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How much time did you take off last year?

This seems like a relatively simple question, nonthreatening at all. The "risk" issue here is really the question of, "How many times are you going to be out of here and other people will have to do your job (which they will resent)?"

Be truthful about this answer. After all, if a company checks your previous employment reference, one question it might ask will be about inordinate absences. If you are one of those people who are rarely absent, you realize how frustrating it is for everyone in an organization to take up the slack for those people who are out a lot. Being absent an inordinate amount of time irritates management and frustrates the dickens out of other employees. So, if you were absent from work an inordinate amount of time in the past year, be sure to communicate that the circumstances were out of the ordinary and that being absent from work is not something that you make a habit of.

Have you ever had personal financial difficulties?

This question tries to get at how responsible you are. If you were in the banking, accounting, finance, or credit profession, you know how treacherous the answer to this question can be. Many companies run a credit report after getting your permission to do so. If you have had personal credit challenges caused by a bankruptcy, divorce, being out of work for so long, or any other less than positive circumstance, the best thing to do it is to admit that your credit has been "bruised" and enumerate the circumstance that caused the issue. If you note that a rough credit history may be an issue for a prospective employer, don't let him or her find out about it when he or she does a credit check. You are much better off to be proactive and explain the situation before it is discovered.

If a personal commitment conflicts with a business emergency, what do you do?

This is a somewhat loaded question. If you communicate that you drop all personal commitments for business reasons, it will be construed that your values are out of place, and if you communicate that you always put personal commitments ahead of business, you will be questioned on your commitment to your job. The answer is, "Fortunately, I've never been caught in that bind. I've always been able to be sure that unexpected personal commitments have been cared for by someone else. Because of my personal situation, I doubt that I would have to make that choice."

If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?

This is kind of a trick question. Whatever you do, don't go overboard about all the mistakes you made and what you would've done much differently. Something along the lines of, "You know, I've been fortunate, I haven't made too many mistakes in my career and I sure learned a lot from the ones that I made. There aren't very many career choices or decisions that I would change."

Have you ever been asked in any of your jobs to do something unethical? How did you handle it?

Tell the truth. In rare instances candidates leave companies because they're asked to do unethical things. If you did leave because you were asked to do something unethical, don't make a big, long emotional harangue about how somebody asked you to "cheat" and you wouldn't do it. Simply state that you were asked to do something unethical (and it is best to say exactly what it was that you were asked to do, especially if you are asked), and you elected to leave the organization because it put you in an awkward position. You don't want to come across as a "holier than thou" and have contempt for people who might ask you to do something out of line. Likewise, you need to make it clear that you didn't agree with what you were asked to do so you refused to do it.

Also, if you were asked to do something highly unethical or illegal, it wouldn't be wise to open up this kind of discussion. So unless you were asked to do something grossly unethical, simply state that you never have been asked to do anything of the kind.

 
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