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Some Other Tricky Questions

Most employers avoid asking sensitive questions in a direct way. Instead, they ask indirect questions during the interview in hopes of finding out what they are not "allowed" to ask more directly.

The questions that follow are all legal, and they give you the opportunity to let an employer know that you and your situation will not be a problem. Think about what might concern an employer regarding your particular situation and plan to cover this during your interview, even if you are not asked about it in a direct way. Your good answer to one of these questions gives you the opportunity to put an employer's real, but perhaps unstated, concern to rest.

What would you like to accomplish during the next ten (or five) years? Talk about what you want to do for that employer, not for yourself. "I'd like to cut production costs by at least 5 percent and find ways to streamline the layout procedure so that we can add publications without adding staff," is a much better answer than "I'd like to be making 25 percent more in salary and have my own magazine."

How long have you been looking for another job? Never give an actual timeframe! Casually reply, "Time isn't a factor because I'm searching for the position that best matches my skills and goals."

What type of person would you hire for this position? Flashback: You're casting your ballot for class president and mark the box for your opponent out of modesty. In doing so, you lost then, and you'll lose now if you don't choose yourself! "I'd hire someone who, beyond a shadow of a doubt, has the skills and people experience to handle this job. I would definitely hire myself."

Why do you want to leave your present job (or past jobs)? Do not, under any circumstances, complain about your past jobs or employers. Doing so will make you seem negative and appear to be someone who is likely to have problems in a new job. More appropriate answers include this being a step in your career plans or wanting a better job location. "After introducing a more nutritious menu plan to the day care center and establishing a fun yet informative healthy lifestyle program for the after-school crowd, I've reached the top of the ladder at this smaller firm. I want the opportunity to use my expertise and continue to grow in a larger organization."

How do you normally handle criticism? Ah, an easy question if you take it on the chin well. However, most of us aren't that admirable, and we have to put a twist on this common question. "Obviously, criticism comes from not doing the job properly, and I'm eager to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings the minute they arise. I'm grateful to the person who cares enough to help me out in that respect."

How do you feel about working overtime and on weekends? Even if this job prospect does not appeal to you, this question can be answered so that your response does not harm you. "I have no problem devoting evening hours and weekends to getting a special project done. I also believe that a balanced life leads to a fresh, energetic employee who is less likely to burn out, so I try to pace myself for a consistent, dependable job performance over the long run, too."

What do you do for fun in your spare time? This question has a dual motivation. First, the interviewer is confirming your response to the "Will you work overtime?" question. If you replied "yes" to that question, but then outline a lifestyle that involves weekends at a cabin, evenings at the gym, and commitments to various nonprofit and community events, it's unlikely you'll cancel those plans to work overtime. On the other hand, this is also an opportunity for the interviewer to confirm those things he or she can't legally ask, such as if you have a family, if you attend church, and so on. "My in-laws have a cabin by a nearby lake, and the children enjoy going there on weekends. I accompany them when I can, but sometimes work-related projects prevent that. Of course, the grandparents welcome those times so they can spend one-on-one time with the kids."

Describe your typical day. Naturally, leave out the fact that you aren't a morning person or you start winding down at 4:30 p.m. to hit the parking lot by 5:00 p.m. Use this opportunity to advertise how well you organize yourself and conceptualize long-term projects. "I keep a calendar on my desk with appointment times recorded on the left side and tasks to accomplish that day on the right. I allot time each day to stay in touch with other departments and to return any missed phone calls or e-mail promptly. Overall, my entire day is focused on providing customers with a top-notch product."

What do you like most about your present boss? For most candidates, finding something nice to say in response to this question is not too hard. Focus your answer on the type of supervision your boss provides and not necessarily on a personality type. "I appreciate the regular feedback" is a more useful response than "I enjoy the fact that he/she always has an upbeat attitude," even though both are certainly positive answers.

What do you like least about your present boss? You knew this question was coming based on the previous question. Again, stick to management principles and skip the personality conflicts. Interviewers also like to pose the "What do you like best/least about your present job?" set of questions as well. As I have advised before, continue to look at your current job's opportunities rather than specific unappealing tasks. "I don't like to type my own memos" is honest, but short-sighted.

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