Navigating an interview can feel like walking through a house full of booby traps. Everywhere you look, there’s danger to avoid. One single mistake, and you’re done for.
But here’s the thing: most of that is actually in your head. While interviews are definitely stressful, the hiring manager hasn’t designed some diabolical test in the hopes you’ll magnificently fail. They want you to be successful. If you are, the hunt for their next hire is over.
These five interview questions, in particular, feel like traps to candidates—but aren’t.
1. “What’s your biggest weakness?”
This question always feels like a trap. You can’t refuse to answer the question (that wouldn’t help your shot of getting the job), but you don’t want to give the interviewer a reason not to hire you.
Many candidates end up with an answer that splits the difference, meaning it’s both flattering and appropriate. Think, “I’m a major perfectionist,” or “I have trouble shutting off when I go home at night.”
The problem: Hiring managers have heard these answers trotted out tens of hundreds of times, and they’re tired of them. Not only do you sound inauthentic, you also place yourself with almost every other interviewee before you.
And this might surprise you, but you’re not being trapped. Some weaknesses will make you incredibly unhappy in the role. Others won’t be issues at all. It depends on the workplace culture, job responsibilities, team, metrics, and more. If you don’t give an honest answer, the interviewer won’t know whether you’re a good fit.
So first explain what’s really holding you back, then explain how you’re addressing it. For instance, you might say, “I love to start projects; I have lots of ideas, and I’m really enthusiastic to try them. But I have a much harder time finishing. Once a few months have gone by, I’m not excited about the project anymore.”
You’d add, “To combat that, I’ve started being more selective about what I take on. That ensures that I focus on work I’ll be jazzed by the entire way through. I’ve also begun sharing my progress on the company blog, which gives me public accountability. Even better, people come up to me and ask questions, which is a ton of fun and keeps me engaged.”
2. “Who’s your role model?”
People are usually stumped by this one because they assume the “right” role model is:
A) Their parent
B) The company founder
C) The company CEO (if she’s a different person)
D) A “serious” figure, like Gandhi or Mother Teresa
However, those assumptions aren’t correct. Hiring managers ask these to discover your values and goals. Someone who looks up to a marathon runner is probably different than a person who admires a writer.
Again, the key is to be honest. You might not want to reveal your deep love for Kim Kardashian, but you can definitely opt for a more obscure person.
Perhaps your role model is your middle school librarian, because she was always so patient and kind to everyone. That’s the perfect answer; it’s unique to you, it reveals your character, and most importantly, it’s true.
Or maybe your role model is the guy who traveled to every country in the world, because you think that’s an amazing objective and you admire the courage, fortitude, and creativity it required for him to meet it. That’s also the perfect answer, for the exact same reasons.