What are some trick questions in job interviews and how should applicants deal with them? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
When a company interviews you, the last thing on their mind is to "trick" you. They want to get to know you better and determine if you are the right fit.
Conversely, you are not there to answer questions. You are there to determine if the company is right for you.
An interview is an exploratory conversation, not a one-sided interrogation.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions during an interview and what I, the person conducting the interview, am really looking for.
Why did you leave your previous job?
What I'm really looking for: I'm looking for you to reveal what it's like to work with you, because when we speak about others we are really talking about ourselves.
How to handle it: Say something honest that speaks to the future, such as, "I was ready for the next opportunity."
What not to say: Never complain or criticize the place where you used to work, or anyone you used to work for.
What are you looking for in your next opportunity?
What I'm really looking for: I want to confirm that what you want matches what I am offering. I want us to be compatible.
How to handle it: Make sure you study the company and the job description and go in with clarity regarding what they want to find. You too should be looking for the best possible fit.
What not to say: Anything that reveals a lack of connection between the company I am working for and the person I am interviewing. "I just really need a job" might be honest, but it doesn't help me determine why you are the best candidate for the job.
Tell me about yourself.
What I'm really looking for: I am looking for a quick summary of your work history, but I'm also looking to see what you highlight. Ideally, what you speak about with the most enthusiasm is what I need the most.
How to handle it: Make the answer as specific, focused, and short as possible and ask a question back. "I have been working in the communications industry for 20 years and am curious to know what the ideal candidate looks like for you, which would provide context for what I want to tell you more about." Turn it into a conversation.
What not to say: Do not use catch phrases. "I am a go-getter." Do not launch into a detailed laundry list of all the things you have done. Long answers result in people tuning you out.
What is your biggest weakness?
What I'm really looking for: Everyone has weaknesses. I want to know if yours are compatible with my candidate search. For example, if the job is to lead a team thoughtfully, I don't want to hear you'd rather make a bad decision than no decision.
How to handle it: Do your homework, then be honest with a weakness that you really struggle with. "I am enthusiastic and as such sometimes struggle to prioritize."
Being honest with a weakness means you end up in a job that is right for you.
What not to say: Please don't say "I'm a perfectionist." Perfectionists are reluctant to try new things and as such don't grow as quickly as people who are less afraid to fail.
Give me an example of a mistake you made and how you fixed it.
What I'm really looking for: Everyone makes mistakes. I want to know if you are self-aware and coachable. I want to see if you have courage and accountability or if you place blame on others.
How to handle it: State a mistake, own up to it, then explain how you found a solution. The whole answer should be both clear and brief.
What not to say: "I never make mistakes. And I never would have made this one if it hadn't been for my boss, who consistently used me to cover his own ass."
What salary are you looking for?
What I'm really looking for: I really want to know how much you want to see if under my budget limitations I can afford you.
How to handle it: Choose a range that's fair and that would make you happy for the next 365 days.
What not to say: Candidates who answer this question clearly are always taken more seriously than those who refuse to answer.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
What I'm really looking for: I want to know if you are a long-term player. Attrition hurts my business.
How to handle it (if you don't have a 5 year plan): "I am looking for a position where I can ideally grow within the company. In 5 years I hope to be learning and growing."
What not to say: "I don't know." It's OK not to know, but it doesn't help distinguish you from other candidates.
Why should you get this job?
What I'm really looking for: A top-line summary of your strengths and how clearly you deliver them.
How to handle it: Rehearse. Have this answer ready. The general message should be "The attributes you are looking for match my natural strengths, and my track record proves this."
What not to say: Something that reflects you're thinking about yourself and not the company. "Because I am the best" is less impressive than "because I know how to contribute to the company exceeding business objectives."
Once a company determines they want to hire you, they will ask for references. Don't just give them the contact information: follow through. Call your references and say "This company is specifically looking for someone to lead their team. I would really appreciate it if you could highlight the work we did when I lead xx project, and how I handled making sure everyone felt listened to."
This question originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: