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Top 10 Toughest Interview Questions: Be Prepared

June 25, 2014

By Janice Burch, co-founder
Pro Resume Center, LLC


Properly preparing for a job interview is an investment with great pay-out. Job seekers need to take a good hard look at the following questions that will likely be asked by an interviewer. Think about your responses ahead of time, write down some notes, practice what to say and deliver your response in deliberate, concise fashion with an eye on the future employer’s needs.

Experience has shown these are fairly standard questions most HR teams ask of job applicants which helps them see how well the applicant communicates with clarity, understands their company’s needs and the position for which they are applying.

So get ready and be prepared to answer these questions so you aren’t caught off guard:

1. Tell me about yourself.

Be careful with this one – it actually trips up even seasoned job hunters in the first minutes of the interview as they step all over themselves trying to fill in empty sound space. The interviewer is not looking for a full rundown of your life including your high school track awards and 5th grade spelling bee championship. They want to see how clear you are on your background, if you show hesitation in explaining any part of it (hint: is he/she being truthful?) and are gauging your ability to cater your answer to your audience- their company. Give them a two to three minute snapshot. No more. Your answer should focus on four main points – your education, work history, recent career experience and goals as they would apply to that company. Feel free to throw in a little personal quip at the end to let them see a glimpse of your life outside the office - especially if it helps you connect with them.

2. What do you know about our company?

Do your homework before the interview. Be ready to discuss the company’s history, its products or services, reputation, revenues and if applicable, social media presence. Also have a clear understanding of who the top executives are in the company so if the interviewer drops the company CEO’s name without saying the title, and then asks, “Do you know who that is?” you aren’t caught off guard and look foolish. Be ready to bring up or discuss any recent media coverage. Knowledge is power, especially in an interview.

3. Why did you/why are you leaving your job?

Hold the horses on badmouthing ANY prior position or boss. Just don’t. Period. No matter what the circumstances are or were, doing so only will show a poor attitude and sour grapes and you will immediately turn off the interviewer. Laser in instead on what you learned in your current or previous position and how those skills can best apply to the company’s open position. Explain to the interviewer how your current goals do not fit with the organization you currently work/worked for and that your research shows there are better fits out there for your creativity, interest areas and focus. Keep it positive.

4. Why should we hire you?

This is when you tell them all about how you get stuff done. You promote your project management and organizational abilities, timeliness and problem solving talents. Give examples of what you did that will help illustrate what an asset you would be for that company and its clients or mission (for instance, “increased sales by 25 percent by implementing new training program for employees,” etc.). Show your passion for how you will help them meet their goals.

5. What are your weaknesses?

Try to position your weaknesses as potential strengths for the company and the open position. Are you a stickler for detail? Are you competitive? Do you like go all in to win – a contract, a company award, signing a new client? Explain how this weakness can be an asset to the company without overselling the weakness as your strength. In other words, don’t be cheesy or overtly obvious in positioning your weakness as an asset to them. It’s a delicate balance between confessing the weakness and selling it as an asset to the company. Think it out.

6. What is your management style?

Focus on two strengths – leadership and vision you provide for your team. A good leader has the ability to motivate and teach team members to rise up and exceed personal and company goals. A good visionary sets the course for the team, understanding how it fits in with the overall company goals. Explain your management qualities with buzzwords like inspiring, motivating, elevating, invigorating, beneficial, remarkable and impassioned. Explain your visionary skills with words like ambitious, energetic, perceptive and focused.

7. Did you ever have a conflict with a boss and how did you resolve it?

If you say no, rest assured the interviewer will try to dig deeper. It is unlikely that someone with some professional job experience has never had a conflict. Explain the situation and how you worked to address it, overcome any shortcomings you may have had or how you dealt directly with an unfair situation. Be aware though that if you are going to say something like, “I was called out for being late twice and I know others have been late way more than I ever was,” you will be cut from the running. Calling out unfair treatment from a boss because they let others slip more than you, is not going to cast you in favorable light.

8. What was the most difficult thing you have had to do in your current position?

Safe bets include sticking with cost control issues. Every company is facing challenges in controlling costs with increased pricing and overhead demands while staying within often shrinking budgets. Another potential area to bring up if you were a manager, is handling personnel issues. Juggling so many personalities, needs and abilities – trying to lasso all of those into a uniform process that applies to all is challenging for most human beings especially those who are compassionate yet loyal to the company’s bottom line. Show your human side for employees but focus in on your abilities to direct the company’s mission in spite of personnel challenges.

9. How would others describe you?

First and foremost – be confident and factual in how you begin this reply. Forget the wishy washiness of “I kind of think that they would say….” No. You are certain. You are confident. Focus on professional attributes that would be an asset to the company and the available position. No need to describe how fun you are at parties, or what a great athlete you are. Keep it at the professional level. Share your communication skills strength, determination, quick learning skills, teaching ability, problem solving capabilities and integrity.

10. Would you be willing to take a salary cut?

Don’t lie. Be honest. If you are not willing to take a pay cut from your current position be ready to say so. But do consider these factors when preparing your response: Does the position offer you greater potential for growth and advancement? Could you negotiate any perks that would compensate for the income drop (paid time off, wellness incentives, 4-day work week or work from home options, onsite child care, continuing education reimbursement, etc). Often, if they want you badly enough, a company will negotiate with you on these things if they are asking you to take a pay cut from your current position.

Finally, a few other important things to consider during your interview – be sure to check ahead of time with any referrals you plan to share to make sure they actually will give you a good recommendation.

Lastly, at the end of the interview, don’t forget to stand up, give a great smile and firm handshake and let the interviewer know you are interested, available for any questions and look forward to hearing from them soon.

Good luck!

NOTE: It’s not only important to be prepared to provide intelligent responses during an interview, but job seekers must be ready with their own well-thought out questions showing they have done their company research. Watch for Pro Resume Center’s upcoming article on the best questions to ask in an interview at www.proresumecenter.com/blog/. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ProResumeCenter.

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