Job Interview Advice: How to Avoid “Death Trap” Questions

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Degrees2Dreams Advice for Job Interviews CC photo by joaquinuyGetting a call from a company inviting you for a job interview is a great feeling … until you have to prepare for the interview, and that can be very stressful. But it needn’t be.

You can reduce that stress simply by preparing:
• Research the company
• Learn about key players in the business, and, most importantly
• Not only expect the “Death Trap” interview questions, but know your answers in advance.

Researching the company and the key players is easy. Go to their website and read everything you can, but especially read the About page, their mission statement and their own press releases. To get in-depth information about the key players, go to the company page on LinkedIn and read as much as you can.

Then go to sites like GlassDoor.com where current and former employees write about the company in glowing and not-so-glowing terms.

11 Death Trap Questions to Prep for Your Interview

Preparing for the “Death Trap” questions, on the other hand, takes time. Here are some examples of “DeathTrap” job interview questions you should think long and hard about and prepare your answers to the point where you can give them naturally and confidently:

The Biggest “Death Trap” job interview question is “The Money Question.”


1. “What are you expecting for salary?”

Don’t ever answer with a number. Ever. Some possible responses include: “I have researched the standard range for this position on X site, and I’m comfortable with that”. This shows you’ve done your research but are still savvy enough not to commit to a number. Another response could be “I am sure that what you offer your qualified candidates will be fine with me” This shows faith in the company’s judgment and its way of treating its employees. Another answer could be something along the lines of “I would expect to hear an offer from you that is consistent with the budget you’ve set for this position.” Again, this answer shows you’re balancing between respect for yourself and for the company.

“The Weakness Question”

2.“What would you say is your biggest weakness?”

Everyone has them, so it’s a perfectly legitimate question and they ask it to get a sense of your self-awareness and commitment to personal and professional growth. This is perhaps the most important question to anticipate and have an answer in mind ahead of time so you don’t appear nervous or ramble on. Make it a weakness related to a strength. You could cite your commitment to excellence and quality work and tell how that sometimes makes you frustrated with yourself or others when excellence isn’t achieved. You shouldn’t make up a weakness because if they sense you’re faking it or the answer sounds too superficial, they’ll ask you for another, and you won’t be prepared. Don’t try the old “my biggest weakness is also my biggest strength” — that’s just not true and sounds cliché. Make sure the weakness is resolvable and describe how you’re taking steps to do exactly that — self-improvement courses, and a plan of action you’ve set for yourself, working with HR, whatever it may be.
You could also list a weakness you’ve already overcome, showing that you can recognize a weakness and actually do something about it.

“The Anger Management Question”

3.“How do you handle stressful situations?”

The interviewer is wondering how you may react if faced with a customer with a question or comment that you may not know how to answer. They’re making sure they won’t have to deal with your mental breakdown on the job. Express a ritual practice that helps you keep a steady pace as you work. Do you try to get out for lunch at least once during the week to clear your head? Do you have a personal rule that stops you from reacting to a problem until you feel calm about it? Try to express those, and if you know you get into a stressful mood at the workplace, despite of your ways of mitigating the situation, tell the interviewer, “Every now and then, I can’t seem to fix the mood until my work is done- but I’m always working on it.”

“The Summarized Autobiography Question”

4.“Tell me about yourself.”

Don’t answer this question with a memoir. Simply tell them briefly about your background, where you grew up, where you went to school, work experience, additional education, where you are now, and what you intend to do next. One of the most effective ways to prepare for this question is to develop a 60-second biographic detailed sketch that shows a pattern of interests, skills, and accomplishments. Focus your response around a common theme related to your major accomplishments, skills, and passions.

“The Determination Question”

5. “Describe a major goal you’ve set for yourself recently.”

You should respond to this with a goal you not only set up but also achieved. Talk about a specific event which drove you to seek a new skill, like time management or organization. Then, lay out your assessment of where you were, the steps you saw to take, any modifications you made along the way, and the end result or steps to take now. Talking about the achievement of goals says that not only do you set realistic goals but you can also focus on an outcome.

“The Critique Question”

6. “Now that you’ve had a chance to learn more about us, what would you change about our company?”

This question is a chance for you to contribute to the company. While you shouldn’t give a negative complaint, you could give some constructive criticism phrased as a question such as, “I noticed recently that you changed the website layout to a simpler, generic layout, may I ask why and if it’s had any effect on results?”.

“The Future Question”

7.“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Here you should try to move yourself within the company or explain how this job fits into your larger life plans. If you were to stay in this company for five years, where would you be, what would you be working on, and where would you want to go? Even if you plan to work towards another position with another employer, state why you want to do that (what big goals to do you have?) and how this company will benefit from you taking on bigger things. Employers nowadays know that employees usually don’t plan to be at the same job forever, so be honest. They’ll appreciate it.

“The Ability to Sell Question”

8. “Sell me this stapler.”

With this kind of question the interviewer is trying to see how quickly you can think, as well as assess your ability to communicate effectively. Be prepared to give a 30-second speech on the benefits and advantages of virtually any common office object, from a paper clip to a pen, especially if you’re interviewing for a sales position. The tip to really standing out is being creative and thinking about why a particular customer (the person sitting in front of you, or the company’s major customers) would want this stapler. “This is a professional-quality stapler, designed to be functional as well as attractive. It will help you reduce clutter and stay organized by keeping documents in coordinating packets. And since papers relating to the same subject will now be attached, you’ll be more efficient and will save time searching for papers. Finally, its sleek shape and black color are coordinated to match the rest of your office furniture. For the busy executive, we offer staples, staple remover, and also have a customizable re-order schedule.”

“The Anger Management Question, Part 2”

9.“Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an irate customer. How did you handle that situation?”

This question relates to the question about how you handle stressful situations. The interviewer is not only looking for a great answer if the position is customer-focused, it also applies to in-office dynamics. Give a specific example of a time when you were faced with a difficult person and how you handled it. Depending on your experience, it doesn’t have to be an example with an actual customer: how you worked with a difficult professor, sibling, or intern supervisor also answers the question. Your answer should illustrate your maturity, diplomacy, and awareness of the needs and feelings of others. How you react when others lose their temper or become upset is very important in all positions – whether the upset person is senior to you, your junior, or otherwise outside the company.

“The Explanation Question”

10. “Why do you want to work here?”

This is designed to see if you have researched the company. If you did, you already know why you want to work there and this question shouldn’t be an issue. However, be prepared with a list, preferably taken from their mission statement, their description of their culture, or their achievements, saying you want to be part of a company that thinks and acts like that. To be honest, it also assumes you have plenty of offers from other great companies, so answer it as if you do and this company is special or unique. Talk about what interests you about the company and what the motivation was behind applying.

“The Former Jobs Question”

11.”Tell me about the worst job you ever had.”

This is designed to see if you’ll bad-mouth a former employer and co-workers. Don’t. Explain that you and the company/boss/teammates had some challenges but you worked through them as a team and you learned X, Y and Z.

March Forward with Confidence

There’s nothing wrong with walking into an interview with a list of things you want to remember — names, topics of conversation, keywords you’re going to want to use in answers. You should have it just in case you do get caught up, practicing the interview can help with your technique and allows you to critique and get feedback on how well you present your answers.
Practicing can also help you notice little things that you do that could make the interviewer not want to hire you. Remembering and following a few simple rules can enhance your chances of getting the job.

To reiterate my #1 tip from the first part of the article, you should always research the company before the interview. You should read through their mission statements, learn about the company’s culture and ethics code. It’s all online and available for you to see! Knowing about these things will enhance your knowledge of what the company is really all about.

  1. Dress to Impress: Don’t show up in jeans and a hoodie. Wear Khaki’s or slacks with a collared shirt, it’s the easiest way to go. And remember, everything matches with black and white.
  2. Find your balance of too much and too little communication. An interviewer is not going to want to sit through your whole life story, but they don’t want a sentence long answer. Try to make your answer between 2-4 minutes to use your time with the interviewer effectively. Also, remember to ask the interviewer questions, they want to know what you’re curious about and if there are any blanks they can fill in for you.
  3. Leave the slang at home. Along with ‘like’, ‘uh’, and ‘uhm’. You should be confident and ready to answer questions. Don’t get tangled in your thoughts and focus on the questions asked.
  4. Stand out from the crowd. Customize your resume and highlight accomplishments, add a QR code that links to a reference’s video recommendation. Emphasize your skills and make sure all sections correlate to the position that you’re applying for.

Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two by reading these suggestions. Whatever you do, do not wait until the last minute to start preparing for the interview, it will show when you sit down in front of the interviewer.

I wanna know! What is your biggest fear for your job interview? What do you prep for the most? Leave a comment below.

Staci Davidson

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