There is no such thing as being "too prepared" for a job interview. Having been in the hiring and recruitment industry for more than 10 years, I've seen even the most qualified candidates miss out on job opportunities due to poor interview answers.
The trickiest questions are often disguised as the "easiest" ones — and interviewers love asking them because they can reveal so much about a candidate.
Understanding what these questions actually mean will significantly boost your chances of getting hired:
1. "Why do you want to work here?"
Translation: "Do you know — and care — about what our company does?"
Why it's tricky: Make no mistake: You will be asked this question at every job interview, so always be prepared! This one's tricky because it gives you the impression that the answer should be about you, which isn't the case at all.
How to answer: Do your research prior to the interview. Identify the company's mission, vision and values. When giving your answer, explain to your interviewer why the company's values align with your own.
The worst thing you can do is to go off track and start babbling about yourself and your work history. Stay focused. With this question, employers just want to determine whether you understand how their company works and that you're passionate about their mission. No need for a long speech.
2. "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Translation: "Do your plans align with our plans?"
Why it's tricky: Most candidates see this as an opportunity to show off how ambitious they are. While there's truth to that, more often than not, what employers really want to know is whether your long-term goals align with their own.
Some companies will post job positions that they know are only temporary (though that won't always be explicitly clear in the description). At other times, they'll want someone who is committed enough to stay with them for more than just a few years.
How to answer: Be honest. If the company is looking for a candidate who's in it for the long run, but you lie (because you want to impress them) and say, "I want to start my own business before I'm 30," you might not get the job at all. And besides, joining a company whose growth plans are opposite from your own will only cause more stress.
3. "What salary range are you looking for?"
Translation: "Did you do your research?"
Why it's tricky: While you should never settle for less than you're worth, you also shouldn't inflate your asking range. It's important to demonstrate that you know what a reasonable salary should be (according to market pay for similar roles).
Researching market pay helps you approach salary negotiations with more confidence and ensures that what you're asking for is fair. And if the company is offering to pay you an amount that's ridiculously below market, you'll know to stop wasting your time and move on.
How to answer: Be thoughtful and reasonable. Don't ask for more than you're worth. It's also advisable to leave your personal details out of the discussion. However, if what they're offering is way below your current salary, it's okay to say, "That's not something I can work with because it's much lower than what I'm making now."
4. "How would your co-workers or managers describe you?"
Translation: "How would you describe yourself — and what are your reasons to back that up?"
Why it's tricky: Most candidates answer this question by providing a list of their most admirable work ethics: "They'd describe me as a team player." "They'd say I'm reliable and never miss deadlines." "They'd say I'm a great problem-solver."
How to answer: Obviously, interviewers aren't going to assume that you'll admit to missing deadlines (that might come up when they do their reference checks). Most candidates fail to see that they can add so much more depth to their answers. While it's okay to describe your strong work ethics, you can impress your interviewer by highlighting your top personality traits.
Are you funny? Are you caring? Are you empathetic? Don't forget to back up your statements with specific examples. Maybe you gave a customer an incredible experience or supported a colleague during tough times. All these things are a lot more valuable than just saying, "I'm a hard worker."
Debby Carreau is an entrepreneur, author and founder of Inspired HR. She has been recognized as one of Canada's Top 25 HR Professionals and is a regular contributor on multiple TV shows, Entrepreneur Magazine and many other print and online publications. She is a board member for Young Presidents Organization and Elevation Group as well as an Advisory Board member for FinDev Canada.
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