The Tough Interview Questions

A good interviewer will ask questions that will draw out your personality traits, strengths and weaknesses. The recruiter or human resources director has asked these behavioral questions to a number of people and knows the difference between an answer that is formulaic and safe and one that is engaging and forthright. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and not play it safe. You can’t stand out if you play it safe. I encourage you to prepare answers to the tough questions ahead of time so that you may make a lasting impression that leads to the action of a second interview or a call with an offer. Before we get into how to answer specific questions, you need to have a focused mindset. PREPARE!

Have you prepared your “Elevator Speech” describing in less than 30 seconds what you do and how you bring value to an organization. Make sure you have said your Elevator Speech out loud 20 times before you go on an interview.

Do you understand the purpose of the business for which you are interviewing? Study it on their web site. Ask people who know the organization questions about the culture. Are you passionate about their mission and have defined your transferable skills from your education and experience that can be applied to your work there. Can you easily state your accomplishments that apply to this industry? Are you a problem solver and will you be able to offer solutions to their challenges? Do you have the right attire for an interview, right tone of voice as well as open and engaging body language? Can you explain how your hobbies, volunteer work and activities lend themselves already to the work for which you are applying? Do you have a portfolio to bring with letters of reference and measurable examples of your work? 

Can you tell a story when you answer questions? Show. Don’t tell. Storytelling is an art and can be learned. When you are asked a question on an interview, answer it by giving an example of how you accomplished that challenge already in another position. People remember stories because they identify with the main character. Good stories contain a conflict that is overcome by an endearing character. Endearing characters are honest and driven. Every good fairytale holds a conflict that was overcome by an endearing character. That is why we remember fairy tales from our childhood when we forget some of your friends. 

Below are examples of behavioral interview questions and answer examples as well. Your answers will undoubtedly be more specific and longer. This is simply a guide to get you thinking.

1) Tell me what’s not in the resume?
A few years ago I had to recreate my life. I was coming out of a divorce and was faced with being the primary caregiver for my children. In order to do that I mentored under key leaders, identified my transferable skills and taught myself new skills that I needed to succeed in sales. 

2) Why do you think this industry would hold your interest over the long run?
The industry of marketing and public relations has changed greatly over the last three to five years. Even over the last two years. The continual evolving environment provides a continual learning atmosphere whereby I can apply new strategies.

3) Since this will be your first job, how do you know you will like it?
It is true that I have never worked in this industry but I have spoken with many friends and others who have and do work for XYZ Company. I have asked them what they like and what they don’t like and their responses tell me that this is a company that supports its employees, has a focused mission that I am passionate about, and has great potential to reach the next level.

4) Describe a skill which you have developed?
I take very seriously the skill of developing the people around me. I have worked hard and learned a lot that I want to share with the people who I lead so that they may become more productive and fulfilled. I have mentored under many people, read and studied the art of management. I have learned that you must understand your employees to lead them. The harmony of strong people, process and strategy is what brings a successful business together.

5) Give an example where you and your boss were not in agreement and your role in coming to a common ground.
My board members felt that we needed to discontinue a particular service line of which I did not agree. I could understand how they felt that way based on the short term cost and return on investment of the service. But I was able to demonstrate how longer term ROI would increase and how the people receiving the service then fed into other service lines of the organization where there was greater reimbursement.

6) Tell me how you’ve helped to support and achieve a corporate goal?
I contributed to and achieved a productivity goal of increasing net revenue by 20%. We dramatically decreased direct mail costs, implemented an e-marketing program, targeted phone solicitations, and scheduled more face-to-face meetings.

7) Tell me about one of your projects that failed?
I have always believed that failure is part of good business. If you are not failing at something you are playing it too safe. I have tried to market audiences that did not prove successful. To keep the cost at a minimum, I target marketed a small segment first and judge whether or not to proceed. We have created campaign materials that have not been effective. Instead of trying a different market with them we retire them and create focus groups to identify what is of interest.

8) What is your biggest weakness?
Probably that I am a perfectionist. I expect a lot of myself and am my own worst critic. I expect a lot of the people who work for me and have learned that to motivate them I have to get underneath them and push them up. I surround myself with good people, make sure they have the tools and structure they need to do their job and get out of their way.

9) Why would you leave the position you are in?
I am seeking a greater challenge with the potential to make a greater difference. I have accomplished everything I set out to accomplish in my current position. The opportunity to take on bigger projects is limited where I am due to the market that we serve.

10) (You are asked a difficult question for which you do not have an answer. Often you are asked this so that the interviewer or recruiter may see how you respond)
(If you don’t know the answer, don’t skirt around it.) I don’t know the answer to that but if I am hired, I would certainly find it out.

Practice answering tough questions out loud in the car as you drive. The more familiar you are with answering tough questions, the more effective you will be at doing it well. Start now!