Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How to Answer Difficult Interview Questions

By Jessica Stillman

Last week I carried a post by Jessica Stillman "Avoid Common Interview Pitfall". In this post she shares her readers experiences with difficult interviews, as well as their best advice for how to respond to tricky situations. She covers three types of interview questions that emerged as the most vexing for readers:
  1. Questions about weaknesses or failures – these questions are framed to get you to criticize yourself or to cough up examples of past problems. Examples include the straight up “What are your greatest weaknesses?” and more round about versions such as “Tell me about an actual time when you had a disagreement with your manager” or “Describe a situation where the client was irate and how you handled it.”

  2. Questions on pay and level of ambition – no one wants to sell themselves short but how high is too high?

  3. Oddball questions — these are designed to shake up the interviewee and elicit unscripted answers. Examples abounded in the comments and included everything from “Describe your closet” to the slightly unbelievable but hugely imaginative “Imagine you’re in Antarctica, running naked wearing only a tie around your neck. Suddenly you see a gorilla chasing you. What do you do?’
Thankfully, readers also came through with suggestions –– some hilarious, some dubious, some spot on — for how to respond. Reader Yakimarv, for instance, offers a ballsy response to the question “Where do you hope to be in five years?” He reports: “I looked the interviewer right in the eye and said ‘working your job’ and I think that I shook the guy up ’cause he terminated the interview right there. I was later called by a regional manager and was hired.”

Meanwhile, majorstu suggests one way to frame a strength as a weakness without making the effort absurdly transparent and unconvincing. His solution: use a concrete real world example of how what constitutes a plus to some could be an issue for others. His answer:

I had a very good relationship with my first manager in a job, got performance reviews with comments like “takes charge, gets things done”. Then that manager retired and I got a new one, suddenly the atmosphere changed and my first review commented, “oversteps the bounds of his authority”. I use this response when asked about weaknesses, adding that the weakness is that I try to work through the problems and get the mission accomplished, but sometimes misjudge other people’s perceptions of my attitude.

Techrabbi, however, keeps his answer to the weaknesses question short and sweet: “to the question ‘what is your greatest weakness?’ i like to say, ‘i don’t often interview well.’”

Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management and marketing.

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