Being honest in job interviews is important for your personal integrity but also because if you overpromise skills and attributes you don’t have, it will become obvious once you’re on the job. But what do you do when your honest answer could cost you the opportunity?

Everyone has shortcomings, regardless of your personality type. Interviewers aren’t looking for a “perfect” person, and if you appear to be one, they’ll know you’re not being totally truthful.

The secret is to answer honestly while putting a positive twist on the negatives. Here are ideas for answering some of the most common questions job interviewers ask.

Question 1: Tell me a little about yourself.

At first, this looks like the interviewer didn’t prepare or lost your carefully worded resume in which you told a lot about yourself. It’s more likely, though, that he wants to see how you answer such a broad question.

Since you’re trying to get a job, he’s interested in the “work” you, so avoid leading with you love  basketball or you’re married with two kids. Instead, think of your top skills, the jobs you’ve had, perhaps a few of your accomplishments, and what you’re looking for now.

If you’re struggling, then use your personality test results to help you identify core strengths for your type, then try to identify specific instances where you displayed those behaviors. Are you results oriented? A people person? Highly ambitious and a natural leader?  

Question 2: What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Prepare two examples of each in case you’re asked for more than one. Every personality type has strengths and weaknesses, so how you answer reveals a lot to the interviewer. If you quickly rattle off five strengths and one weakness, you’ll seem to be bragging. On the other hand, being too self-deprecating can make you appear to lack confidence.

Think honestly about your strengths. What have employers and others always told you you’re good at? Maybe you’re the friend others turn to for advice or help because you’re empathetic. That’s admirable - and prospective employers will be glad to know you’ll be amiable in the office instead of the one behind the drama – but that alone won’t get you the job.

However, people turn to you because you’re a good listener, and that’s important on the job.  Managers often complain that employees don’t listen to what they’re saying in spite of the knowledge they can provide. And how many times have you felt your managers only listened half-heartedly when you tried to explain what you’re experiencing with a customer or a project?

Explain that you listen to what clients are saying instead of assuming you know what they want. You listen to what management is asking for. You’ll be the one who listens carefully in meetings and responds to what others are saying, and gives others their chance to contribute.

What about weaknesses? If you know you keep a messy desk, that’s an honest answer. If you still always know where everything is, you might say, “I always have two stacks of papers or files or reports that I’m working on or referring to, so I’m not someone with a super-neat desk. But I always know where everything is and can find it quickly.”

Or, if you’re not the most organized person, you could truthfully reply, “Being organized does not come naturally to me, but I know it’s important in being efficient, and I like to get things done. So I’ve come up with systems that help to keep me organized, and they’re working for me.”

Take extra care to make sure that your attitude and body language in the interview reflect what you’re saying. If you say that you’re a good listener while your high-energy extraversion is rushing to give an answer and not even pausing before you reply, then you’re not going to impress the interviewer.  

Question 3: Where do you see yourself in five years?

While this question often throws people, the number is really the problem so try taking the number five out of the question. Future planning can cause anxiety to certain personality types, notably Sensors, since it can look a lot like “what if”—you don’t have enough information to plan for all the possibilities that might arise in that timeframe so you don’t. But if you take the number five away and replace it with one or three, for example, then it becomes much easier to understand and quantify the possibilities that are likely to open up to you and place them into something resembling a future plan.    

Keep your answer to the time you’re with the company, though. You may be hoping your side interest in photography is your full-time job by then, but that won’t help you get this job.

Interviewers want to know if you’ll just be putting in time to get a paycheck or if you have given thought to promotions to management. If you have plans for advancement, chances are you’ll try hard to do your job well so you’ll get those promotions.

Do resist the temptation to give the flip answer so many people have: “I want to have your job!” Not everyone appreciates humor in an interview.

Question 4: Why do you want to (or why did you) leave your current job?

A simple, short answer is best here. If you’re unhappy in your current job, it’s easy to get into a complaining rant, which will be a red flag to the interviewer. No one wants to hire the complainer who is never happy and riles up coworkers with his whining. Even if your complaints are justified and you work for a real-life Ebenezer Scrooge, the interviewer won’t know that and may pass on you just to be safe.

“I’ve done all I can in the position and there aren’t any advancement opportunities,” is a good answer if you feel you won’t get promoted where you are.

If you were laid off in a merger or downsizing situation, say so. Employers know this happens, and if you’re applying within the same industry, she probably knows what did happen anyway.

It’s important to stay matter-of-fact and not let bitterness or other emotions show. With a short answer, you won’t risk letting your feelings creep in and spoil your chances.

Question 5: Why do you want to work for us?

Part of preparing for a job interview is researching the company you’ll be interviewing with. Look for more details than just what they do. Find out how they do it and what makes them different from their competitors. You should be able to find something that excites you about the company and talk about that.

Do they have a management style that encourages employee input? Unique ways of giving back to the community?

If, from your research, you decide you really don’t want to work there, cancel your interview rather than go from a job you’re tired of to one you won’t like.

Question 6: What are your salary requirements?

All personality types can be uncomfortable discussing salaries. You can turn the question around and ask what the job pays, but they may not reveal that, instead saying it depends on your experience level. If you have no idea of the job’s salary range, you can be passed over by stating a salary that’s too high or too low.

Look at online recruiting company websites - e.g. Indeed and Glassdoor - to get an idea of what similar jobs pay at your experience level. Then ask for a salary near the higher end of the range so the employer has room to come down to a salary that’s acceptable to you.

It’s OK to negotiate for a higher salary if you’re offered the job, especially when unemployment nationally is low and jobs are hard to fill. Negotiating is a skill that could come in handy on the job, and you look confident when you stand up for your self-worth.

One final tip: Rehearse your answers, but avoid memorizing them. Remember a few keywords for each answer and talk briefly on them so you come off as prepared and self-assured, but natural.

Barbara Bean-Mellinger
Barbara Bean-Mellinger writes on business topics such as jobs and careers, marketing and advertising, public relations, entrepreneurship, education and more. Her articles have been published in newspapers, magazines, and on websites. She lives in the metro Washington, D.C. area and has recently taken up travel writing to highlight lesser-known sites in and around the capital.