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Stay Cool on the Hot Seat: 2 Tough Interview Questions

Certain interview questions are enough to unnerve the most prepared job candidate. Two that come to mind are: "What do you think is your greatest weakness?" and "What do you like least about your current (or most recent) job?" They may seem like ridiculous questions, but you have to answer them because being evasive could cost you a chance at landing a great career opportunity.

So, let's take a look at each question, the motivation behind it, and the best (and worst) ways to answer:

What do you think is your greatest weakness?

WHY THEY ASK: The hiring manager (a) wants to see how well you know yourself, (b) is looking for signs of how you perform under pressure, or (c) both.

HOW NOT TO ANSWER: Don't say anything that could eliminate you from consideration for the job, especially if the weakness is tied to a critical quality that the hiring manager needs in the position they're hiring for. For instance, "I'm slow in adapting to change" is not a wise answer, especially in a work environment in which change is par for the course.

RIGHT WAY: According to interviewing expert Michael Neece, the best way to answer this question is to address a skill that you just learned and want to learn more about, or a skill you want to develop. Then, describe what you're doing about that skill and link it with a need at the hiring manager's company. For example:

"I'm not as strong as I'd like to be on the ins and outs of social media, so I'm spending about three hours a week blogging on topics I'm interested in, and reading some perspectives on the business-to-business value of social media. I think I can bring that knowledge here and offer ideas on how to use social media as a customer relationship tool. Would you like me to elaborate on that?"

This may get the hiring manager to ask more questions since you've provided an open invitation.

What did you like least about your most recent (or current) job?

MOTIVATION: The hiring manager wants to find out (a) if there's something you didn't like in the past that is also part of the job you're interviewing for, or (b) if you actually say something negative about your most recent employer. Hiring managers tend to assume that if you badmouth a past employer, you'll badmouth them, too, if you leave in a year or two.

HOW NOT TO ANSWER:  Don't vent or focus on the negative with brutally "honest" answers such as "My boss was a jerk," or "The company culture was too politically correct," or "They just weren't giving me the opportunity to take my career to the next level." The hiring manager may get the impression that you have problems with authority, don't fit in with your coworkers, or were passed over for promotions because of personality or performance issues.

RIGHT WAY: Keep the emphasis on the positive, even though there are sure to be things you weren't happy about. For example:

"Gee, that's a tough question to answer. I've had lots of opportunity at ABC Company and I work with some outstanding people. I guess if I had to pick one thing, it would be the occasional meeting that goes an hour longer than normal, but that didn't happen all that often, maybe every other month. I like to get stuff done and work with people and that extra hour could have enabled me to get back to a client quicker to help solve a problem."

No workplace is perfect, and chances are you've experienced frustration in each job you've held. But this answer shows the emphasis the interviewee places on being productive and adding value for the employer.

Do you have any suggestions on how to handle tough interview questions? Share your views.

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