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  • Indrani Stangl, M.A. Career Coach

One sandwich please, hold the bad news.

One of the toughest situations in an interview is getting a question like one of these:

  • Tell me about a time when you failed

  • What do you dislike most about your current job

  • Tell me about the worst boss you have ever had

  • What is your greatest weakness

  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be

These are dreaded questions, but you have to assume you will get at least a couple in every interview. Why do hiring managers ask these hard questions? Among other things, they are assessing whether you are self aware, whether you are honest and genuine, and most of all, if you have a good attitude. Will you be a good fit for the team?

Here are some real examples from my own experience when interviewing candidates (truth!):

  • What is one thing you would like to improve upon: "I am always late."

  • What is your greatest weakness: "I have a hot temper. But in my anger management class, I have learned some techniques to try to keep my cool."

  • Are you familiar with _____ (software application that is important to the position): "Not really. I may have heard of it though."

  • What do you dislike most about your current job: "My boss is micro-managing me."

Every one of these answers cause concern. The candidates were being honest and sincere, but they probably had a hard time landing a job. I certainly didn't hire any of them.

How could they have done better? Let's take, "If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?"

If you just say, "I am always late, and want to start being on time" - that doesn't tell me anything except you are always late. You may want to change, but can you? Have you done anything about it?

The best technique for a question that requests negative information is the sandwich. Sandwich the negative between two positives, and you come out sounding positive. For example, "I know how important punctuality is, but at times I have a hard time getting to places on time. I recently started using reminders on my phone and computer to get me going earlier. I have had great results so far." This tells me that you are self aware, and you are actually doing something about the issue with good results.

Let's try another one.

"Tell me about your experience using _____________(software application)." If you don't have any experience with it, you could just say, "No, I am not familiar with that application." Or, you could say something like, "I love learning new computer software, and have no problem picking it up very quickly. I haven't yet used that application, but I am certain with my familiarity of similar programs, I will be up and running shortly." Much better, right?

Even if these two examples don't apply to you, I am sure you can brainstorm other options. Beware though, even with the sandwich technique you can kill your chances if you bring up the wrong topic when you are answering these questions. I will go into more detail about this on a another day. Remember you can always contact us for a free 30 minute consult!

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