How to Handle Difficult Interview Questions
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You are in the middle of an important interview and are confident that you
are doing an excellent job of presenting your skills and qualifications for the
position. The interviewer asks the next question - and it's a difficult one. You
didn't see this question coming and have no idea to answer it. Words catch in
your mouth. You start to sweat as your illustrious visions of landing your dream
job are rapidly spiraling away at a breakneck speed. What do you do?
For starters, the best offense is a good defense. Preparing for an interview
in advance is the best way to ensure that you will be at your peak performance
when the time comes to answer the question "Why should you get this job?".
Compile a list of interview questions, both general questions and those that are
job-specific, that you could potentially be asked. Then practice answering all
of the questions. It may be necessary to practice some questions several times
until you can clearly present a solid answer. A good rule of thumb is to
practice until you are no longer uncomfortable with the question itself or your
Tempting as it may be to dismiss more straightforward questions, such as
"Tell me about yourself", you should rehearse your answer to every question.
Oftentimes job applicants get so caught up in preparing for the "tough"
questions, that they neglect the ones they perceive to be the "easier" ones. As
a result, they are ill-prepared to answer basic questions and stumble in their
It would be impossible to think of and practice every question you could be
asked, so you will inevitably run across some questions during the interview
process that you hadn't thought of previously. When this happens, the first
thing to do is take a deep breath. Repeat the question to yourself, either in
your head or aloud to the interviewer, to ensure that you have heard the
question correctly. Then use your practice sessions to draw correlations between
this question and others you have practiced. Is this new question a variation of
one you have answered before? Is it similar to any other question? If you can
draw a parallel to questions you are already comfortable with, then the new
question will not appear so daunting.
Another good tactic is to break the question into smaller components so that
you can take it bit by bit. This is especially useful for multi-part questions.
For example, imagine you are asked: "Tell me about a time when you found
yourself at odds with a team member. What were the circumstances and how did you
handle the confrontation". The first thing to do is break this into two parts:
(1) provide an example of a team member confrontation, and (2) how did the
confrontation get resolved. When answering this question, focus entirely on the
first part initially. Set the stage for the conflict that arose, giving the
interviewer all of the necessary details. Once this is done, you can then move
onto the next part, which is detailing how the conflict was resolved. This is
truly the "meat" of the question. The interviewer is more interested in hearing
about how you handle conflict and stressful situations than the actual specifics
of the conflict itself. So don't skimp on the second part - the resolution. This
pattern is true of a majority of multi-part questions: one section of the answer
is merely the opportunity to set the stage for the other, more pertinent part(s)
of the question.
If you are asked a question you don't know the answer to, it is often better
to admit that are unsure of the answer than to try and buffalo your way though
an answer. Most interviewers are highly experienced at recognizing "BS" answers
and can easily pick up that you making stuff up. If this happens, they will
either call you on the table about your fake answer or write you off a being a
fraud - neither of these is going to help you land a job. An appropriate
response would be to admit that you do not have an answer for the question, but
that you would like to do some research at the conclusion of the interview so
that you have this knowledge for future reference. Such an answer not only shows
integrity, but it also shows that you are not adverse to expanding your learning
and are willing to take the extra effort necessary to keep your skills sharp.
A few other helpful hints for answering difficult questions:
It is okay to ask the interviewer to repeat the question if you didn't hear
it the first time or if it is a long multi-part question.
It is also okay to ask the interviewer for clarification if the question is
Never volunteer personal information that is not job-related.
Try to always turn negatives into positives. For example, when asked about
your weaknesses, demonstrate how this weakness can also be an asset in other
Relax! Interviewing is a learning process and you will get stronger each time
you interview for a potential position. So if an interview goes bad, rather than
dwell on it, identify where things went wrong and work on correcting those areas
so that you can perform better in your next interview.
About the Author
Laura Adams is the host of the popular MBA Working Girl Podcast. The content
combines brainy business school theory with real-world business practice from
her career as a business owner, manager, consultant and trainer. Subscribe for
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-01-03 11:52:43 in Employee Articles