How to answer 64 Toughest Job Interview Questions

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#43

Question 40 What would you do if a fellow executive on your own corporate level wasn’t pulling his/her weight…and this was hurting your department?

TRAPS: This question and other hypothetical ones test your sense of human relations and how you might handle office politics.
BEST ANSWER: Try to gauge the political style of the firm and be guided accordingly. In general, fall back on universal principles of effective human relations - which in the end, embody the way you would like to be treated in a similar circumstance.
Example: “Good human relations would call for me to go directly to the person and explain the situation, to try to enlist his help in a constructive, positive solution. If I sensed resistance, I would be as persuasive as I know how to explain the benefits we can all gain from working together, and the problems we, the company and our customers will experience if we don’t.”
POSSIBLE FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: And what would you do if he still did not change his ways?
ANSWER: “One thing I wouldn’t do is let the problem slide, because it would only get worse and overlooking it would set a bad precedent. I would try again and again and again, in whatever way I could, to solve the problem, involving wider and wider circles of people, both above and below the offending executive and including my own boss if necessary, so that everyone involved can see the rewards for teamwork and the drawbacks of non-cooperation.”
“I might add that I’ve never yet come across a situation that couldn’t be resolved by harnessing others in a determined, constructive effort.”


#44

Question 41 You’ve been with your firm a long time. Won’t it be hard switching to a new company?

TRAPS: Your interviewer is worried that this old dog will find it hard to learn new tricks.
BEST ANSWER: To overcome this objection, you must point to the many ways you have grown and adapted to changing conditions at your present firm. It has not been a static situation. Highlight the different responsibilities you’ve held, the wide array of new situations you’ve faced and conquered.
As a result, you’ve learned to adapt quickly to whatever is thrown at you, and you thrive on the stimulation of new challenges.
To further assure the interviewer, describe the similarities between the new position and your prior one. Explain that you should be quite comfortable working there, since their needs and your skills make a perfect match.


#45

Question 42 May I contact your present employer for a reference?

TRAPS: If you’re trying to keep your job search private, this is the last thing you want. But if you don’t cooperate, won’t you seem as if you’re trying to hide something?
BEST ANSWER: Express your concern that you’d like to keep your job search private, but that in time, it will be perfectly okay.
Example: "My present employer is not aware of my job search and, for obvious reasons; I’d prefer to keep it that way. I’d be most appreciative if we kept our discussion confidential right now. Of course, when we both agree the time is right, then by all means you should contact them. I’m very proud of my record there.


#46

Question 43 Give me an example of your creativity (analytical skill…managing ability, etc.)

TRAPS: The worst offense here is simply being unprepared. Your hesitation may seem as if you’re having a hard time remembering the last time you were creative, analytical, etc.
BEST ANSWER: Remember from Question 2 that you should commit to memory a list of your greatest and most recent achievements, ever ready on the tip of your tongue.
If you have such a list, it’s easy to present any of your achievements in light of the quality the interviewer is asking about. For example, the smashing success you orchestrated at last year’s trade show could be used as an example of creativity, or analytical ability, or your ability to manage.


#47

Question 44 Where could you use some improvement?

TRAPS: Another tricky way to get you to admit weaknesses. Don’t fall for it.
BEST ANSWER: Keep this answer, like all your answers, positive. A good way to answer this question is to identify a cutting-edge branch of your profession (one that’s not essential to your employer’s needs) as an area you’re very excited about and want to explore more fully over the next six months.


#48

Question 45 What do you worry about?

TRAPS: Admit to worrying and you could sound like a loser. Saying you never worry doesn’t sound credible.
BEST ANSWER: Redefine the word ‘worry’ so that it does not reflect negatively on you.
Example: “I wouldn’t call it worry, but I am a strongly goal-oriented person. So I keep turning over in my mind anything that seems to be keeping me from achieving those goals, until I find a solution. That’s part of my tenacity, I suppose.”


#49

Question 46 How many hours a week do you normally work?

TRAPS: You don’t want to give a specific number. Make it to low, and you may not measure up. Too high, and you’ll forever feel guilty about sneaking out the door at 5:15.
BEST ANSWER: If you are in fact a workaholic and you sense this company would like that: Say you are a confirmed workaholic, that you often work nights and weekends. Your family accepts this because it makes you fulfilled.
If you are not a workaholic: Say you have always worked hard and put in long hours. It goes with the territory. It one sense, it’s hard to keep track of the hours because your work is a labor of love, you enjoy nothing more than solving problems. So you’re almost
always thinking about your work, including times when you’re home, while shaving in the morning, while commuting, etc.


#50

Question 47 What’s the most difficult part of being a (job title)?

TRAPS: Unless you phrase your answer properly, your interviewer may conclude that whatever you identify as “difficult” is where you are weak.
BEST ANSWER: First, redefine “difficult” to be “challenging” which is more positive. Then, identify an area everyone in your profession considers challenging and in which you excel. Describe the process you follow that enables you to get splendid results…and be specific about those results.
Example: “I think every sales manager finds it challenging to motivate the troops in a recession. But that’s probably the strongest test of a top sales manager. I feel this is one area where I excel.”
“When I see the first sign that sales may slip or that sales force motivation is flagging because of a downturn in the economy, here’s the plan I put into action immediately…” (followed by a description of each step in the process…and most importantly, the exceptional results you’ve achieved.).


#51

Question 48 The "Hypothetical Problem"

TRAPS: Sometimes an interviewer will describe a difficult situation and ask, “How would you handle this?” Since it is virtually impossible to have all the facts in front of you from such a short presentation, don’t fall into the trap of trying to solve this problem and giving your verdict on the spot. It will make your decision-making process seem woefully inadequate.
BEST ANSWER: Instead, describe the rational, methodical process you would follow in analyzing this problem, who you would consult with, generating possible solutions, choosing the best course of action, and monitoring the results.
Remember, in all such, “What would you do?” questions, always describe your process or working methods, and you’ll never go wrong.


#52

Question 49 What was the toughest challenge you’ve ever faced?

TRAPS: Being unprepared or citing an example from so early in your life that it doesn’t score many points for you at this stage of your career.
BEST ANSWER: This is an easy question if you’re prepared. Have a recent example ready that demonstrates either:

  1. A quality most important to the job at hand; or
  2. A quality that is always in demand, such as leadership, initiative, managerial skill, persuasiveness, courage, persistence, intelligence, etc.

#53

Question 50 Have you consider starting your own business?

TRAPS: If you say “yes” and elaborate enthusiastically, you could be perceived as a loose cannon in a larger company, too entrepreneurial to make a good team player…or someone who had to settle for the corporate life because you couldn’t make a go of your own business.
Also too much enthusiasm in answering “yes” could rouse the paranoia of a small company indicating that you may plan to go out on your own soon, perhaps taking some key accounts or trade secrets with you.
On the other hand, if you answer “no, never” you could be perceived as a security-minded drone who never dreamed a big dream.
BEST ANSWER: Again it’s best to:

  1. Gauge this company’s corporate culture before answering and…
  2. Be honest (which doesn’t mean you have to vividly share your fantasy of the franchise or bed-and-breakfast you someday plan to open).
    In general, if the corporate culture is that of a large, formal, military-style structure, minimize any indication that you’d love to have your own business. You might say, “Oh, I may have given it a thought once or twice, but my whole career has been in larger organizations. That’s where I have excelled and where I want to be.”
    If the corporate culture is closer to the free-wheeling, everybody’s-a-deal-maker variety, then emphasize that in a firm like this, you can virtually get the best of all worlds, the excitement of seeing your own ideas and plans take shape…combined with the resources and stability of a well-established organization. Sounds like the perfect environment to you.
    In any case, no matter what the corporate culture, be sure to indicate that any desires about running your own show are part of your past, not your present or future.
    The last thing you want to project is an image of either a dreamer who failed and is now settling for the corporate cocoon…or the restless maverick who will fly out the door with key accounts, contacts and trade secrets under his arms just as soon as his bankroll has gotten rebuilt.
    Always remember: Match what you want with what the position offers. The more information you’ve uncovered about the position, the more believable you can make your case.

#54

Question 51 What are your goals?

TRAPS: Not having any…or having only vague generalities, not highly specific goals.
BEST ANSWER: Many executives in a position to hire you are strong believers in goal-setting. (It’s one of the reason they’ve achieved so much). They like to hire in kind.
If you’re vague about your career and personal goals, it could be a big turnoff to may people you will encounter in your job search.
Be ready to discuss your goals for each major area of your life: career, personal development and learning, family, physical (health), community service and (if your interviewer is clearly a religious person) you could briefly and generally allude to your spiritual goals (showing you are a well-rounded individual with your values in the right order).
Be prepared to describe each goal in terms of specific milestones you wish to accomplish along the way, time periods you’re allotting for accomplishment, why the goal is important to you, and the specific steps you’re taking to bring it about. But do this concisely, as you never want to talk more than two minutes straight before letting your interviewer back into the conversation.


#55

Question 52 What do you for when you hire people?

TRAPS: Being unprepared for the question.
BEST ANSWER: Speak your own thoughts here, but for the best answer weave them around the three most important qualifications for any position.

  1. Can the person do the work (qualifications)?
  2. Will the person do the work (motivation)?
  3. Will the person fit in (“our kind of team player”)?

#56

Question 53 Sell me this stapler…(this pencil…this clock…or some other object on interviewer’s desk).

TRAPS: Some interviewers, especially business owners and hard-changing executives in marketing-driven companies, feel that good salesmanship is essential for any key position and ask for an instant demonstration of your skill. Be ready.
BEST ANSWER: Of course, you already know the most important secret of all great salesmanship - “find out what people want, then show them how to get it.”
If your interviewer picks up his stapler and asks, “sell this to me,” you are going to demonstrate this proven master principle. Here’s how:
“Well, a good salesman must know both his product and his prospect before he sells anything. If I were selling this, I’d first get to know everything I could about it, all its features and benefits.”
“Then, if my goal were to sell it you, I would do some research on how you might use a fine stapler like this. The best way to do that is by asking some questions. May I ask you a few questions?”
Then ask a few questions such as, “Just out of curiosity, if you didn’t already have a stapler like this, why would you want one? And in addition to that? Any other reason? Anything else?”
“And would you want such a stapler to be reliable?..Hold a good supply of staples?” (Ask more questions that point to the features this stapler has.)
Once you’ve asked these questions, make your presentation citing all the features and benefits of this stapler and why it’s exactly what the interviewer just told you he’s looking for.
Then close with, "Just out of curiosity, what would you consider a reasonable price for a quality stapler like this…a stapler you could have right now and would (then repeat all the problems the stapler would solve for him)? Whatever he says, (unless it’s zero), say, “Okay, we’ve got a deal.”
NOTE: If your interviewer tests you by fighting every step of the way, denying that he even wants such an item, don’t fight him. Take the product away from him by saying, “Mr. Prospect, I’m delighted you’ve told me right upfront that there’s no way you’d ever want this stapler. As you well know, the first rule of the most productive salespeople in any field is to meet the needs of people who really need and want our products, and it just wastes everyone’s time if we try to force it on those who don’t. And I certainly wouldn’t want to waste your time. But we sell many items. Is there any product on this desk you would very much like to own…just one item?” When he points something out, repeat the process above. If he knows anything about selling, he may give you a standing ovation.


#57

Question 54 “The Salary Question” - How much money do you want?

TRAPS: May also be phrases as, “What salary are you worth?”…or, “How much are you making now?” This is your most important negotiation. Handle it wrong and you can blow the job offer or go to work at far less than you might have gotten.
BEST ANSWER: For maximum salary negotiating power, remember these five guidelines:

  1. Never bring up salary. Let the interviewer do it first. Good salespeople sell their products thoroughly before talking price. So should you. Make the interviewer want you first, and your bargaining position will be much stronger.
  2. If your interviewer raises the salary question too early, before you’ve had a chance to create desire for your qualifications, postpone the question, saying something like, “Money is important to me, but is not my main concern. Opportunity and growth are far more important. What I’d rather do, if you don’t mind, is explore if I’m right for the position, and then talk about money. Would that be okay?”
  3. The #1 rule of any negotiation is: the side with more information wins. After you’ve done a thorough job of selling the interviewer and it’s time to talk salary, the secret is to get the employer talking about what he’s willing to pay before you reveal what you’re willing to accept. So, when asked about salary, respond by asking, “I’m sure the company has already established a salary range for this position. Could you tell me what that is?” Or, “I want an income commensurate with my ability and qualifications. I trust you’ll be fair with me. What does the position pay?” Or, more simply, “What does this position pay?”
  4. Know beforehand what you’d accept. To know what’s reasonable, research the job market and this position for any relevant salary information. Remember that most executives look for a 20-25%$ pay boost when they switch jobs. If you’re grossly underpaid, you may want more.
  5. Never lie about what you currently make, but feel free to include the estimated cost of all your fringes, which could well tack on 25-50% more to your present “cash-only” salary.

#58

Question 55 The Illegal Question

TRAPS: Illegal questions include any regarding your age…number and ages of your children or other dependents…marital status…maiden name…religion…political affiliation…ancestry…national origin…birthplace…naturalization of your parents, spouse or children…diseases…disabilities…clubs…or spouse’s occupation…unless any of the above are directly related to your performance of the job. You can’t even be asked about arrests, though you can be asked about convictions.
BEST ANSWER: Under the ever-present threat of lawsuits, most interviewers are well aware of these taboos. Yet you may encounter, usually on a second or third interview, a senior executive who doesn’t interview much and forgets he can’t ask such questions.
You can handle an illegal question in several ways. First, you can assert your legal right not to answer. But this will frighten or embarrass your interviewer and destroy any rapport you had.
Second, you could swallow your concerns over privacy and answer the question straight forwardly if you feel the answer could help you. For example, your interviewer, a devout Baptist, recognizes you from church and mentions it. Here, you could gain by talking about your church.
Third, if you don’t want your privacy invaded, you can diplomatically answer the concern behind the question without answering the question itself.
Example: If you are over 50 and are asked, “How old are you?” you can answer with a friendly, smiling question of your own on whether there’s a concern that your age my affect your performance. Follow this up by reassuring the interviewer that there’s nothing in this job you can’t do and, in fact, your age and experience are the most important advantages you offer the employer for the following reasons…
Another example: If asked, “Do you plan to have children?” you could answer, “I am wholeheartedly dedicated to my career”, perhaps adding, “I have no plans regarding children.” (You needn’t fear you’ve pledged eternal childlessness. You have every right to change your plans later. Get the job first and then enjoy all your options.)
Most importantly, remember that illegal questions arise from fear that you won’t perform well. The best answer of all is to get the job and perform brilliantly. All concerns and fears will then vanish, replaced by respect and appreciation for your work.


#59

Question 56 The “Secret” Illegal Question

TRAPS: Much more frequent than the Illegal question (see Question 55) is the secret illegal question. It’s secret because it’s asked only in the interviewer’s mind. Since it’s not even expressed to you, you have no way to respond to it, and it can there be most damaging.
Example: You’re physically challenged, or a single mother returning to your professional career, or over 50, or a member of an ethnic minority, or fit any of a dozen other categories that do not strictly conform to the majority in a given company. Your interviewer wonders, “Is this person really able to handle the job?”…“Is he or she a ‘good fit’ at a place like ours?”…“Will the chemistry ever be right with someone like this?” But the interviewer never raises such questions because they’re illegal. So what can you do?
BEST ANSWER: Remember that just because the interviewer doesn’t ask an illegal question doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it. More than likely, he is going to come up with his own answer. So you might as well help him out.
How? Well, you obviously can’t respond to an illegal question if he hasn’t even asked. This may well offend him. And there’s always the chance he wasn’t even concerned about the issue until you brought it up, and only then begins to wonder. So you can’t address “secret” illegal questions head-on. But what you can do is make sure there’s enough counterbalancing information to more than reassure him that there’s no problem in the area he may be doubtful about.
For example, let’s say you’re a sales rep who had polio as a child and you need a cane to walk. You know your condition has never impeded your performance, yet you’re concerned that your interviewer may secretly be wondering about your stamina or ability to travel. Well, make sure that you hit these abilities very hard, leaving no doubt about your capacity to handle them well.
So, too, if you’re in any different from what passes for “normal”. Make sure, without in any way seeming defensive about yourself that you mention strengths, accomplishments, preferences and affiliations that strongly counterbalance any unspoken concern your interviewer may have.


#60

Question 57 What was the toughest part of your last job?

TRAPS: This is slightly different from the question raised earlier, “What’s the most difficult part of being a (job title…)” because this asks what you personally have found most difficult in your last position. This question is more difficult to redefine into something positive. Your interviewer will assume that whatever you found toughest may give you a problem in your new position.
BEST ANSWER: State that there was nothing in your prior position that you found overly difficult, and let your answer go at that. If pressed to expand your answer, you could describe the aspects of the position you enjoyed more than others, making sure that you express maximum enjoyment for those tasks most important to the open position, and you enjoyed least those tasks that are unimportant to the position at hand.


#61

Question 58 How do you define success…and how do you measure up to your own definition?

TRAPS: Seems like an obvious enough question. Yet many executives, unprepared for it, fumble the ball.
BEST ANSWER: Give a well-accepted definition of success that leads right into your own stellar collection of achievements. Example: “The best definition I’ve come across is that success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.”
“As to how I would measure up to that definition, I would consider myself both successful and fortunate…”(Then summarize your career goals and how your achievements have indeed represented a progressive path toward realization of your goals.)


#62

Question 59 “The Opinion Question” - What do you think about …Abortion…The President…The Death Penalty…(or any other controversial subject)?

TRAPS: Obviously, these and other “opinion” questions should never be asked. Sometimes they come up over a combination dinner/interview when the interviewer has had a drink or two, is feeling relaxed, and is spouting off about something that bugged him in today’s news. If you give your opinion and it’s the opposite of his, you won’t change his opinions, but you could easily lose the job offer.
BEST ANSWER: In all of these instances, just remember the tale about student and the wise old rabbi. The scene is a seminary, where an overly serious student is pressing the rabbi to answer the ultimate questions of suffering, life and death. But no matter how hard he presses, the wise old rabbi will only answer each difficult question with a question of his own.
In exasperation, the seminary student demands, “Why, rabbi, do you always answer a question with another question?” To which the rabbi responds, “And why not?”
If you are ever uncomfortable with any question, asking a question in return is the greatest escape hatch ever invented. It throws the onus back on the other person, sidetracks the discussion from going into an area of risk to you, and gives you time to think of your answer or, even better, your next question!
In response to any of the “opinion” questions cited above, merely responding, “Why do you ask?” will usually be enough to dissipate any pressure to give your opinion. But if your interviewer again presses you for an opinion, you can ask another question.
Or you could assert a generality that almost everyone would agree with. For example, if your interviewer is complaining about politicians then suddenly turns to you and asks if you’re a Republican or Democrat, you could respond by saying, “Actually, I’m finding it hard to find any politicians I like these days.”
(Of course, your best question of all may be whether you want to work for someone opinionated.)