Some job interviewers ask tough questions to trip you up or to get you to reveal information you may be trying to conceal. Others want to get a better sense of your thought process or see how you respond under pressure.
Whatever the reason, you’ll want to be prepared.In her book “301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions,” Vicky Oliver says in order to prevail, you need to “trounce your competition.”
“You could be competing against someone with three times your experience, or conversely, against someone who can do the job at half your salary level,” she says.
One of the best ways to stand out: have the smartest answers to the toughest questions.
1. Q: You have changed careers before. Why should I let you experiment on my nickel?
A: As a career-changer, I believe that I’m a better employee because I’ve gained a lot of diverse skills from moving around. These skills help me solve problems creatively.
2. Q: What if you work here for five years and don’t get promoted? Many of our employees don’t. Won’t you find it frustrating?
A: I consider myself ambitious, but I’m also practical. As long as I am continuing to learn and grow within my position, I’ll be a happy camper. Different companies promote people at different rates, and I’m pretty confident that working for you will keep me motivated and mentally stimulated for several years to come.
3. Q: If you knew that things at your company were rocky, why didn’t you get out of the company sooner?
A: I was working so hard to keep my job while everyone around me was being cut that I didn’t have any time left over to look for another job. With all of the mergers that have been happening in our field, layoffs are a way of life. At least I gave it my best shot!
4. Q: From your resume, it looks like you were fired twice. How did that make you feel?
A: After I recuperated from the shock both times, it made me feel stronger. It’s true that I was fired twice, but I managed to bounce back both times and land jobs that gave me more responsibility, paid me more money, and were at better firms.
The morale here is very high. I’ve been exposed to the “seamy underbelly” of this business, but I’m still passionate about working in it.
5. Q: You majored in philosophy. How did that prepare you for this career?
A: Philosophy didn’t prepare me for a career in architecture at all. But it did force me to become philosophical about my prospects. After two years of trying to figure out what to do with my life, I visited Chicago one weekend, and was absolutely spell bound by the gorgeous architecture all around me.
I came home, applied to architecture schools all over the country, and was accepted by one of the best. I’ve never looked back…this is definitely the career that I was meant to be in.
6. Q: What do you view as your risks and disadvantages with the position we are interviewing you for?
A: I think that with the home office located halfway across the globe, there is a very small risk that one might not have the chance to interact with the key decision makers as often as might be ideal. On the other hand, teleconferencing, email, faxing, and having a 24/7 work ethic will go a long way towards bridging the gap.
7. Q: We love women at this company, but our clients are from [xyz country] and so we were thinking of hiring a man for this particular job.
A: Why is that, exactly? It seems to me that I am probably more qualified to handle this position than anyone, man or woman.
My father’s career as a diplomat took our family around the world seven times, and I even spent my junior year abroad in the Far East. I would need far less training than an American man who grew up here and has never worked outside our borders.
8. Q: Can you describe your dream job?
A: This is my dream job and that’s why I approached you about it in the first place. I am excited about the prospect of helping your promotion agency upgrade and fine tune your loyalty programs.
9. Q: What would you do if you really wanted to hire a woman under you, and you knew the perfect candidate, but your boss really wanted to hire a man for the job?
A: I’d recommend that we perform an on-site “test,” by hiring both candidates on a freelance basis for two weeks each.
10. Q: What if you worked with someone who managed to take credit for all your great ideas. How would you handle it?
A: First, I would try to credit her publicly with the ideas that were hers. Sometimes, by being generous with credit, it spurs the other person to “return the favor.”
If that doesn’t solve it, I’d try to work out an arrangement where we each agreed to present the ideas that were our own to our bosses. If that doesn’t work, I would openly discuss the situation with her.
However, if the person taking credit for my ideas was my boss, I would tread cautiously. To some extent, I believe that my job is to make my superiors shine. If I were being rewarded for my ideas with raises and promotions, I would be happy.
11. Q: How many hours a week do you usually work, and why?
A: I work pretty long hours most of the time. With the extra time, I try to find ways to “add value” to each assignment, both my own and the firm’s. When our clients read our reports, I want them to think that no one else could have possibly written them, except for our company.
12. Q: Does a company need B players? Or is it better off only having A players on staff, and why?
A: I believe that a company needs both A and B players. When you’re pitching new business, you want the A players on the front line. But behind the A players, you need the B players who can hammer out the details of the projects and stick with them on a day-to-day basis. Having too many A players on the team leads to ego clashes and a disorganized, anarchical way of doing business.
13. Q: Are you better at “managing up” or “managing down”?
A: If you aren’t good at “managing up,” you rarely get the opportunity to “manage down.” Fortunately, I’ve always been quite good at self-management. I’ve never had a deadline that I didn’t meet.
14.Q: Would you rather get permission from your boss before undertaking a brand-new project, or be given enough rope to “hang yourself”?
A: During my first week on the job, I would ask my boss how she would prefer me to handle projects. If she indicated that she wanted a take-charge person under her, I would take the ropes. If she told me she wanted me to run ideas by her first, I would comply. I think the real challenge is being able to adapt to your work environment, and I’m flexible.
15. Q: Please give an example of the most difficult political situation that you’ve dealt with on a job.
A: I was hired by a woman who was on her way out. She asked me to be her “fall guy” on a number of assignments. I just learned to drop the assignments off with my boss on the day that they were due, and when the managers would ring me up, I would recommend that they simply follow up with her. This kept me out of hot water with my boss and with her superiors.
16. Q: Is it more important to be lucky or skillful?
A: I think that it’s more important to be lucky, although being very skilled can help to create more opportunities. Certainly, [at my former job, my boss'] confidence in me inspired the decision makers at our firm to trust that I could do the job. But clearly, I also happened to be in the right place at the right time.
17. Q: Have you ever been so firm that people would describe you as “stubborn” or “inflexible”?
A: When women are firm, they are sometimes pinned with these unattractive labels. I am not shy or mousy, so probably one or two people I’ve worked with might have thought that I was “inflexible” on a given assignment. But this adjective never came out about me on any kind of a performance review, and neither did the word “stubborn.” I believe that, all in all, I’ve managed to be firm and flexible.
18. Q: When do you think you’ll peak in your career?
A: I come from a long line of healthy, hardy, mentally active types, and so I confess that I never even think about “peaking” in my career. That having been said, I do think it’s important to have some self-knowledge, and to recognize when one is past one’s prime.