August 17, 2015
Responding to Tough Interview Questions
The vast majority of questions you will be asked in an interview are ones you can prepare for.
Expect questions about your education, training, previous employment, and volunteer or community activities. Most interviewers will explore your career plans and ask how this position relates to your plans. They’ll question your interest in the job and company, the strengths you would bring to the job, and your weaknesses.
They’ll ask about your knowledge, skills and abilities, your expectations of your boss, and your supervisory style (if the job requires supervising/ managing others). They’ll want to know about your resilience and adaptability to change; your health and ability to show up for work and be productive; your availability to start work. They might also ask about your reasons for leaving previous employers and your motivation for pursuing particular goals, training, or leisure activities. It’s fair game to explore your salary background and expectations.
You may be asked to produce a driver’s license, an abstract of your driving record, and evidence of academic qualifications, professional membership or first aid certification.
The tough questions are those you haven’t anticipated and prepared for. Interviewers report consistently that one of the toughest is: “Tell me about yourself.”, which is a frequent opener. The interviewer is giving you free reign to start with whatever you wish. With that one question, the interviewer can evaluate your comfort with ambiguity, your organizational skills, your ability to anticipate what they need to know about you, and your ability to prioritize and summarize.
Many job candidates find this question too ambiguous. Resist the impulse to respond: “What do you want to know!” If the question throws you, imagine that they’ve asked instead: “Would you describe your background and how you feel it prepares you for this job!” That is what they’re asking.
Your response to this question should arouse further interest in you. Avoid using general statements about an experience on the assumption that experience equals demonstrated competencies. Instead, give a sense of your strengths and specific results you’ve achieved. For example:
Don’t say: “Well, I’ve had seven years experience in accounting for oilfield supply companies, including supervising four clerical support staff for three years. My academic background includes a NAIT Business Administration diploma in Accounting and I’ve completed the fourth level of a CMA.”
Do say: “Firstly, I’ve always been attracted to working with numbers and financial analysis. I started my post-secondary education by completing a NAIT Business Administration diploma majoring in accounting in 1974. When I graduated, I applied to XYZ Oil Services and was successful out of 48 applicants for the position of Office Manager. “In the seven years I’ve been there, I’ve had more responsibility and three promotions. I feel I’ve contributed significantly to the company’s profitability. I’ve recently completed the fourth level CMA. I’11 write the final in May of this year.”
In this response, the candidate offers a great deal of relevant information regarding his interests, motivation, ability to set goals and follow through on them, academic and job-related accomplishments, initiative, creativity, promotability, and willingness to take on new challenges.
If you’ve done the analysis of your skills, strengths, and accomplishments from the first section in the manual, you have the data you need to help you prepare your verbal responses to the tough questions. They may include:
➟ Tell me about yourself.
➟ Why should we hire you?
➟ What would you bring to this job?
➟ Why do you want this job?
➟ So, why do you want to leave your current job?
➟ Why did you leave your last job?
➟ What are your strengths?
➟ What are your weaknesses?
➟ What did you like about your last job?
➟ What did you dislike?
Questions about weaknesses may seem to go against your purpose. A weakness here means a job-related knowledge or skill deficiency — an area where you need more development.
It’s good to acknowledge that you’re not perfect. Identify a weakness or two that would not be major for the job and explain how you are overcoming them. For example, when being interviewed for a managerial job.
Don’t say: “major weakness would be that I’ve never supervised before.”
Do say: “Although I’ve had limited exposure to supervision, I’ve been preparing myself for the supervisory development certificate at university and some leadership experience in my community league for hands-on practice. I’m also reading So You’re the Boss and In Search of Excellence.”
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