Almost everyone experiences some anxiety when it comes to job interviewing. They may be afraid of the interviewer asking questions they will have trouble answering. Even an innocuous question can trigger that “uh-oh” feeling. Being prepared for the job interview questions you may have to answer can help alleviate some of that fear.
That strategy works very well for the easy questions like “What did you like best about your last job?” What do you do, then, if you have something in your employment background that is a sensitive issue? For example, do you have a lengthy gap between jobs somewhere in your work history? Did you stay at one of your jobs for only a short period of time? Is there something in your background that could be embarrassing? Is there anything you would simply rather not discuss? Unfortunately, you can't control what questions the interviewer will ask you. You do have power over your response to these questions. Since you can't avoid difficult questions, you might as well prepare for them. Your answers to these questions can change a potential employer's perception of the situation.
Tips for Answering Difficult Questions
Just like with all other questions the interviewer might ask, it helps to know your answer before you go on the interview. If you hesitate for more than a few seconds, or look distressed, you will project that you are unsure of how to answer. The interviewer will wonder why and may think you have something about which to be concerned.
Saying “uh” or “um” while collecting your thoughts makes you sound nervous. Many people use these “filler words” while trying to think of something to say. It is better to pause for a second or two. If you hesitate only briefly, no one will notice.
Have you been looking for work for a while? It may not be your fault. The economy may be slow, or the job market in your field may be tight now. If either is the case, you should say so. You can't be blamed for a bad job market, nor should you take the blame for it. Use the opportunity to talk about how you have made yourself better able to compete in the current market. If you've been out of work for a while, and the economy and your field are healthy, you may not be able to explain why.
Be honest about your employment history. If an interviewer asks you why you left a prior job, it's okay to say you were let go. If it was due to your own actions, then say that. He's going to find out anyway when he does a background check. Take ownership of your actions. Just as you are responsible for your successes and achievements, you are also responsible for your failures and shortcomings. If your answer reveals something negative about you to a prospective employer, use the opportunity to explain what you learned from the situation and what you did to effect positive changes.
Explain gaps in employment honestly. If you took time off to stay home with your children, say so. Talk about what you did with your life during this hiatus. Discuss the classes you took to keep your skills up to date (only if it's true, of course). If you spent your time off doing nothing career-related, talk about how you have recently been preparing for your return to work.
If an interviewer brings up your lack of education or experience, explain how you are making amends for that now. Discuss what you are doing to compensate. If you are taking classes or if you have plans to, tell the interviewer about those plans. Express your desire to learn.
Examples of Difficult Questions
I see that you've moved from job to job. Why have you had four jobs in four years?
As always, be honest. If you moved from job to job because you weren't sure of what you wanted to do, say that. Many people, especially those coming right out of school, aren't sure what they want to do, so they move from job to job looking for satisfaction. Then go on to talk about the commitment you are now making to your career, which came about because of careful planning.
Why did you leave or why do you want to leave your job?
If you left your job because you were fired, you had better spit out the truth. The employer will find out anyway, so it's better if you are up front. You can chalk it up to a difference of opinion between you and your former boss.
If you're still at your job but you're actively looking to move on, explain your motives there, too. Stick to positive information, such as that you're looking for more of a challenge, or you would really like to gain more experience in a different area of your field. Don't bring up petty disagreements with coworkers or insufficient workspace for this question. This is your chance to show the interviewer that you're looking to improve yourself and contribute your skills to a company you admire.