Nine Cardinal Rules of Interviewing

Posted by Nancy Gober

Rules for InterviewingHundreds, and probably thousands of rules, guidelines, and guides have been written about how to interview. Some are more helpful than others. However ignoring the Rules of Interviewing listed below can ruin your chance of getting a cleared job!

Rule # 1 Never answer a question you don’t understand. Ask the interviewer for clarification.

Rule # 2 When an interviewer asks you a question, figure out the purpose behind the question and then answer accordingly. True for any question but especially so for those that touch on or covertly allude to sensitive areas such as age, religion, race, gender, politics, etc.

Rule # 3 Do not answer any question in a self-deprecating way. Ever!

Rule # 4 Exhibit a positive and appropriate attitude, manner, and energy level for the corporate culture in which you are interviewing. Do your homework and learn about the culture of the organization before the interview.

Rule # 5 Learn to listen to what’s being said, and for what’s not being said.

Rule # 6 Get comfortable with silence. If the interviewer has stopped talking, don’t fill the void unless you have something meaningful to say that will help your candidacy. Smile and wait for the interviewer to talk again.

Rule # 7 Sell what they’re buying!

Rule #8 Identify any skeleton(s) in your past (in the initial Planning and Strategy phase of your search preparation), and prepare an answer that puts it in its best light.

Rule #9 Never, never, never wing it!

I’d like to hear from you. As someone who has been actively job seeking and interviewing, have you encountered any interesting interview questions?

(1) What was or is the most frequent question you have been asked?
(2) The most difficult question?
(3) The strangest or most memorable? How did you handle or answer the question?

Feel free to share your information right here, or send it to [email protected]. Thanks in advance. And wishing you success in your search for a new cleared position.

Nancy GoberNancy Gober is a career strategist who has helped thousands of job seekers find employment. She’s also been a popular resume reviewer at our Cleared Job Fairs. You may reach Nancy via email at [email protected]. Follow Nancy on Twitter @AfterJobClub.


  • Nancy Gober

    Nancy Gober is a career strategist who has helped thousands of job seekers find employment, and the author of “Jobs Are Not Found Sitting at the Computer.” You may reach Nancy via email at [email protected].

    View all posts
This entry was posted on Monday, August 25, 2014 7:00 am

3 thoughts on “Nine Cardinal Rules of Interviewing”

  1. (1) What was or is the most frequent question you have been asked? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

    (2) The most difficult question? Can you exhibit some of your work?

    (3) The strangest or most memorable? How did you handle or answer the question? I have the most difficulty answering “what are some of your weaknesses?” Sure I have weaknesses (everybody does). But if your trying to sell yourself you don’t want to air them to a future employer. Rule #3 comes into play. What is it they expect a prospective employee to say? I have answered this question, but I’m unemployed so I don’t think I do a very good job.

  2. Carol, thank you for your thoughts and for taking the time to share them. Here are a couple of comments.

    (2) The most difficult question: Can you exhibit some of your work?
    I encourage job seekers to develop a portfolio of items representative of the type of work they do and the quality of their work. You can develop a professional job search portfolio that captures and displays materials that provide “proof” of your competency, skills, experience, and expertise. It can contain items such as: Reports written, articles about you and by you, awards, letters of recommendation, letters of appreciation, performance appraisals, certificates, degrees/diplomas, patents held, etc., as well as your “marketing materials” including your resume.
    For a complete list refer to my website: and click on “Tools You Can Use.”

    (3) The strangest or most memorable: “What are some of your weaknesses?”
    Carol, a lot of job seekers are thrown by this question – so you are not alone – because it feels like a “Catch 22.” Answer honestly and you’re right – you’re probably out of the competition; answer with a “I don’t have any!” and that answer comes across as a “smart alec-y” or “full-of-yourself” type of answer, AND indicates a lack of self-awareness – neither of which are qualities interviewers are seeking in new employees.

    A lot has been written about the best way to handle this question, with various methods suggested but here is one way that delivers a plausible response. Here’s a tack to take:

    Step 1. Choose a weakness — or in better terms an area in which you could improve – that is not a key requirement of the job. For instance, if you are applying for a “Communications Director” position, you wouldn’t say “I’m a poor communicator.” In that case you would certainly be out of the running, and quite frankly, deserve to be. A job seeker shouldn’t be applying for a job where they can’t handle the main function!

    Step 2. Select a weakness (i.e. areas that are not among your greatest strengths) that is not such a key function that it would prevent you from doing the job. For example, a communications director might choose budgeting.

    Step 3. Now, and THIS IS KEY: State that while you are an excellent communications representative in terms of the key functions (name them), budgeting WAS (i.e., past tense) not your strongest area. However, recognizing this, you have taken actions (name them) to improve in that area. And, while you will never be a finance person, YOU ARE COMPETENT in developing your communications budgets.

    And, you’ve scored a TRIPLE WIN with this answer:
    1. You provided an honest response.
    2. You showed self-awareness.
    3. You’ve not only shown but “demonstrated” a strength: When you identify a problem, you (1) recognize it and (2) take action.

    Hope this provides you with some ideas for interviewing going forward. Thanks again Carol for your input. Visit my website for over 100 articles to assist with your search and feel free to write to me at [email protected]

    Good luck with your search,

  3. When asked about a weakness, I try to come up with something that is weak to me, but is a positive to them. Like I stop and think and think about something, take some time, before jumping to an answer. Or, I like to do things right and not just fast. I could also answer that I am not a good bowler, or something like that.

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