How to prepare for tough interview questions

Rich Hein

For most of us getting interviewed is never an easy process. You've got to be spot-on perfect for what seems like forever, many times through a multi-step interview process. You've got to know your technology, be ready to articulate effective answers and questions, all the while putting on your most pleasant and positive face. There is no shortcut to acing the interview. It takes, time, dedication, research and practice. In spite of all the preparation even the most seasoned interviewee gets thrown a curve ball every once in a while.

Preparing for ten of the toughest interview questions

The only hard question to answer is the one you didn't prepare for. So in order to help you get the job of your dreams we spoke with IT recruiters, staffing firms, CIOs and other senior IT personnel to find out what questions are typical stumbling blocks for those being interviewed, and how to best to prepare for and answer these questions in what could be the longest and most important hour of your career.

Question #1 - Why is there gap in your work history?
Lay-offs, workforce reductions and downsizing
In the recent economic downturn many companies experienced lay-offs or simply went out of business. Senior IT people understand this economic reality and normally won't hold this against you. That said, hiring managers typically prefer hiring someone who is already employed. According to Matthew Ripaldi, Senior Vice President with Modis, you should not try to dance around it but instead be straight-forward and honest about exactly what happened. "Chances are they already know. In addition you want to make sure you make it clear that it was not performance related and be able to talk about specific accomplishments you had while in the role and references of your work that are readily available. Make sure to rehearse how you're going to answer that question so that it flows smoothly, and finally, never say negative things about your past employer!"

What if I was fired?
If you were a part of a downsizing or workforce reduction then the answer can be simple and self-explanatory. If the reasons are something you'd prefer not to get into then you had better prepare ahead of time. Scott Saccal, Senior Director and IT leader with Johnson & Johnson Diabetes Solutions Companies says it's best to take the high road. "For this question, it's probably best to take the position that the position was not the best fit for both you and your previous employer. Should there be additional probing, it's important that you be honest but brief in your responses as dwelling on the subject prohibits a discussion on your strengths and potential value in the new job," says Saccal.

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