RE NOT CURRENTLY EMPLOYED. WHY?

"It's important to be honest. If you were downsized, say that. It's not seen as a negative anymore. If your job was outsourced, state it. If you purposefully took time off, whether to stay with children or care for a sick mother, state this was a strategic decision. If you got fired, take ownership. 'This is what I did - I didn't deliver this product on time, and this is what I learned from the situation.' You want to show you're not going to make the same mistake."

4. HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR FREE TIME?

"The danger of this question is that it can induce you to reveal information an employer can't legally ask for. Your likely answers are around your family, your religious organization, your volunteer work, which may indicate political leanings. It gets at what other responsibilities you may have. An employer might worry you're not going to be able to devote 24/7 to the organization. Your best answer is: 'I want to assure you that while I have an active life outside of work, I bring 100 percent commitment to my job.'"

5. WHY SHOULD WE CONSIDER YOU FOR THIS JOB WHEN YOUR EXPERIENCE IS IN ANOTHER AREA?

"Your answers are going to be around showing transferable skills and how you have prepared yourself for this change. What courses did you do? What professional organizations have you been in? You also need to learn the industry. That means doing a lot of reading, talking to people. In the interview, make sure you can speak the jargon, know what the current trends are, talk about the major players, etc."

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