(Frequently Asked Questions in an Interview)

In this issue, we focus on one of my favorite questions as an Interviewer…”what are your deal breakers?”  A “deal breaker” is something so important to the Job Seeker that if he or she does not receive it in their next job offer they won’t accept it (therefore it is a “deal breaker”). Remember, the questions that are most valued by an Interviewer are usually the most difficult for the Job Seeker. I like this one because, although it is popular, the question often generates unprepared answers, most job seekers do not expect to have to discuss what items they have to receive. Unprepared answers provide a nice snapshot regarding the real person.

A key for the savvy Job Seeker is how to answer this question in as positive fashion as possible without sharing too much information. Not an easy task to accomplish!

As we continue our series examining the questions Interviewers most frequently ask, this time we will focus on “What Are Your Deal Breakers?”


Why Is It Asked?

• Determine If There Is a Match on Basic Criteria – When the question is asked for this reason, it is generally during the phone screen. The phone screen is when most of the basic filtering occurs. It is used to determine whether there is a basic match on items such as schedule and compensation.

• Probe Area of Concern – If there is a concern regarding your interest level, it may come to the surface with this question. This is a way for the Interviewer to probe regarding items such as schedule, industry, the position, etc. to determine if you are truly interested and a fit. If they follow-up with a question that is more specific (for example, a schedule question), then that is a clue on what area is of concern. If you feel very comfortable with the Interviewer, you may even ask if they feel there is a deal breaker and what it is.

• Gauge Interest Level – An individual who has some basic fundamental “deal breakers” or very high needs probably is telling the Interviewer that they have limited interest in the position.

• Get a Sense of Personality – This question, based on what is said, can provide the Interviewer with a sense of the humility, arrogance, and self-awareness of the individual.



How Should It Be Answered?

• Determine the Skill of Your Interviewer – If you have an unskilled Interviewer, you may get away with a very generic answer, such as a poor work environment or an unstable company. If you feel you are in that situation then take advantage of it, but keep in mind that a savvy Interviewer is going to probe deeper.

• Decide How Upfront You Want to Be – I am never an advocate of speaking mistruths, but not automatically offering information is certainly acceptable in the interview world. If you have some “deal breakers” that you do not want to share…then use something else that won’t be as incriminating. Keep them to yourself and privately evaluate the position on your own.

• With Reflection – This is a question that you probably will want to pause prior to answering. I don’t think it is in your best interest to eagerly dive into the answer about your “deal breaker”. Act like this is a tough one.

• Redirect – Once you have answered then end your answer…don’t ramble. The more talking you do, the more you will share, which, in this situation, is not a good thing. Try to redirect the conversation back to your skills and value as soon as possible.


What Not To Do:

• Pretend You Have No Areas of Concern –   No job is perfect and a savvy Interviewer knows that. Providing nothing for this question may make you look naïve or desperate, neither one of these is a good thing. Not everything is wonderful, but the key is to not dwell on your “deal breakers”.

• Make It Money – This is not the time to make a salary demand. You can only lose in this situation because if you come in too high, then you may eliminate yourself, if you come in too low; you just undercut your negotiation. A salary demand will also give the impression that you are just focused on money and not the position and the company. Even though you most likely have an internal deal breaker, this question is not the time to express this.

• Schedule Demands – You should already have a sense for the work hours expected from the advertisement or the phone screen. If you start making demands such as “leave by 5pm”, or “no more than 8 hours a day”, you may come across as someone who is not committed and dedicated. Instead, ask probing questions regarding the expectations of the job without revealing your hand.

• Make It a Laundry List – You will want to answer the question and then move on to a more appealing subject. Don’t air out your entire list of issues. Once you have the Interviewer satisfied, move on.


The “deal breaker” question is one that can be the proverbial landmine. Determine how comfortable you are expressing those items that are most important to you. If you have some “must haves”, decide what those are and whether you can express them in the interview. A savvy Job Seeker has concluded what is a priority for them and whether the situation is right for them to communicate this.

As always, best of luck in your job search.

The following has been prepared for the general information of RochesterJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.

Joe Stein
WNY Human Resources Professional

Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at:
Joe Stein


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