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Tough Interview questions - top 5
Before looking at the toughest behaviour questions in interviews,
I would like you to remember that any question you are being asked at an interview aims to assess your competencies for the job.
No matter how tough or tricky the question, you can always use your competency based answers you have prepared ahead of the interview using the STAR methodology for interviews.
While your prepared answer to the most common competency questions may not perfectly fit the tough question you are being asked, you can use it as a starting point and improvise to make it fit.
Improvisation is important during an interview as you simply cannot anticipate a tricky and at times very direct or even unfair question at an interview unless you know the interviewer well.
Practise improvisation while training for interviews with a friend or relative. Or better, give me a call if you need coaching for interviews.
Ready for the toughest interview questions?
Why should I give You the job and not one of the other 20 candidates?
I`ve been asked this question more than just a couple of times at an interview and it can sound quite overwhelming when you first hear it.
The best way to answer the question is to think about how you and your skills fit into the top 3 requirements for the role.
If you have researched the role, company and interviewer prior to the interview it will allow you to focus on selling your skills in a way that is perfectly aligned to what the hiring manager is looking for.
In other words, you should explain why you feel you will be a success in the job.
Are you innovative?
A hiring manager once told me that he gave me the job because he felt that I had a brain. What he meant was that I was able to think outside the box and didn`t just come up with text book answers he already knew.
When being asked this question it is important to talk about times when an idea from you had a positive impact on the company.
It does not have to be a huge idea but instead focus on maybe 2 or 3 examples when you were innovative in your approach to achieve a target or solve a problem.
Remember to use your STAR examples you prepared for the most common competency based questions you would expect to be asked for a particular role.
Would you bend the rules in your job?
This is a leadership question which aims to test how you deal with rules that could be put into question.
In answering the question I think it is important to differentiate between the law which you definitely do not want to break and rules in the job which can be much softer.
My answer to the question would be that policies, procedures and rules of how to do your job are constantly changing.
Instead of bending the rules I would encourage and look for a healthy debate with the leadership team of my department. If rules have to change in order to make processes more efficient then this is a good thing.
Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?
I think honesty is important when it comes to this question as it can show on your face if you are being dishonest.
If you had a bad experience with an employer in the past it is ok to mention it in the job interview as long as you avoid attacking your previous employers.
Describe how you dealt with the difficult experience by highlighting the competencies required to be successful in the job you applied for. i.e., problem solving, open communication, active listening, etc.
What has been your biggest failure?
This question sounds quite dramatic. Don`t be thrown off by it.
I think it is best to reword it in your mind to something more manageable such as: Give me an example of when you failed at something and how you fixed it?
The question tests how resilient you are in coping with setbacks. Failure is normal and very much part of life and work.
It's not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up, dust yourself off, and keep on moving that truly matters.
Think of an example when you failed at a task and highlight how you went and fixed it using your unique strengths for this role.
Your attitude and ethics are particularly important here.
Ways to overcome nervousness
Is there a Gremlin on your shoulder telling you that you can`t do something when you get nervous?
LISTEN TO THE GREMLIN.
THEN START TALKING BACK!
An example could be:
Gremlin: "You`re not good enough for this job; there are far more qualified and experienced candidates than you."
You: "I`m well prepared for this interview and my previous jobs have given me the confidence and experience necessary to succeed. The hiring manager has invited me because I`m an interesting candidate and a good fit for the role."
Nervousness matters. It can lead us to speaking with less conviction and authority.
When this happens, the interviewer is more likely to generate counter-arguments to your message or question your answer in its entirety.
The interviewer may also begin to have doubt whether they should have confidence in you as a candidate.
TALK BACK the next time your Gremlin kicks off!
Stay in the present
Right before your job interview, take deep breaths by breathing in for 3-4 counts and out for 5-6.
In addition to the positive physiological impact, having to focus on the irregular counting gives your brain a direct-experience moment:
a break from the forward-thinking narrative where we spend most of our mental energy (which is largely what induces nerves; thinking ahead to the future).
Your brain may be shouting, "I`m nervous!" but soon your body will calmly respond, "I`M FINE and READY for the interview."
Once you have managed to be calmer, you can rehearse certain parts of your interview pitch in your mind. i.e. your introduction or talking about your most relevant experience for the role.
Nerves mean change and change is good
Nervousness comes with new opportunities and challenges.
If we never got nervous, that would mean we are not pushing our boundaries, we are not growing.
Nerves are something good.
They are the jet fuel your body releases when it is time to perform!
When you feel nerves, it means your mind and body are ready for the challenge of the interview.
Courage over confidence
It`s actually easier to purposefully choose to be courageous than it is to build our confidence in a particular moment like before or during an interview.
Recognizing that we`re lacking confidence and realizing that we don`t exactly know how to be more confident can actually make us have even less confidence.
But we can choose courage.
"Yes, I`m a little afraid. Yes, I`m nervous. But I`m doing it anyway!"
This proactive step in choosing courage can lead to a positive response of body and mind and enable us to perform better.
Know your strengths
Write down your strengths, skills and achievements.
Focus on who you are today and what you bring to the table.
Be proud of what you have achieved that got you this far.
There`s a reason you`ve been asked to attend the interview.
Regardless of how you feel, most likely you are the right person.
And it was probably someone more senior, experienced or specialized who invited you.
Even if you can`t trust your own judgement about whether you`re the right person for the role, trust their experience and belief that you are.
Getting to the interview stage means you are 50% closer to a job offer!
BODY LANGUAGE - 5 points
Your face – a wealth of expression
Meeting a stranger is never easy. In the context of a job interview it can be even harder as nerves will play a part. However, a warm smile on meeting the interviewer can be a powerful ice breaker.
Not all smiles are created equal. The litmus test of a genuine smile is that you let the corners of your eyes crinkle, rather than just turning up the corners of your mouth.
A sincere smile is more than just contagious. It can demonstrate that you have an upbeat personality and a can-do attitude, both of which are highly sought-after.
Embrace the power of eye contact
Eye contact plays a critical role in a job interview. By maintaining eye contact you give off clear signals that you’re genuinely interested in the role, and in what the interviewer has to say. If holding the hiring manager’s gaze becomes too much, it’s perfectly natural to glance briefly at your notes. Just be sure to look directly at the interviewer when they are doing the talking.
The value of eye contact doesn’t lessen in different circumstances, it just needs to be adapted. At some stage of the hiring process for instance, you may find yourself facing an interview panel. That’s when you need to give each member of the panel equal eye contact when you speak. It can be demanding but it’s worth the effort. You never know which panellist will have the final say about whether you’re right for the role.
Similarly, you may be involved in a group interview, sharing the hiring manager’s attention with several other applicants. When other candidates are speaking, it’s important to give them full attention by making eye contact. Sure, they may be your competition, but taking the opportunity to flick some dust from your sleeve or stare around the room while they’re speaking can undo all your good work. It suggests a lack of interest in the opinions of others, and that’s definitely not a trait the hiring manager will be looking for.
On the flipside, if you find the hiring manager’s gaze is wandering, it could be a sign that they’re losing interest. Try to alter the tempo of your voice, or offer shorter, sharper responses. It may be that your answers are becoming a bit longwinded.
Your posture – subtle signs say a lot
An easy way to demonstrate a professional, confident outlook is by sitting up straight. Not ramrod straight – try to lean in slightly towards the interviewer and tilt your head a little to show you’re engaged by what’s being said.
Avoid lounging back with one arm thrown casually over the arm of the chair. It can give the impression of arrogance or an overly casual attitude. Conversely, hunching up, or lowering your chin into your chest can make you appear defensive.
Keep an eye on the hiring manager’s posture too. Aiming to replicate their posture can create the impression of being kindred spirits who think along the same professional lines. It’s a technique known as “mirroring”, but it needs to be used with subtlety. Don’t mimic the interviewer, which can be outright annoying. Rather, take cues from their posture to shape your own.
Speaking with your hands
Accompany that warm smile at the start of the job interview with a firm handshake. It doesn‘t need to be a knuckle-breaking grip, which can suggest dominance. Nor should it be a limp grasp, which speaks of insecurity. Try practicing your handshake with a friend until you feel you have it right.
Quick tip: You know you’ll be expected to shake hands, so transfer any papers or notes to your left hand before you greet the hiring manager.
What you do with your arms and hands for the remainder of the interview is just as important. During the meeting, avoid sitting with your arms crossed. It creates a sense that you’re closed off to the interviewer and uninterested in what they have to say.
Many of us gesture with our hands, and that’s not a bad thing as it can show your passion about a topic. The trick is not to go overboard with wild arm swings or overly rapid hand movements that can quickly become annoying and detract from what you’re saying. A good rule of thumb is to keep your hands above the desk and below your shoulders.
In the stressful environment of a job interview, it’s easy to make hand gestures that you’re not even aware of, and it can work against you. Rubbing your chin, touching your lips, or playing with hair or jewellery are all movements that nerves can bring on. For the hiring manager though, it can suggest you’re uncomfortable rather than in command of the situation. If you don’t trust yourself, simply fold your hands on the desk. Chances are you’ll warm to the situation after the first few minutes and start to relax a little.
Legs can say plenty
Job interviews aren’t always conducted across a desk. You may be invited to sit on a low chair or couch around a coffee table. When that happens, your legs and even feet can speak volumes about how you feel.
As tempting as it may be to cross your legs, resist the urge. Much like arm-crossing, this can suggest that you’re shutting out the interviewer. A safer option is to sit with both legs together, with your feet pointed in the direction of the hiring manager. This shows you’re engaged in what they’re saying, and that you want to form a connection.
Just as repetitive hand gestures should be avoided, foot tapping can be a sign of nerves, or worse, irritation and impatience. Keep both feet flat on the ground, and it’s hard to go wrong.
Practice makes perfect
As with all things in life, perfecting your body language in a job interview needs practice. Try role-playing a few interviews with a friend or family member who will provide honest, constructive feedback or record your mock interviews for analysis after.
We speak with far more than words alone and mastering your body language is all part of the art of convincing the hiring manager that you’re the solution to his/her problems.
STAR Methodology for interviews
The STAR method is a structured way of responding to behaviour questions in interviews (also called competencies interview questions) by discussing the specific Situation, Task, Action, and Result of the situation you are describing.
Situation: Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
Task: What goal were you working toward?
Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on YOU. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution? Be careful that you don’t describe what the team or group did when talking about a project, but what you actually did. Use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions.
Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your behaviour. What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results.
Make sure that you follow all parts of the STAR method. Be as specific as possible at all times, without rambling or including too much information. Oftentimes candidates have to be prompted to include their results, so try to include that without being asked. Also, eliminate any examples that do not paint you in a positive light. However, keep in mind that some examples that have a negative result can highlight your strengths in the face of adversity.
SAMPLE BEHAVIOURAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Practise using the STAR Method on these common behavioural interviewing questions:
Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.
Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.
What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
Tell me about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.
Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.
Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).
Study the background of the company such as the industry they operate in, their customers, employees and competitors.
Study their website, Google their reputation, go on YouTube and look for videos if there aren’t any on their website. Study their products and services in detail and try to understand their strategy, business plan, roadmap.
Study the background of the hiring manager and HR manager and anyone else you are going to speak to.
Look for things you have in common in terms of your careers but also personal interests. Try and anticipate the types of questions they might ask based on their job description on LinkedIn or their website and career profile and the job description of the job you are applying to.
What would you want to know about someone like yourself who is applying for the job? Remember, the hiring manager is the buyer and is looking for a product to solve his/her problems, you. What are the problems that need solving? The above list of background checks will bring you a step closer to the answer.
Ask the recruiter or whoever is introducing you to the opportunity why they are hiring someone for the advertised position.
What happened to the last person that held the role or is it a new role and if so, why?
Where is the business going that they require this role to be filled and what exactly did the hiring manager say to the recruiter or introducer that isn’t in the job spec.
Looking at the different bullet points on the job spec, which are the ones with the most importance and which are `nice to have` for the hiring manager?
What have other candidates been asked during the interview?
What is the format of the interview? Is there a technical assessment or are all stages competency-based interviews with verbal questions?
How many stages are there?
How long will each stage of the interview last?
How many people will be in the room interviewing you?
What is the dress code for the interview? You don’t want to be underdressed but equally you don’t want to show up in suit and tie when the hiring manager wears a polo shirt, blue jeans, and smart trainers.
All these questions are part of a thorough preparation for the job interview. They will help you understand what you need to research and what the setting of the interview will be on the day so that you can imagine it in your mind days before the interview which will help you settle down on the day.
Where is the interview going to be held? How long does it take you to get there? Have you been in that area before? If not, is it maybe worth making that journey on one of the days before the interview? Is there a quiet coffee shop nearby where you can have a drink before the interview and then literally just walk across the street to the interview?
Remember, on the day of the interview you don’t want to be rushing around looking for how to get to the place. You need to prepare yourself. I always compare it to the perfect preparation for a sports competition. On the day of the race or match you want to perform to your full potential the way you do in training every day. Ideally, you want to give one of the best performances of your life!
Leave no stone unturned in preparing for the interview. Cover all eventualities.
Take pen and paper with you to the interview but don’t start writing everything down that the interviewer says, instead, make notes of keywords every now and then to jog your memory after the interview.
Remember, you are going to be nervous especially during the early part of the interview so jotting down keywords will help you remember the contents not just of questions but especially when the interviewer explains why they are looking to hire someone for the open post. This will be key if you make it to the next stage(s) as there are always clues in the questions they ask and the things they say.
I always take a water bottle with me in case the interviewer doesn’t offer me a glass of water or there simply are no glasses or bottles in the workplace kitchen that day so you could end up with no water for a 1 or 2 hour interview. It happened to me twice in my career but thankfully I had a bottle with me.
Avoid drinking too much coffee before the interview especially if coffee makes your mind race or makes you hyperactive. If you need coffee to perform, then by all means have as much as you like without being out of control.
Eat something light before the interview but avoid not eating at all as it can affect your blood sugar levels which can be amplified if you are nervous.
Considerations for virtual interviews:
Many interviews are still virtual, so several changes are required such as:
Sit in a room with bright lighting and make sure the background is clean and tidy.
Check your camera resolution beforehand. Some free apps such as Microsoft Teams don`t stream in HD while Zoom and Skype do.
Make sure your log in works and that your laptop is plugged in or has enough battery to last the interview.
Laptop camera at eye level is a really important one as you don’t want people looking up your nose or down on your head. You may want to raise/lower your laptop or screen.
Look into the camera not at your own image. Most people are drawn to looking at their own image on the screen.
No fiddling with your hands below the desk as the microphone will pick up any noise.
Use post its on the laptop, a flipchart behind the laptop or a big screen as a mind aid if required but remember not to stare at it too much.
Speak up and speak clearly, distinctly, and slowly. You are not in the same room as the interviewer which is going to be quite different to a normal face to face session. If you can practise a virtual interview with a friend or me that would be great.
Sit upright with good posture.
Dress in accordance with the dress code required for each specific interview. I know it may seem strange to dress up to sit in your own living room or kitchen, but it is still a formal interview.
Bring a water bottle or have a glass of water next to you.
Bring a pen and paper to jot down key words from the interview.
Potential interview questions:
Practise talking about yourself!
You will have to be able to talk freely about your CV and latest work experience or academic achievements as you introduce yourself.
As this will most likely be the first part of any interview stage, unless you are seeing the same person for a second or third time, it needs to flow very well and sound very natural. Practice it over and over again in front of a friend, relative or record/film yourself.
Try not to oversell even if you are tremendously proud of your accomplishments. State the facts in a confident yet humble and personable manner.
Try not to ramble on for too long and don`t get lost in the detail such as dates of employment or education.
Introducing yourself including a quick run through your CV should not take longer than 5 minutes. The interviewer will then take the lead again.
Based on the background checks you have already done try to come up with potential interview questions and prepare the answers in writing beforehand.
Once you have prepared the answers, the next step will be to present the answers in the same way you talked about yourself. Remember, it is a presentation within a buyer and seller role play.
Presenting to a friend is always a good idea and ask them for feedback.
All competency-based questions should be answered in the well-known STAR format which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.
It will give your pitch good structure and will allow the interviewer to understand your answers with ease without having to probe too much.
A lot of hiring managers are looking for employees that are good at explaining things in a precise, and well-articulated manner using the fewest words possible. Bear that in mind when answering questions.
The more you practice answering questions and speaking to yourself out loud the better you are going to perform on the day.
Play devil’s advocate in your mind and keep challenging yourself when you do your practice runs. Ask yourself what type of question the interviewer could ask that would trip you up. Would one of the top 5 toughest interview questions do the trick? Try it without reading the answers by clicking here.
`Be yourself` is a tricky piece of advice and should come with a health warning. It doesn`t mean that you should try to be someone else and change your personality. It just feels like the advice is too simplistic. When people tell you to `be yourself` they are giving you permission not to prepare for the interview. `You`re a great person, we all love you to bits, you`ll be totally fine.`
The thing is, nobody is going to hire you just because you are a nice person. They may hire you because you have great qualifications and experience and were able to sell yourself during that interview. Maybe you are also a nice person on top of it, which helps a lot.
We need to be mindful of the fact that an interview is a role play between a buyer and a seller. Many of us don`t sell on a regular basis and maybe weren`t born to sell for a living. So being in an interview situation is something that we need to prepare ourselves for in great detail.
Attending an interview, you have to deliver a performance which showcases what you can bring to the table so that the buyer leaves the meeting wanting to purchase the product which solves his/her problems, you.
I approach interview coaching, interview skills training and preparing job interview as a means of ensuring the delivery of a professional, quality performance during an interview, based on detailed preparation, and sound common sense.
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