Posted March 08, 2013 by

Answering the Tough Job Interview Questions

Robin Ryan

Robin Ryan

Kevin was a well seasoned Project Manager looking for a new job. He entered the interview feeling confident that his resume was strong enough to land him the job. The company set up a panel interview, so Kevin walked into the office and sat in front of five people. The first question asked was: “Tell us about your most impressive contribution that you’ve made at your current company.”¬† Kevin simply froze. He couldn’t think of a good example in those few seconds and sadly realized he’d lost the job by not being better prepared.

Expect Situational Questions

More employers today, especially Fortune 500 companies, are using a difficult interview style of questions to weed out job candidates. My career counseling clients say these “behavioral” or “situational” questions are the hardest type to answer. If you are not ready for them, it’s easy to make a fatal error and lose the job like Kevin did.

The interviewer uses a probing style to ask questions seeking very specific examples of your actions in a work situation. These questions begin with these phrases: “Tell me about a time …”, or “Describe …”, or “Give me an example …” The interviewer is looking for details of your past abilities and how you acted in a specific work situation. The correct answers offer specific details, a clear specific illustration of what the problem or situation was, where it took place and the RESULTS you personally achieved.

The interviewer often then rates each response to determine how well you reacted to these situations in the past, as a way to predict your future performance with their company. These situational questions are thought-provoking.

Here are a few questions that my clients were recently asked in their job interviews:

  • “Tell us about how diversity plays a role in your current job.”
  • “Describe a recent conversation in which your current/last boss¬† complained about an area of your performance.”
  • “Tell us about a difficult co-worker you had to manage. “
  • “Describe the worst boss you’ve ever worked under.”
  • “Describe what you have been doing since you’ve been unemployed.”

Here are my guidelines to successfully answer these kinds of tricky interview questions:

  • Your first thought is often NOT the best example to use to make you look good to the employer. Consider the question, pause and select the example carefully.
  • Offer specific details – who is involved, where did this happen, what was the problem, and HOW did you resolve it.
  • Be concise in your reply — no longer than 60 seconds — so not to lose the employer’s attention.
  • Negative answers reflect badly on you. Phrase your answer so it remains positive and never degrades your former manager or company.

By Robin Ryan, Author of “60 Seconds & You’re Hired!”

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