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Three tough interview questions… and tips for navigating them like a pro

Congrats! You’ve made it past the application stage. You’ve officially got a foot in the door and an interview on the books, whether it’s via phone, in-person, or like so many encounters these days, via Zoom.

Your interview is the perfect opportunity to put a face to the resume and bring it to life. It’s easy to prepare for the basics: Tell us about yourself. Why are you interested in XYZ position? What is your greatest strength? But there can also be tricky ones. Or prompts that are uncomfortable to talk about, and it’s even more important to prepare for those.

Here are three tough interview questions and some tips for navigating them like a pro.

Can you explain your gap in employment (or schooling, if you’re headed back for your degree)?

If you have a gap in employment, you likely have a reason why it was necessary at the time. Expect this question, so it doesn’t catch you off guard. Share your lessons learned and the growth you experienced during that time off. Keep it short and sweet, and don’t feel the need to get too specific or personal. Life happens. Be sure to finish on a strong note reassuring the hiring manager that you are there today because you are ready, willing and committed to the new opportunity.

What is one of your biggest weaknesses?

This is a common interview question that frequently gets overthought by applicants. For this prompt, honesty is the best policy.  Don’t regurgitate what you think they want to hear. Instead, evaluate yourself and pick a genuine area of improvement. The key here is sharing the weakness but then identifying the concrete steps you are taking to improve.

I saw that you have a criminal record. Can you address that?

Unfortunately, if you have an offense on your permanent record, and you have to disclose it as part of the application process, it’s fair game for the interview. But don’t let your past dictate your present! In fact, a 2018 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that the majority of managers, nonmanagers and HR professionals are open to working with those with criminal records.

If asked, be brief and give the nature of the offense. Don’t play the blame game. Share what you learned from the experience, how you’ve changed and the value you will bring to the company. Because the hiring manager doesn’t know you, be specific when you answer, citing examples that demonstrate growth and change – not just your word.

Interviews can be stressful, but the more you prepare, the better you will feel going into it (and the better you’ll feel after you ace it). Have a virtual interview coming up? For our virtual-specific interview tips, check out this blog post.