7 Common Interview Questions That Trip Up Job Hunters

How to handle tough questions when you’re sitting in the hot seat.

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No matter how long you spend rehearsing answers to all possible interview questions, it’s likely that you’ll end up having to answer some very obscure and tough interview questions a t some point in your career. Many employers ask nontraditional, creative questions at the first stage of the interview process to see how well you can think on your feet. Some can be trick questions, while others are designed to highlight some desirable characteristics for the position. Whatever the case may be, you need to be prepared to handle any type of question when you’re sitting in the hot seat.

Here are just seven of the most common interview questions that trip up even the most prepared job seeker:

[See 50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2012.]

1. If you could change one thing about your last position, what would it be?

This can be a tricky one. Very tricky. It opens the doors to sharing too much information about your previous job experience and casting your former employer (or coworkers) in a negative light. Instead of looking this as an opportunity to bash your former company, talk about some non-people problems you struggled with–not having your own office, working with outdated computers, a lack of fast internet speeds, and other challenges you faced are a few points you could discuss.

2. Tell me about yourself.

As friendly as this request sounds, don’t drop your guard just yet. Keep things professional by focusing on your career, your recent job experiences, your educational background, and anything else work-related. Remember that this is not an invitation to talk about your family, your hobbies, or your pet peeves–that discussion can wait until you actually become an employee.

[See 5 Things That Turn Employers Off During the Interview.]

3. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

This can be a loaded question. Is this the opportune time to tell your potential boss about your recent skydiving adventure? Not exactly. Employers asking this question are looking for those who have taken calculated risks or overcome an obstacle by plowing through. They want to know if you have the grit and tenacity to handle adversity. Provide an example of a situation where you encountered a major setback and pushed yourself to explore a new direction–and succeeded.

4. Are you good at networking?

Employers typically ask this question if the position will involve a lot of “face time” with prospects and clients, require you to travel frequently, or is a sales position. You need to prove you that you are comfortable in social situations and have a knack for networking and socializing. If these aren’t your strong points, remember that they’re skills you can work on. Don’t forget to highlight your offline and online networking skills–how many professional contacts do you have on LinkedIn or even on Twitter? Do you communicate with these people often? Don’t overlook the many hidden personal networks that could provide some job-search benefits.

5. What’s your definition of success?

This is a challenging one for many a job hunter because success can be subjective. You might think that success means landing this job and working your way up in the company, but your employer wants to know why you would be successful with the company. What would you be doing on a day to day basis that would lead to success? You might talk about how you maintain a strong work ethic, work with feedback from your boss and peers, and maintain a high level of integrity at all times.

[See How to Kill a Job Offer at the Last Minute.]

6. What are your salary requirements?

The Money Talk can make many interviewees uncomfortable—especially women—so make sure you’re well-prepared for this one. Remember that the hiring manager and employer have most likely already had the money discussion and decided what the salary for this position will be; few will be in a position to negotiate beyond a given range. Your safest bet is to explain you are looking for the best fit job-wise, and not necessarily focused on the money. Let the employer make an offer first and see how it compares to your most recent position. You may be able to negotiate a higher amount if you don’t receive a reasonable offer because of your most recent salary or work experience, or by proving you can provide more than any other applicant.

7. What’s your biggest weakness?

Don’t say “I’m a perfectionist”. This is a cliché answer that your interviewer has probably heard more than a dozen times. Talk about characteristics or attributes that you are working on improving. For example, you could say that you don’t have strong public speaking or presentation skills but plan on taking a class to improve yourself in this area. Or, you don’t have strong networking skills but are planning to join (or have already joined) a local networking club or group to improve your skills in that area. Showing your employer that you are working towards improvement can help you earn some extra points with this tricky question.

Sabah Karimi is a top Yahoo contributor and a writer for WiseBread.com, where you can find answers to the most common interview questions.