Wanting and Able But Are You Ready – Answering Tough Interview Questions

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So you have reached that pivotal point of the job search process – the interview. Your prep work, your effort – a great resume, job boarding and virtual and face-to-face networking succeeded. It was a lot of work – but it paid off. You got the interview. Breathe a sigh of relief. But just a short sigh because now the work really begins. You want to make the most of the interview process. You know you are able to do the job, but you now must communicate that and sell you to the interviewer and your next position.

So are you ready? There’s no worse feeling than when you’re in an interview and the interviewer ask you a question to which you don’t know the answer. The way to handle and avoid this is to go the interviewed prepared. All interview questions will seem difficult without readiness. Thorough preparation will make all questions, even the tough ones, surmountable and manageable. You want to eliminate the unknown. Familiarize yourself with a few difficult questions and prepare your answers before the interview. Not only is this the best way to reduce and avoid nervousness; it will place you in a position to do your best in the interview.

You don’t want improper or ineffective answers to interview questions to become a deal killer. To strengthen the delivery of your answers, it is critical that you have honed interview and communication skills. Learn to speak clearly and effectively. Nonverbal communication is important too. You will want to have good body language. You also will want eye contact that shows confidence and says “hire me.” Anything else sends you the message you aren’t prepared and can’t answer the tough questions.

So plan to be ready. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This is the key to a successful interview.

First some general tips to get you ready to handle the interview and the resulting questions.

o Know your audience: Research the company; know what they do and how the job you are interviewing fits with the company. If you know the name of the interviewer, Google them. With the availability of information today, made possible by the internet, there’s no excuse for not going into an interview armed with lots of insider knowledge and intelligent questions.

o Put your materials together. Bring a copy of your cover letter, your resume, your LinkedIn profile, letters of recommendation, references, etc. Place them in organized fashion easily accessible to share and provide with the interviewer.

o Make a list of the key points about yourself including your strengths, any unique skills you have or exceptional accomplishments you have had. Include skills and successes that differentiate you from the competition.

o Prepare a list of questions: The interview should be give and take. It isn’t an interrogation; it is an exchange of information. Prepare a list of questions that you want to ask about that you need to know to determine if the job is a good fit (e.g., job responsibilities, required skills, chain of command, etc.). Asking appropriate questions shows you are interested in the job and the company. It gives the interviewer a chance to talk and creates an opportunity to connect.

o Prepare of list of question you might be asked. And prepare answers (though you have to be careful not to come across as too scripted). Be prepared to hone your interview skills by practicing. The old saying “Practice Makes Perfect” applies. Plan to conduct mock job interviews; perhaps videotape yourself. Take turns being the interviewee and the interviewer. Rehearse but don’t memorize answers.

The number of potential questions is infinite. You can search the web for the plenary of questions and the many opinions (sometimes different) on how to answer them. To get you started, here are my top ten difficult questions and suggestions on how to construct an answer.

1. Tell me about yourself.

This is often the first question in an interview and provides you a chance to shine. It is an open ended question that many fail at by telling everything. The best answer is a two to three minute snapshot of who you are, what you have to offer and why you are the best person for the job. Talk about what you have done to prepare yourself to be the best and use examples to back it up.

2. What is your greatest weakness?

This is the classic difficult question. Fielding the question well will demonstrate that you can take initiative and improve. To do so, do not follow the old generic approach selecting by a strength and presenting it as a weakness. Examples of these answers are “I have no weaknesses,” I am workaholic,” and “I am a perfectionist.” Instead select a business weakness you have been working to overcome. Show you are taking the initiative and improving yourself. Don’t call it a weakness, but present it as a window of opportunity. For example, “I have had trouble with planning and prioritization in the past. However, I am taking steps to correct this. I just started using a planner.” Then show the planner and how you are using it.

3. Have you ever had a conflict with a boss? How was it resolved?

No is not an acceptable answer and will only cause the interviewer to dig deeper. You want your answer to demonstrate how you behaviorally reacted to the conflict and what you did to resolve it. Try to show your familiarity with broad, effective conflict management practices. However, never talk badly about the boss or company in responding; a potential boss may anticipate you would talk that way about him in the future. Emphasis how much you have learned by the conflict.

4. Are you a team player?

Yes is the correct answer. But you will need to provide behavioral examples. Emphasis teamwork and focus on openness to diversity of backgrounds. Talk about the strength of the team above the individual. This question is difficult since the interview is to sell “I”. In answering this question you must sell yourself and still show you are a team player.

5. If I were to ask former superiors to describe you, what would they say?

This is the threat of a reference check question. Ask prior bosses in advance to know the answer. Give an answer that provides an example of how you work with the authority – supportive and responsible. Better yet come armed with letters of recommendation and show them to the interviewer. .

6. Why should I hire you or what can you offer me that another can can’t?

The right answer is that you are the best person for the job. Say so and back it up with what specifically differentiates you. Show passion in your examples. Talk about your record of getting things done; how you will be an asset.

7. Would you be willing to accept a salary cut?

Salary is a difficult topic with today’s tough economy. How much a company can offer might be a deal breaker. If you have to, indicate what you are making or made in your last job. Try though to direct the conversation away from salary. Stress that you are more interested in the position and the job responsibilities.

8. Why do you want to change jobs or why did you leave your last job?

Be brief, upbeat and to the point without hurting yourself. Focus of the things learned in your last job. Don’t make excuses; don’t bad mouth your former employer. You do not want to come across as whining. Answer honestly as possible; don’t fabricate a story. You want to come across as seeking a new job for positive reasons. Speak to the great opportunities this new job offers and how you will be able to leverage your existing skills and build new ones.

9. The “Why” question or the question about some fatal flaw on your resume.

Hopefully you have none. Examples are: “Why didn’t you finish your degree?” “You have an accounting degree but not the CPA?” or “Why have you been in the job market for so long?” Be open and straightforward; don’t apologize and don’t try to explain it away. Acknowledge the issue and explain why it will not be an obstacle to your ability to performance exceptionally in this job. Try to indicate you have had to work harder to overcome and achieved better performance as a result.

10. What do you do best?

This question demands you praise yourself, something a lot of people find difficult to do. Plan to answer by talking about your successes such as how you improved the business, generated new business or saved the company money. Discuss the strengths you have that go beyond meeting this job’s qualifications. Indicate what you can offer that other candidates can not.

You want to walk into interview as a posed professional who is prepared, calm under pressure and ready to do the job. Preparation builds confidence and assurance that you know your stuff. So prepare extensively and sufficiently, so can you succeed and get that next job. Good luck!

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