Job interview tip: How to prepare for 'hardball' questions

Target Senior Merchandiser, Lauren Glasenapp, left, welcomes prospective Target Senior Merchandiser, Lauren Glasenapp, left, welcomes prospective candidate Daniel Martinez, 20, as hundreds of prospective candidates interview for job openings at a Target job fair in Los Angeles. (Jan. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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Even candidates who able to make a strong sales pitch in job interviews can find themselves easily tripped up by the unexpected: Hardball questions.

The trick to fielding those questions is to realize that they're asked primarily to gauge how fast you can think and how well you perform under pressure.

"If you rehearse answering tricky career-related questions, you'll be more apt to respond to them confidently," says Tony Lee, publisher, CareerCast.com. "Nothing beats preparation."

According to CareerCast, there are ways to steel yourself for the hardball queries, even when you don't know the specific question.

For example, when you are asked, "Could you tell me a little about yourself?" you should briefly cite recent personal and professional work experiences that relate to the position you're seeking, and that support your credentials. Prepare a personal branding statement that quickly describes who you are and what you can bring to the company. If you are asked the reasons you left your previous employer, or why are you leaving your present job, there are several strategies you can use.

If you were fired for performance issues, merely say you "parted ways," and refocus the discussion on how your skill set matches the current position. If you currently have a job, focus on why you're seeking greater opportunity, challenges or responsibility. Make sure that you have very strong references regardless of why you left, or are leaving, a position.

Should the employer ask about your strengths, briefly summarize your work experience and the strongest qualities and achievements that are directly related to the responsibilities of the job you are applying for. Focus on: self-motivation, initiative, the ability to work in a team and a willingness to work long hours.

If you are queried about your strengths, you'll also be asked about your weaknesses. Turn this question around and present a personal weakness as a professional strength. If you're detail-oriented, a workaholic and someone who neglects friends and family when working on important projects, turn these weaknesses around. Explain by saying that you're very meticulous and remain involved in projects until you've ironed out all the problems, even if it means working after hours or on the weekend.

Finally, if the employer asks what you can say about the company for which you are interviewing, and about the industry it operates in, do your homework. Check out the company website and their 'About Us' section. Write down a few key points that you can cite when asked. Interviewers want to know that you're interested in more than just a job.

Marvin Walberg is a job-search coach based in Birmingham, Ala.

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