What Does the Interviewer Want to Hear?

Last Updated Jun 11, 2010 6:30 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady, What should a response be when asked why you want to leave a job you joined barely six months? What should your response be to "What was your most challenging task?" And "What is one of your weaknesses?" I'm going to give a radical, unheard of response to these questions. Here it comes....You should say the truth!

There is no magic answer. Yes, there are hiring managers and recruiters who have an acceptable answer in their heads and if you don't come up with that answer you're not getting the job, but most people are looking to see if you are the right person for the job. That means, they want to know what your actual reason for leaving is, what your actual weaknesses are, and what types of challenges have you faced (and succeeded at) in the past.

I hate the "What is your weakness?" question because people really try so hard to make their weaknesses look like strengths. (I work too hard! I'm such a perfectionist that I frequently work late to make sure everything is perfect!)

Good answers state actual weaknesses and how you are working to overcome them. One of my weaknesses is that I'm disorganized. So, in order to overcome this, I make sure to do as few things as possible with actual paper. I use e-mail and PDFs and scanners to keep everything digitized as much as possible. This has the added benefit of being able to easily provide copies of things to co-workers and clients. I use labels in e-mail and have a rule that everything gets its proper label as soon as I open the e-mail. In this way, I'm becoming much more successful at keeping things organized.

See? It's a real weakness, but I give the steps I'm using to overcome this weakness.

Why are you looking for a new job after only 6 months? I don't know, but you should. Too many short job hops will look bad on your resume. I grant you permission to do the 6 month stint only one time, otherwise you need to stick it out for at least a year, preferably 18 months to 2 years. But, if you are looking after such a short time period in the job, you need to keep everything positive. Yes, this means you get to "spin" your answers a little bit to emphasize why you want this job that you're interviewing for and how it's a good fit, with the implication that their company is just better then your current company.

Be prepared for the follow up question on this one. I would thoroughly interrogate you. Are you a job hopper? Hard to get along with? Someone who complains too much? (No job is perfect.) Be prepared. For instance, "The job description changed after I was hired and now it no longer focuses on the areas where my strengths lie. I'm much more of an instructional designer than I am a classroom trainer. My current position has become 75% training and I feel that I can bring so much more to the table in this job as an instructional designer then I can doing training. I enjoy the people I work with, but look forward to the opportunity to work where my skills can be utilized more effectively." Note, there is no mention that your boss is a screamer with unrealistic expectations.

The "What was your most challenging task?" is the opportunity to shine. Please, please, please pick something that was challenging where you succeeded. Do not give a long description of a project that bombed. This is a valuable question for every level--from fast food cashier to CEO. The interviewer wants to see how you can think on your feet, spot and overcome problems and build teams. The interviewer wants real answers with real experiences, not fluff that you've picked up from a career advice column.

There are tons of places that give sample interview questions. Go over those and practice your answers. Ask people to listen to your answers so you're prepared. Yes, a good interview will be less generic, but you're more likely to run into these types of questions then you might think.

Photo by bpsusf, Flickr cc 2.0