Job candidates preparing for interviews often research the company, gather materials, and practice their answers. But no matter the position, there are always questions that stump us.

They may seem simple, but behind these questions frequently are agendas that can make or break a candidate. The keys to these questions is understanding the possible motive behind them and spending some time thinking and preparing.

Tell me about yourself. This question is a trusty interview icebreaker. But be wary of over-sharing. Now is not the time to tell your life story. Instead focus on key points such as your education, your work history and your future goals.

What are your weaknesses? Often cited as the trickiest interview question, this question is a double-edged sword. The key is to not be generic. Answers such as “I’m a perfectionist” or “I never stop working” will often be written off as exaggerations while answers like “I’m a procrastinator” may get you shown to the door. Instead, brainstorm ideas about what you need to work on prior to the interview. Then explain the weakness, how you have taken steps to address it, and how you plan to continue to work on it. This shows hiring managers that you are aware of your shortcomings and are proactive enough to fix them.

Tell me about a time you did not get along with a boss or coworker. Never answer this question literally. Talking negatively about a previous employer will almost never reflect well on you. Instead, take this time to talk about how you have handled conflict in the workplace.

Why should we hire you over another applicant? This question is always difficult because you usually have no knowledge of what the other applicants could offer. Take this time to tout your strengths. Make sure to specify the assets you could bring to this specific company, not just any company in general. Avoid cliché phrases and cite real-life examples.

Why did you get laid off? This can be a tough question for even the most seasoned interviewees. Answer as honestly and positively as possible. Don’t criticize past employers, but instead use this time to explain your excitement for all the opportunities that are in front of you now.

RiseSmart, the leader in next-generation outplacement services, offers various services through its Transition Concierge. With resources like one-on-one coaching and webinars on everything from networking to interviewing, RiseSmart helps workers prepare for their future.

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