Tag Archives: tough questions

Nailing the interview process, part 6: answering tough interview questions

Addressing employers’ three areas of concern.

You’ve been invited in for a face-to-face interview. You feel this job is great for you. You like the variety of responsibilities and have heard great things about the company. You’ve done everything right so far – and now it’s time to answer some tough interview questions.

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In order to do this, however, you’ll have to rely on the extensive research you’ve done on the company and position.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the interviewer is looking for three criteria in their next employee: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? And will you fit in?

Given this framework, you should be able to predict some of the questions that will be asked in the interview. Let’s address the three criteria:

Can You Do the Job?

Many employers consider this factor the most important of the three. Do you have the skills, experience, education, and/or licenses to handle the responsibilities of the position? Can you hit the ground running?

Questions related to this criterion can be quite challenging. One question you’re likely to receive will be delivered in the form of a directive: “Tell us about yourself.” To answer this effectively, you’ll need to share your elevator pitch.

You may be asked a situational question like, “How would you develop a social media campaign for our company?” Answering this type of question requires knowledge of the needs of the company, as well as some role-relevant technical knowledge (in this case, the functions and uses of various social media platforms.)

Will You Do the Job?

This component speaks to your motivation and enthusiasm, two traits that are necessary to overcome obstacles on the job. Employers feel those who are motivated will be the highest achievers in the future.

You may get a situational question such as, “How would you approach a project that is a week behind schedule?” Here, the interviewer is interested in the steps you can take to get the project up to speed, not necessarily your success in finishing the project.

More difficult are the behavioral questions, which ask you to recount scenarios from previous roles. For example, a behavioral version of the previous example question would be, “Tell us about a time when your team was a week or more behind in finishing a project. What measures did you take to get the project up to speed? What was the result of your team’s actions?”

Here, the interviewer is looking for a story, so you should use the STAR formula: situation, task, action, and result. (More on this below.)

Will You Fit In?

In addition to your ability to do the job, employers also want to know if you will be a fit for the company culture. They want to know that you will work well with others, particularly your potential supervisor.

This is where emotional intelligence (EQ) becomes critical. Defined as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” EQ may account for as much as 75 percent of job success, according to some sources.

Savvy interviewers will use behavioral-based questions to determine your “cultural fit,” which ultimately depends on your EQ. Sometimes, interviewers will specifically look for certain soft skills commonly mentioned in job postings, such as written and oral communication, teamwork, social skills, creativity, and/or integrity.

You’ll need to prepare for questions that address these soft skills and others. The best way to do that is practice your stories for behavioral interview questions like “Tell us about a time when you won back the trust of a customer.”

To answer the question, you’d use the same STAR formula I mentioned earlier.

A Primer on STAR Answers

If you’re not totally sure how STAR answers work, let’s take a look at an example.

If an interviewer asked you to describe a time you needed to win back the trust of a customer, your STAR answer might look like this:

1. Situation

One of our longstanding customers had left us prior to my arrival at Company X. I had heard the customer was unhappy to the point where he decided he no longer needed our services.

2. Task

My vice president wanted me to persuade the customer to return. As the new manager of a group of five furnace technicians, it was my mission to win back this customer.

3. Action

To begin, I first had to understand what made our customer unhappy, so I asked one of my subordinates who was close to the situation. He told me it was because the person who previously worked on his furnace did shoddy work and wasn’t responsive.

Armed with this information, I called our customer to introduce myself as a new manager of the company and to ask him why he was unhappy with our service. At first he was justifiably angry, telling me he would never use us again. He revealed that his furnace was never cleaned and that it still smoked.

This was going to be a tough one, based on the tone in his voice. I listened to what he said and told him I really couldn’t blame him for being upset. I agreed with him that he wasn’t treated properly. I was going to make it right.

“Too late,” he told me. He was going to go with a competitor of ours. He hung up before I had the chance to talk with him further.

I decided to go unannounced to his house to introduce myself. I was met with, “Boy, you’re persistent.”

I apologized for coming without warning and asked him if I could look at his furnace. He didn’t seem to mind and told me to go to the basement through the back.

“But I ain’t paying for nothing,” he told me.

“Fair enough,” I told him. “We want to regain your trust, and if I can’t fix what’s broken, I wish you the best.”

I am still sharp with my technical skills, so I was sure I could fix his furnace and win back his business. I spent two hours fixing what was broken – namely, the exhaust pipe was full of soot, which required vacuuming. In addition, the oil pump had to be replaced. This was not news our customer wanted to hear, but he was happy I was honest with him, and he appreciated the work I had done. He also said the former technician didn’t catch these problems – or didn’t care.

When he asked what he owed me, I told him there was no charge. I just wanted to be assured that he’d stay with our company.

4. Result

The customer told me that I had regained his trust. He also said he appreciated my honesty and my concern that his furnace would be fixed right the first time. He returned to our company.


In the above story, you see how the job candidate proves his ability to provide customer service. Of course, the interviewer will ask more questions about customer service, and further questions will likely explore both positive and negative outcomes.

Remember that it’s not only the technical skills you have to focus on. You must also think about times you’ve demonstrated motivation, teamwork, and other soft skills.

Check back part seven, when we’ll be discussing how to follow up after an interview.

This post originally appeared in Recruiter.com.

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3 things to consider when an interviewer asks, “Why should we hire you?”

For many job seekers, “Why should we hire you?” is one of the most difficult interview questions to answer. Don’t take it from me – take it from my clients, who list this as one of the hardest questions presented by interviewers.

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I understand their concerns. To answer this question, you have to articulate what the interviewer is trying to ascertain. In addition, you have to make your answer relevant to the job at hand and demonstrate the value you’ll bring to the company.

In other words, you can’t use a canned answer for every employer with whom you interview.

The secret to answering this question is that you must address the three things employers look for in their employees. The first is that you can do the job, the second is that you will do the job, and the third is that you will fit in.

1. You Can Do the Job

Having the technical know-how is essential to performing the job and advancing in your career. That includes software and hardware proficiency, specialized knowledge, etc. However, transferable skills can be just as important, if not more important.

It’s imperative that you understand the job extremely well and can address the technical and transferable skills. You do not have to address every single skill in your answer, as that will take too long. Begin your answer with something similar to the following:

“I have a thorough understanding of the role and am confident I can meet the challenges it presents. For example, you require excellent leadership abilities, which I’ve demonstrated in every position I’ve had. You also need someone who can improve the visibility of your organization …”

You can cite additional examples. Just don’t belabor the point.

2. You Will Do the Job

The interview will also want to know if you’re in love with the responsibilities of the role and the mission of the organization. Will you work until the job is finished? Will you overcome obstacles?

Why you want to work for the company is another concern they’ll have. I tell my clients that no company wants someone who’s just looking for any job they can get.

Here’s an example of how you might address your motivation to do the job:

“This position presents an exciting opportunity to take on new challenges that I will embrace. I’ve always stood up to obstacles and worked to overcome them. In addition, I’ve researched this organization and am truly impressed with the product you produce and your mission of helping special groups.”

3. You Will Fit In

Whether or not you’ll be a good fit is a major concern many employers have, and it’s also a tough thing for you to prove. It’s all about your personality. A company doesn’t want to hire someone it will have to let go because the hire couldn’t get along with their coworkers.

Of the three components employers look for in their employees, this might be the most important. There are plenty of talented people out there who can hit the ground running, but not everyone can play well with their colleagues.

Your fit is difficult to prove without data or good recommendations from your references, but try to provide as much hard proof as possible:

“In my performance reviews, I’ve always scored high on interpersonal skills. I know the clients you serve; it will require excellent teamwork in order to serve them effectively. If you ask my former colleagues and supervisors, I’m sure they’ll tell you how I’ve pitched in when needed and without being asked.”


Tying It All Together

Explain how you’ll exceed the employer’s needs based not only on being able to meet the three major components, but also by emphasizing how you will be integral to the success of the company. Going into the interview, know how important your role to the organization is:

“The next marketing specialist you hire will be crucial in creating a strong presence in the direct community and beyond. I can assure you, based on my experience with doing this, I am your person. This is ultimately why you should hire me.”

Learn how to answer other tough questions like:

“What is your greatest weakness?”
“Tell me about yourself.”

This post originally appeared in recruiter.com.

Photo: Flickr, Enri Endrian

Nerves can be a killer at an interview; don’t let them

Interviews are stressful. I know only one person who said she loved being interviewed, but I don’t know if she was telling me the truth.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of being interviewed—the last one I attended was four years ago and it ended successfully. I “performed” well and shined more than I thought; but I was still nervous and couldn’t remember a word of what I said.

Jobseekers who attend my interview workshops nod their heads in agreement when I talk about how nerves can sabotage the interview for any qualified candidate. It just seems to overcome them when sitting in the hot seat. This, to say the least, is a stressful situation.

Stressful is fine. We have to experience stress to keep us on our toes, as well as learn how to deal with it better. Yet, some people have a very hard time taming their nerves at an interview. You talk with them in a different environment, and they’re as calm as a lake in the morning. But at an interview it’s as though they’re about to walk the plank.

I notice it in one woman I coach. She maintains steady eye contact, speaks with a steady voice, and recalls the answers to any question; but she admits that at an interview, this all goes out the window. It’s the nerves.

Here are some ways to get over the nervousness that leads to a stressed-out interview, including some things you’ll want to do before the meeting.

  1. Realize that the interview is nothing more than a conversation between you, the seller, and the employer, the buyer. Your job is to engage in the conversation. Don’t see it as an interrogation, where you’re getting raked over the coals by Andre Braugher from Homicide: Life on the Streets. Henceforth remove “interview” from your vocabulary.
  2. Be prepared. Let’s say it three times: prepare, prepare, prepare. This means knowing what some of the tough questions might be asked. Forbs.com recently wrote a piece on 10 of the toughest questions. There are many more, but this sample of questions gets to the root of what employers are trying to determine about you. It goes without saying that you must know the competencies for the job and can predict questions based on meeting them.
  3. Realize the interviewer has one purpose and one purpose only, to find the right candidate. She wants to get as much pertinent information from you as possible. This means she wants you to relax and answer her questions with clarity and confidence. She doesn’t want you to fail. Doesn’t that make you feel better.
  4. You are the right person for the job. You’ve applied for a position you’re suited for. If you haven’t applied for the right position, you shouldn’t be at the meeting. There will be other people who applied for the same position and aren’t qualified, but you are. You’ve earned the right to be there, so give yourself a hoorah.
  5. Prepare yourself emotionally for the meeting between you and your potential employer. If given the chance to meet with the employer later in the day, take it and use the morning to review some facts about the job and company. Take a walk and practice your answers, call a friend and talk about light matter, do yoga before getting dressed, or any activity that relaxes you.
  6. To further decrease your nervousness, you may want to bring a cheat sheet. Although I recommend against it, some jobseekers use it as a security blanket. An an article in CareerBuilder.com supports bringing a cheat sheet: “Bringing a cheat sheet and questions. There is no rule that says you can’t bring a nice portfolio with some notes and question on it so during the interview you glance down at it,” says Mark Lyden, author of “Professionals: Do This! Get Hired!”. “What should be on the cheat sheet are little reminders of situations (your life experiences) that you may want to give as an example to answer one of the interview questions

I’ll be the last one to say the meeting between you and the employer will be stress-free. I experience the nerves before and during any time I have to speak before a group of people, but I’ve learned to turn that nervousness into positive energy, mainly because I’m confident of what I have to say.

If you are paralyzed by fear and nerves, perhaps you should speak to a professional who can suggest coping skills. Your chance of getting a job should not be dictated by your fear and nerves; you’re the right one for the job, and you know it.