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How to prepare for the hardest job interview questions

March 28, 2014

IT job candidates are highly in demand, but that doesn't mean you don't have to perform well in IT job interviews. With that in mind, here are four key tips to help you to prepare for some of the most challenging questions you're likely to hear while interviewing for IT jobs.

1. Be prepared to talk about weakness
Probably the single most difficult question you'll face while in a job interview is, "What is your greatest weakness?" Hiring managers love to ask this question as it can throw applicants off-balance, allowing interviewers to see how candidates respond to pressure. You need to answer in a way that seems genuine and informative without undermining yourself. It's a difficult balancing act to perform.

It may be tempting to try to answer this question by instead drawing attention to a strength. There are problems with this approach, however. For one thing, many interviewers will see this as a sign of your unwillingness to admit you have shortcomings. In addition, so many people have tried this trick that hiring managers are onto it—and they're not impressed.

Speaking to Business Insider, industry expert Bernard Marr recently offered a different strategy to help candidates face this question. He recommended focusing on weaknesses that do not directly relate to the job in question. By doing so, you can demonstrate that you are self-aware and can admit to having faults without raising fears that these will impact your ability to succeed at this job.

2. Explain gaps
Another difficult question you may face is why there are gaps on your resume. (Obviously, this does not apply if you've been continuously employed throughout your career). These gaps are understandable, but that does not mean employers are happy to see them. You need to have a ready explanation on hand in case this topic surfaces.

In a conversation with U.S. News, career coach Christine Mims recommended that you always offer a positive explanation and action in these situations. For example, talk about skills you developed, projects your pursued or volunteer efforts you conducted during these times. This will demonstrate that you were using your time wisely, even while unemployed.

3. Avoid negativity
Avoiding speaking negatively is a good idea throughout your job interviews. However, this becomes particularly important, and difficult, when you're asked challenging questions. Take, for example, the question concerning employment gaps. You may be tempted in these cases to say something negative about whoever employed you prior to your period of joblessness. Such an answer may be accurate, but that doesn't mean it's your best option. On the contrary, you'll come across as more professional if you can find a diplomatic answer to this question, one which does not come across as bitter or resentful.

The same is also true if you're asked to explain why you left, or will soon leave, your latest position. Speaking to U.S. News, industry expert Anna Ranieri emphasized the importance of staying upbeat.

"[Your answer] should sound something like, 'I learned a lot at ABC Inc., and contributed a lot to my department and the company. I feel that I've gone as far as I can go there and it's time to take my next step. I know that I can do more and contribute more and continue to learn in an environment like yours," said Ranieri, the news source reported.

4. Getting specific
Whenever you're presented with a challenging or awkward question, it's tempting to resort to generalities. This is true whether you're asked about your weaknesses, career failures, reasons for leaving a position or one of many other topics. Being vague is an effective way to avoid saying anything particularly incriminating or accusatory.

But as Marr explained, this tactic can actually make your shortcomings sound worse and universally applicable. By getting specific, on the other hand, you can show how unique circumstances might have caused you to fail or leave your job. It also shows greater situational awareness and communication abilities, both of which are strong attributes to demonstrate during your interview.

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