Avoid These 3 Basic Interview Question Pitfalls

You have been called in for a job interview and want to be at your best. Naturally, you have studied the position description and have created several examples highlighting ways you've made a positive impact using the skills required in the posting. You have also prepared focused responses that feature your in-depth knowledge of the company, the competition and any recent developments in the field. And you have thought of ways to address and overcome any objections that might serve to eliminate you from the running.

Yet there are three basic interview questions that can really trip you up. Although they appear deceptively simple, these commonplace inquiries could lead to potential pitfalls -- an outcome you'll want to be sure to avoid!

#1 Background probe
Most interviewers begin the conversation with an open-ended question to get you talking about yourself. Generally they'll say something like, "Give me a little about your background," or "Tell me about yourself," or ask, "What brings you here today?"

Potential pitfall: This seemingly straightforward request can start you off on the wrong foot if you lack focus and don't present to the specifics to the position.

It is critical that you have a well-prepared, powerful statement targeted to the job for which you are applying. Your response should include your level of experience, key skills relating to the job, any required education or training, and a couple of memorable accomplishments that will attract the interest of your interviewer. Basically tell them why you are the #1 person for the job.

Not only does your response during this initial phase of the discussion create your first impression, it will often set the tone and direction of the interview. Your interviewer may follow up with: "You led the team that marketed 'Gaming For Seniors?' I'd love to hear more about how you were able to accomplish such a successful product launch." Then you can present several winning examples of how you've produced results in your previous positions. A great way to begin the interview!

#2 Do you work well under pressure?
Your answer, of course, will be "yes," unless you tend to wilt in high stress situations. If that's the case and they ask this question, it is likely a red flag indicating you would not do well in this job. At a minimum, the position wouldn't be one where you are likely to feel successful.

Potential pitfall: In your desire to impress your interviewer, you may exaggerate your ability to deal with pressure and put yourself in an untenable position. Moreover, if "yes" truly is your answer, you'll need to back up your claim with an example that validates what you are saying about yourself.

"In my most recent position, I reported to three high-level executives and had to frequently stop a project to send an urgent message to one of our most valued customers. I learned to prioritize my tasks and use my time so well that I had built-in allowances for these types of critical requests. I work well under pressure... in fact, I tend to thrive in just these types of situations."

What are your weaknesses?
Don't underestimate your need to prepare for this question. Of course, we all have weaknesses. However you will want to present yours in a way that won't hurt your chances for the job.

Potential pitfall: Providing TMI -- spending too much time with your answer and not focusing on what you've learned from your weaknesses. Although this question is often stated in the plural, in most instances you will not need to cite more than one shortcoming. Plus, you will want to move on from this line of questioning as quickly as possible so that you can focus on your strengths.

Recognize that employers are asking about your weaknesses because they are interested in awareness and attitude. Therefore frame your responses accordingly. It's best to present an example from your past; let the interviewer know that you're aware of your weakness and have learned from your previous mistake(s). Be prepared to cite examples of how you are addressing your shortcoming(s) and the ways you are seeking to remedy them. You can also use terms such as: "I used to dislike..." "I felt uncomfortable doing..." or "I always got nervous about..." Then go on to stress how you've overcome these aspects of your job.

"When I first became a team lead, I felt quite uncomfortable when I had to provide critical feedback. In fact, I would avoid it and that sometimes led to conflicts within the team. Over the years, however, I've learned to present this type of information in a way that clearly delivers the message but doesn't arouse a lot of negative feelings."

Although every interview question brings with it the potential for faulty responses, it's usually the most straightforward ones that we neglect to prepare for. So take time to ensure that you've got your talking points well thought-out and rehearsed. Then, as much as possible, present yourself with confidence and enthusiasm for what you can and will bring to the job. With thorough preparation, the right attitude and a little luck, you're likely to make the positive impression you want and show them that you really are the #1 person for the job!

Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master's Degree in Career Development and twenty years' experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Updated in 2014, it's packed with even more critical information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools they need to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market. Visit her website at Feisty Side of Fifty.com and celebrate your sassy side!

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