Dear Matt: I'm often stumped by interview questions. How can I learn how to answer tough interview questions - especially when I don't know what they are going to be?

Matt: Interviews are like résumés - there is no one-size-fits-all response. Thus, I can understand your frustration, as we've all been in your situation.

But, I do like the ideas of how to prepare for the interview presented by Kasey Comnick, a staffing specialist with Ecolab Inc. in St. Paul. Comnick says you can anticipate what kind of interview questions you can expect by looking at the job description you read when you applied for the position. There is typically a "key qualifications" or "skills needed" section with a bulleted list of skills and traits the job requires.This is where the bulk of interview questions come from. So, for example, if a key qualification is the ability to manage a cross-functional project team, make sure you have an example that shows you have this skill. Come up with one to two examples for each qualification and you should be off to a good start in your preparation.

Most interviews contain positive and negative questions, says Comnick. Positive questions are easier. "Tell me about your greatest professional success." But, negative questions are more difficult. "Tell me about your biggest professional failure." The trick here is not to get caught up on the failure, mistake or weakness. The interviewer is looking for how you recognized and overcame that weakness. If you were ineffective at managing a budget in your past role, what have you done differently since then to be successful at this task? Show that you have improved and you will have mastered this type of question.

"Your résumé is a recruiter's way to determine that you have the key skills for the position," says Comnick. "You wouldn't have the interview if they didn't think so."


Matt Krumrie is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, and has nine years of experience reporting on the employment industry. This column will answer readers' questions. E-mail questions or subject ideas to askmatt@startribune.com.