ANSWERING TOUGH JOB INTERVIEW
THE CAREER PLAYBOOK GUIDE
10. TOUGH INTERVIEW QUESTIONS: How to
answer and what the employer really wants to
know about you. Practice answering the following
questions before your next appointment..
Tough Job Interview Questions
Question #1 -- Tell me about a time you saved money
for an employer or an organization?
Show the employer how you can contribute to their bottom
As sales manager with XYZ Company, I was concerned with
the high costs associated with the development of interactive
multimedia through our advertising agencies and graphic
I spent some time researching our needs, and found that
with today's technology becoming ever more affordable, multimedia
tools are now more accessible to smaller companies. In fact,
much of the multimedia tools we needed to produce very professional
looking multimedia presentations for our Web sites were
already available on our desktop PC's.
Within a period of ninety days, I had our own in-house
multimedia department up and running. After our initial
start up costs for staffing, equipment and training, my
efforts resulted in a 32% savings of $80,000 in the first
full year of operation. The best news however, was that
project completion dates were cut in half, and the faster
turnaround times generated more income to our marketing
What the employer wants to know: Companies are always
interested in saving money. The interviewer is looking for
a logical step-by-step approach in which the candidate exercised
their initiative by isolating a problem and effecting a
cost saving solution.
Question #2 -- How do you manage your work week
and make realistic deadlines?
Using examples from your current or past jobs, describe
how you allocate time. If you are in sales, do you reserve
Monday for cold calling, Tuesday through Thursday for sales
calls and Friday for administration? Do you reserve an hour
a day for planning? Do you set aside a certain period each
day for interruptions or unanticipated meetings or setbacks?
Be as specific as possible if you are interviewing for the
same type of job that you currently have or have had. Otherwise,
you will need to have elicited a lot of information from
the interviewer (or your informational interviews) about
the particular position and what it might entail so that
you can accurately answer this question.
If you've been successful in your past jobs in organizing
your time (even if you were a student or housewife) mention
specific examples of how you plan your day and week and
how that led to efficient use of your time and success on
the job. A student, for example, needs to balance class
time with study, plus sports or a part-time job or both.
A housewife often manages her husband's, and children's
schedules in addition to her own. You want to make the connection
between whatever you have done in the past and the current
job opening so that the interviewer can be convinced that
you can handle the time requirements of the job.
What the employer wants to know: Are you well organized?
Do you manage your time well? Do you follow a time management
system? How well do you plan ahead? He/she wants to know
if you set reasonable expectations and goals for yourself
and know how to achieve those goals within a reasonable
amount of time.
Question #3 -- How do you define success and how
will you make our company more successful?
This is one of those make-or-break questions that determines
hireability. Based on your response you'll be ratcheted
up the interview ladder, or eliminated from further consideration.
This is a two-part question. Begin with your definition
of success, such as:
I learned early in my career, it's the passion that drives
you toward your goals but it's the hard work that produces
your success. I constantly strive to improve my performance
by questioning today, how I could have accomplished more
yesterday. This way, I'll always feel my next achievement
will be greater than my last.
Now to the second part of the question, how will I make
your company more successful? I am confident I can make
an immediate contribution in the following ways... (state
brief examples of your achievement stories that relate directly
to the needs of the open position. This enables the interviewer
to gauge more accurately how your talents, skills and accomplishments
match up to the qualifications they're looking for).
Remember: You never want to talk longer than two minutes
at a time. State key points briefly, yet thoroughly. If
the interviewer needs more information, they'll ask.
What the employer wants to know: The interviewer
wants to see if the candidate has placed the company's interests
before their own. For example: Has the candidate adequately
researched the company to determine how they can help solve
a problem, increase profits, or reduce costs? What value-added
benefit will this candidate contribute to the organization?
Are the candidate's prior achievements indicative of how
successful he or she will be in this position?
The interviewer will also try to assess your enthusiasm,
confidence and ambition in determining whether you'll fit
within their organization's culture and work environment.
Question #4 -- Describe a situation that required
a number of things to be done at the same time. How did
you handle it? What was the result?
In answering this question, you want to choose an example
from your experiences that highlights your initiative, your
drive and determination to accomplish a task. Explain how
you prioritized the items and calculated what you would
need to complete the jobs on time. Did you recruit other
team members or temporary help? Did you "farm-out" some
of the work to a quick print shop or a secretarial service?
Did you organize a team of people in such a way that all
of the elements could be completed and you could combine
them for the finished products? Even if you were a team
member on such a combination of projects, you could describe
how your role, ideas or suggestions were instrumental in
helping complete the work on time.
What the employer wants to know: He/she is looking
for your initiative and ability to work under pressure.
Every company has deadlines to meet and often the deadlines
put everyone under extreme stress. How you handle this stress,
organize or prioritize, shows a potential employer how valuable
you can be to his/her organization.
Question #5 -- What do you consider your most significant
Our personal characteristics are evident in most everything
we do. This question strikes at the very core of who you
are. Your response will speak volumes about your own set
of personal values. Companies understand this and screen
for candidates having favorable interests and attitudes.
Answer this question using an achievement story directly
related to the company's greatest need. Paint a vivid picture
of the nature of the problem and how you got involved, the
obstacles you overcame and the final outcome.
What the employer wants to know: This is not meant
to be a breakthrough technology or earth shattering event
and it may very well be insignificant in the eyes of others,
but it presents the interviewer with a glimpse of what the
candidate is most proud of. Did accomplishing this deed
require taking a risk? What did this person have to give
up or sacrifice in order to succeed? What occurred in this
one event that filled the candidate with inspiration, drive,
and the will to achieve?
Question #6 -- Discuss a time when your integrity
was challenged. How did you handle it?
This is a difficult question and needs to be answered carefully.
You don't want to appear as a whiner or someone who runs
to the boss whenever another person questions you. Reflect
on your career to date. Can you think of any incident that
occurred where someone questioned your motives or behavior?
Were you ever accused of stealing something from work -
even something minor like pencils or paper? Using the copy
machine to print personal documents? Using the phone at
work for personal calls or using work time for personal
matters? If you have had your integrity questioned, you
need to explain what happened and how you successfully responded
to the situation. Be positive!
Who accused you and how serious the accusation was will
determine how you answer. How you handled these types of
accusations is often more important than the actual accusation.
For example, you could say that a co-worker thought you
were using the copy machine for personal use when in actuality
you were printing the information for the company golf tournament.
When you explained this to your accuser and to the boss,
everyone had a good laugh about it. Don't point fingers
at your co-worker or a boss; just explain the situation
had a good outcome.
What the employer wants to know: For some strange
reason, people sometimes feel the need to confess some deep
secret in their life when they are being interviewed. They
will let their anger at a situation get the better of them
and start ranting and raving about how they were unjustly
accused of something. That's exactly why the interviewer
asks this type of question. She's/he's trying to learn something
about your personality as well as your honesty and integrity.
That's why it's so important to be prepared for these types
of questions so that you can answer honestly and unemotionally.
Question #7 -- If you think you are such a good salesperson,
sell me a new shirt!
In the past, hiring managers enjoyed springing this question
on prospective employees asking them to sell them a suit,
a tie or perhaps even a computer. If you are in sales, do
prepare for this kind of question.
One of best responses we ever heard went as follows:
||What features of a shirt
are most important to you?
||I need buttons that won't
break the first time the shirt is laundered.
||What other features are
important to you?
||I want a collar and cuffs
that don't fray after just a few launderings.
||Is there anything else
about your shirt that's a concern?
||Yes, I am hard to fit, needing
a 17-inch collar and 30-inch sleeve.
||If you have a hammer,
I'd like to demonstrate how sturdy the buttons on this
shirt are. Then, if you have something rough like a
nail file or sandpaper, I'll illustrate the sturdiness
of the collar and cuffs. Then, as I understand it, if
I can find you a dozen shirts with 17 inch collars and
30 inch sleeves with these sturdy buttons and strong
collars and cuffs, you'd be willing to buy them all,
is that correct?
What the employer wants to know: How well do you
think on your feet (or in your seat)? Are you creative?
Can you take basic sales skills and apply them to everyday
objects? Are you easily stumped when customers ask unusual
questions? How composed are you in a sales situation?