Preparing for Tough Interview Questions: Tips from TRAK Records & Library

This guest SLA Blog post is by Raechel Clark-Welch and Maura Barnes, national recruiters for TRAK Records & Library. TRAK is the sponsor of the Career Connections program at the SLA 2013 Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO.


We always tell candidates to prepare, prepare, prepare when it comes to an upcoming interview.

However, how do you prepare for questions you’re not even sure you will be asked?

How about if you were asked “What is the capital of Oregon?”

Would this throw you? 

Believe us, questions like this happen! What to do?

Tackle the general questions first.  Preparing ahead of time for common questions will help you build and project confidence throughout the process and will help you recover more quickly if an Oregon-like question pops up along the way.

Here is a list of commonly asked questions TRAK suggests you prepare to answer:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why are you looking for a new position?
  3. What interests you about this opening?
  4. Why do you want to work for X organization?
  5. What major challenges and problems did you face? How did you handle them?
  6. What motivates you?
  7. Tell me about an achievement of which you are proud?
  8. Describe a difficult work situation / project and how you overcame it.
  9. What questions do you have for me?

When the Oregon-like question pops up use the following technique to help you formulate an effective response:

  • Remember with these types of questions hiring managers are NOT necessarily looking for a specific answer but are testing how quickly you think on your feet! It is a way to see how you handle pressure. The only answers that probably won’t work here are “No” and “I don’t know.”
  • Take a moment of silence before you speak to think through your answer. Take a deep breath or a drink of water to give yourself a few moments to gather your thoughts.
  • If your first instinct is to answer “No” or “I don’t know” think about sharing what you do know OR how you would go about learning more to answer the question in a positive light.

For example, if you’re asked if you have used Millennium and you haven’t, you can explain that although you haven’t had the chance to work with Millennium in a professional setting you were introduced to it in school and are familiar with similar products.

Using an optimistic tone in your response leaves the hiring manager with the impression that although you haven’t worked with Millennium specifically you have a background that would help you get up to speed quickly if given the opportunity.

A few other tips that we like to emphasis in the interview process are as follows:

  • Always research the company you’re interviewing with so you can speak to their mission.  Nothing is worse than hearing that you don’t know what the company does! This is a common complaint we hear from hiring managers so taking the time to link your response to interview question in the context of their mission will help you stand out in the crowd!
  • While the question “tell me your top three strengths and weaknesses” isn’t asked as frequently anymore, it is always good to have a fallback answer.  To prepare for this and other commonly asked questions it is a good idea to hold a mock interview with a friend or on your own in front of a mirror. It sounds silly but it works!

Hint: If you are asked about your weaknesses, NEVER answer that you have no improvements to make!  No matter where you are in your career, everyone has something they are working on developing.  Relate your response to an area of professional interest and a skill you are trying to develop to help you accomplish your goal. Then relate how your focus on developing this expertise will be an asset to the organization you hope to join in the long term!

  • Finally, be prepared to answer the question: What are your salary requirements? Be sure to consult the job advertisement to understand the salary range for the position and develop a response with this factor in mind.  DON’T bring up this question on your own! Let the hiring manager initiate this line of questioning.

Ultimately, the interview is an opportunity to highlight all you have to offer to a prospective employer. Your resume got you in the door … the hiring manager is already interested! Be confident in yourself and the work you put into preparing for the interview.  Smile, be positive, and SELL yourself!

Good Luck! Knock ‘em dead!


Maura & Raechel

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