10 Toughest Job Interview Questions
Be prepared to answer ten of the most challenging job interview questions.
From the author of An Expert's Guide to Total Interview Success, Barry Golds lists the ten top killer job interview questions.
1. What did you not like about your last employer?
Okay, so the interviewer has asked you to say something negative about your ex-employer. You need to turn this around so that it makes it sound like the negative is in fact a positive!
Remember, you will not get any credit for complaining or describing a negative situation without adding a positive ending. Here are some examples of what you should say if you are faced with this question.
Start with, "Actually there are a lot of good things to say about my ex-employer, however, if I need to highlight one area..."
"I used to get a bit annoyed when I noticed inefficiencies in the processing workflows and controls. A number of times I made suggestions as to improvements that could be made which would have saved money, but the ideas were effectively ignored."
"I always tried my utmost to make sure that all customers were treated fairly and honestly, but I noticed a malaise creeping in which meant that some staff didn't always try their best to meet the exacting standards required. I feel this reflected badly on everyone."
2. I see from your resume that you have never actually been in this role in any of your previous companies. How are you going to manage?
First of all, this is an obvious weakness. Weakness means risk to an employer and they are looking for reassurance that you will adapt to the new environment.
Relate your previous experience to similar situations where you moved to different departments, had a new role, or were faced with new technology which you had to learn quickly.
Turn this into a positive about how you are able to adapt to changing circumstances, have a flexible approach, pick up new skills quickly, and enjoy the challenge of the ever changing technology.
Try to broaden the answer by saying, "We are all faced with a fast moving and changing environment which constantly presents new challenges. I have always been able to rise to these occassions and perform effectively despite tight deadlines and little support."
Most importantly, go on to list examples of similar experiences where you have demonstrated such skills. This should close the issue in the interviewer's mind and paint a positive picture.
3. What is your typical working week in hours?
One answer to this question is, "Whatever it takes to get the job done." However, be careful not to suggest you work long hours purely because you are inefficient. Instead, respond to the question with:
"I like to think I am an effective and efficient worker who gets through a full workload each week. However, there are times when I need to work late and weekends and this is fine. This is often due to uneven demands on my time. I will put whatever effort it takes to complete my role."
4. How long would it take for you to start making a real contribution to the organization?
There is no point in blurting out an answer here because the contribution could be anywhere and you could go off in the wrong direction. Instead, bat the question back to yourself to get a more precise idea and allow yourself some time to think.
"In what particular area of my responsibilities did you have in mind?"
"Of course there will be a short learning curve while I get up to speed, but in the past I have prided myself on being a quick learner who can make an effective contribution in a short space of time. I see this opportunity as no different although I accept it will be a challenge."
Prepare an example of how you had a similar situation where you had to learn a new skill quickly.
5. What have you learned most from your past career?
This is a truly open ended question and an opportunity to talk positively. However, you need to keep your answer at a high level. One response to this question could be:
"I have learned many things as you can imagine. But one point always rings true. Everyone needs to be treated with respect, their opinion should be valued, and they should be encouraged to contribute to the good of the organization."
6. What would you most like not to do in this role?
This is a dangerous question. The interviewer is probing for things that you didn't like previously and why you didn't like them. Beware of this trap.
Turn the question around and give a "model answer"...
"In an ideal world...I would like to avoid any bureaucracy or red tape which can delay decisions. Like anyone, I am always keen for good progress to be made at all times and everything to run smoothly."
...or perhaps you have an example such as this...
"I would like to avoid the situation in the last role where we had tight deadlines and three of my staff went off on long term sick leave with the winter flu last year. Although we achieved our targets, it was only through hard effort, teamwork, and long hours."
See how these answers portray you in a good light and turn a negative into a positive.
7. What would your job references say about you?
Try to make sure that any job references have been sought and written before you go to the job interview. This is not always possible, but it would allow you to repeat their positive comments.
Where you do have job references, you can say you have references and that they are very complimentary around a number of aspects of your work.
It is not a problem if you don't have references, however, this question implies that you would probably have to imagine what they would say.
Effectively, the interviewer is therefore asking you to list your strengths. Take the time to list your job strengths and behavioral qualities. Start the sentence in the third party with..."My references would say..."
Any time you are able to reply in the third party, it sounds like someone else is endorsing your candidacy which in effect references do. Everyone will say they will receive good references, but if you say this using a third party endorsement, then you add greater credibility to your statement.
8. Why should I hire you?
This is one question which you should have prepared for thoroughly.
You need to have a personal pitch of three to four sentences prepared. This needs to relate to the job description which you need to go through line by line. Then add in the additional personal qualities that you bring to the role. Apply these to the personal summary statement.
It is always worth using a qualifying phrase such as, "Colleagues have said of me...I am a great motivator/team builder/technician etc." It sounds better if there is a third party endorsement. It doesn't sound like you are bragging but a colleague is speaking on your behalf.
In addition, you will need to have relevant examples which you can offer to expand on. The personal qualities for the role will be attributes such as hard-working, motivated, have good communication skills, desire to succeed, etc...
You should end your answer with a statement such as, "Do you think these qualities are what you are looking for from a successful candidate?"
By asking this question, it plants a seed in the mind of the interviewer that you are.
If they reply that they were expecting other qualities, then discuss and offer them examples of how you have these qualities and examples of them in action. You need to leave the interviewer in no doubt that you have the skills and can demonstrate this with relevant examples.
9. Why do you want to leave your current job?
Avoid saying something negative about an ex-employer or ex-employee. Resist the temptation and keep the answer upbeat concentrating on the advantages of what the new job would offer. You could mention the increased salary, but do not dwell on it, emphasize the other benefits first.
"I enjoy my previous job and as I have demonstrated, I make a solid contribution which is appreciated. However I am looking for more experience, a greater challenge, increased responsibility, and a more dynamic organization that this role offers."
Make sure you have a list of reasons for joining this company.
You need to reply using one or a combination of the following five replies:
Challenge. You need a new career challenge.
Traveling. The commute to work was taking too long or I was constantly being asked to travel with work.
Career. I had reached the likely top and there was no room for advancement until someone else above me left.
Money. You feel you were not being paid what you were worth.
Security. The organization was unstable and my role may have been at risk.
10. What, as an organization, can we offer that is better than your current employer?
This question is asking for a direct comparison between your current employer and your future employer.
An interviewer wants to hear that you are a valued member in your current and or previous role. You have worked for an organization that has trained you to a high level and you have been providing a strong contribution to their skilled workforce. They hope to leverage these skills in their organization.
A typical answer which deals with such a comparison should be...
"My current organization has been a great career move for me. I have learned many new skills (eg. x). There is a great team ethic and I feel I have made a strong contribution to their sales team / office / project team etc.
However, I see your organization and the role it offers as a new challenge which can leverage my skills, allow me to challenge myself and set new goals, and further my career in a way that the current organization perhaps doesn't offer."
Of course, this answer needs to be tailored to meet your particular circumstances. Start by listing what you like about your current organization and the experience you have gained. Compare this with the list of skills and benefits you expect to find in the new organization. Use this list to tailor your answer.
Stay clear of talking about money. The subtext of this question, like so many others is that the interviewer is asking, "What's in it for me?"
You should be replying, "I am making a contribution and this is how..." Include examples of how you can make the contribution which backs up your claims.
By saying you want to leverage your skills in the new role and show how you can make a strong contribution is precisely what the interviewer wants to hear.
If you say or even imply the reason for the new job is that you are looking for more money or additional benefits, then this does not imply you are making a contribution to the new organization.
You are in fact saying "what is in it for me" and does not address the interviewer's needs!
I hope you learned a lot from this article and it really made you think about your job interview technique. There are other articles on a similar topic all for free on this site.