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5 Answers to Tough Job Interview Questions

Savvy and smart strategies to ace the trickiest queries

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    Crossing the Job Interview Minefield

    Job interviews can be especially brutal for older workers. Here are five potentially loaded questions and the best strategies for answering them.

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    What is your salary requirement?

    The trap for older workers: Employers worry that your salary demands will top what they're willing to pay. They're also concerned that if you sign on for less than you feel you deserve, you will, in time, resent it and jump ship when you find an employer willing to pay more.     Best strategy for answering: Ask your interviewer what the range is for the position, says New York-based career coach Ronnie Ann Himmel. That way both of you can quickly establish if the relationship is even worth pursuing further. But avoid divulging a precise salary. What you're after is total compensation, including benefits and vacation.

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    Why do you want to leave your current job, or why did you leave your last one?

    The trap: This question can trigger an emotional reaction, particularly if you left a job (or want to leave) because you were (or are) miserable, or if your position was eliminated or you were fired.     Best strategy: Answer honestly and briefly, but avoid negativity about present or past employers. It will reflect poorly on you. Gear your answer along the lines that you're seeking a company with a mission or culture that better suits you at this career stage. "Find something about this job or company that you can enthusiastically say you're looking for, and that doesn't exist where you are or were," Himmel says.

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    Why is there a gap in your work history?

    The trap: Employers fear the gap is a sign that no one wanted to hire you.     Best strategy: Deal with it straight on, and then move the conversation forward by spotlighting any relevant skills or experience you gained during your time between jobs. "Fill the gap with something tangible you accomplished, like volunteer work, a class you took, a new skill you learned or a project you took on for yourself or someone else," Himmel says.  

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    Aren't you overqualified for the position?

    The trap: Employers may fear that you are desperate for a job, are just pursuing the job as a placeholder until you find one you really want, or will not fit into the culture if you're reporting to someone who is less experienced than you.     Best strategy: "While it's sometimes code for 'you're too old or too expensive,' it's also possible that the employer is worried you'll quickly grow bored or restless," Himmel says. Explain why and how the firm would profit by hiring you.

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    After taking a retirement package or retiring, why do you want to work?

    The trap: Employers are concerned that you are not going to be "all in" the way a younger worker might be and won't bring your A game to the job.     Best strategy: It comes down to selling a potential employer on why you truly want to stay engaged in the workforce and are enthusiastic about the opportunity to do so. "Focus on what work means to you," Himmel says. "The challenges, the personal fulfillment, the satisfaction of working with others to achieve goals, the feeling of accomplishment — whatever is true for you. And then add a kicker about what this job especially has to offer that gets you excited."

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