When the Interviewer is Trying to Dig Up Dirt

You’re at a job interview and the questions are starting to make you feel a little uncomfortable.  While you are desperately trying to paint a positive picture of your work experience, the employer keeps asking questions about your reasons for leaving, conflicts, and any other negative topic that occurs to him.  How can you handle this interview without making a mistake?  Here are some tips:

Don’t evade the questions.  The employer may be probing you in this way because for some reason, they feel like you are hiding something.  If you are evasive when answering their questions, you will confirm their concerns.  Make sure that you answer their questions directly, but in a way that serves your own interests.

Don’t pretend to be perfect.  Nobody’s perfect and if you present yourself as if you are, the employer won’t buy it.  You can admit that you’ve made mistakes, but show that you’ve learned from them and that you always maintain your professionalism.

Re-frame negative situations into positive ones.  Although this is the oldest trick in the book, it is still the best way to handle negative questions.  Focus on the positive points of the situation.  How did it make you better at your job?  What good things came from it?  For example, you could say that you took on a difficult project that had a negative outcome, but that during the project you met someone who has become a mentor throughout your career.  Remember, nobody’s career is flawless; they just want to see that you are a positive person with a good attitude.

Don’t discuss any personal conflicts or issues.  Personal conflicts make you look petty.  It is impossible to sound professional when you are talking about an argument that you had with your co-worker.  If you must mention a disagreement, explain that you both behaved professionally, that you have a high level of respect for each other, and that you came to a consensus in the end.

Don’t reveal weaknesses that are strongly related to the job.  While you’re not trying to show that you’re perfect, you are trying to demonstrate that you are perfectly qualified for the position.  Don’t reveal anything that will cause the employer to doubt your ability to do the job.  For example, if you are applying for a management position, don’t mention any potential issues with regards to your leadership ability.

Avoid discussing anything that makes you upset.  We all have situations in our past that still upset us.  The job interview is not the place to discuss them.  When talking about something that makes us upset, we show emotion, and we’re more likely to speak without thinking, which can get you into trouble.  If the interviewer asks you for an example of a challenging work situation that you faced, choose one that is not emotionally charged.

Smile and stay relaxed.  Negative questions at job interviews can be stressful, but it is important that you don’t let it get to you.  Make an effort to stay relaxed and keep smiling.  Remember, they are asking all of the interview candidates the same questions, and everyone finds them difficult.  If you can handle these tough questions with grace, you’ll stand out in the crowd.

When the employer seems to be completely focused on everything that is negative, it can leave you wondering if you even want to work there!  Don’t take it so seriously.  Remember that the employer is under a lot of pressure to hire the right person, and it can be very difficult for them to detect someone’s true personality at an interview.  Just be yourself, do your best and if you’re the right fit, you’ll get that job offer.

(Written by Karen Bivand)

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