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Joyce Lain Kennedy, author of Job Interviews For Dummies, says that many interviewers pose questions designed to trip up candidates. She has advice on how not to take a fall.

What about fielding a question on why you've been out of work so long?

Prepare a "hire-me!" answer to dispel fear that previous employers have discovered there's something wrong with you. You may, as an example, explain that after your layoff, you stopped to re-evaluate where your life is headed. You began your search in earnest only a few weeks ago after you realized your true aims. The interviewer's company and this position are of special interest to you. As another example, perhaps you didn't rush into the job chase because of a life event that has resolved itself, such as an ill family member who required your temporary care. Alternatively, perhaps your spouse was transferred to another state, and you had to remain behind to sell your home at a decent price. Employers try to hire solutions, not problems. Dwelling on a job-short economy isn't a "hire-me!" answer.

What's a good answer to how you've found time to job hunt if you have a job?

Clearly state you're taking personal time, and that's why you interview only for job openings for which you're a terrific match — like this one. If further interviews are suggested, mention that your search is confidential, and ask if it would be possible to meet again on, say, a Saturday morning.

What about questions on what bugs you with co-workers or bosses?

Steer clear of this third-rail territory that could reveal you as a troublemaker. Reflect for a few moments, shake your head and say you can't come up with anything that irritates you. Continue for a couple of sentences elaborating on how you seem to get along with virtually everyone. Mention that you've been lucky to have good bosses who are knowledgeable, fair, have a sense of humor and high standards. Past co-workers are able, supportive and friendly. Smile your most sincere smile. Don't be lured into elaborating.

What do you say when your mind goes blank?

If a hardball question comes at you out of left field, try not to panic. Take a deep breath, look the interviewer in the eyes, and comment that it's a good question you'd like to ponder and to which you would like to come back. The interviewer may forget to ask again. But if the question does resurface, and your brain is stuck in permanent beta, say that you don't know the answer, and that being a careful worker, you prefer not to guess. If you've otherwise done a good job of answering questions and confidently explained why you're a great match for the position, the interviewer probably won't consider your lack of specifics on a single topic to be a deal breaker.

Dawn House

Twitter@DawnHouseTrib Joyce Lain Kennedy, author

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