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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 three 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; instead, focus on perhaps two or three 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? or Give me an instance when something went wrong and how you resolved 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
Negative Self-Talk and Your Response
Before your interview, pay attention to the thoughts running through your mind. Identify self-doubting statements such as ''I'm not qualified for this job'' and respond to it with positive affirmations such as ''I have the skills and experience required to succeed in this interview. I'm well prepared and I will do the best I can while staying in the moment.''
Stay in the Moment and Remember the Bigger Picture
Focus on conscious breathing and rehearsing your personal introduction or pitch in your mind. Trust the journey that has led you to the interview, the experiences and skills you have learned in your life and visualize yourself succeeding in the interview.
Having the right mindset for a job interview is important. Unlike an exam or test, there are no right or wrong answers. Nothing they ask can catch you off guard. Even if you don't know an answer, admit it and promise to find out later. Be as confident as when you know the answer.
Think of the interview as a friendly conversation, not a strict test. They want to talk to you, which is why they invited you and not others. Job interviews are like discussions, where both sides ask questions and talk openly. If you treat it like a conversation, you'll stand out and have a better chance of getting the job, especially for higher positions.
Finally, remember that you're also assessing if the job and the company are the right match for you. It's not just them evaluating you; you're evaluating them too.
Nerves Mean Change and Change Brings Progress
Nerves are the fuel your body releases when it is time to perform!
Everyone feels nervous before an interview, presentation, or important meeting. The initial moments can be overwhelming, but it's crucial to take your time and move slowly. Allowing yourself to ease into it naturally will help the nervousness fade as you find your rhythm.
You can bring notes to jog your memory during the interview. This will help you, especially in nervous moments. It's okay to pause when asked a question. Think before you answer, take your time, it's not a race.
Know your Strengths
Jot down your unique strengths, skills and accomplishments. Concentrate on the person you've become and the values you bring to the interview. Take pride in who you are and focus on highlighting your quantifiable achievements during the interview.
Please remember that you have been invited to the interview for a very good reason. They have looked at your profile and are interested in speaking to you. Trust their judgement.
Getting to the interview stage means you are 50% closer to a job offer!
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 you had to work through, and focus on providing enough background information, such as where you worked, the team you were part of, or what your typical day at work looked like. It must be a specific and detailed event or situation, not something general. This situation can be from a previous or current job, or any other relevant work experience.
Top Tips: When setting the scene (the 'S' in STAR) please make sure you take your time and be as specific and clear as you can be. Remember the interviewer is hearing your STAR example for the very first time, so it is critically important that they fully understand the situation before you move on to the next part.
Many candidates rush through STAR, which then causes the interviewer to ask clarifying questions.
Some candidates also feel that the Situation and the Task in STAR are the same or similar. This is because they do not focus enough on setting the scene and providing sufficient background information.
Here is the sequence of steps I would recommend within the Situation part of STAR:
Background information: Briefly mention where you worked, the team you were part of, and provide an overview of your typical day (30 seconds max for the background).
Situation detail: Describe in detail the specific situation that arose within the context of the background you just mentioned.
Transition into the Task of STAR.
Task: What goal were you working toward? Please describe it in detail. Were there different tasks that made up the bigger goal that had to be achieved? If so, please elaborate.
Action: Describe the actions you decided to take to address the situation with a good level of detail and keep the focus on YOU. What specific steps did you take and what did you contribute? Be careful that you don’t describe what the team did. Use the word 'I,' not 'we' when describing actions taken and decisions made. I know this can seem quite selfish, but the interview is not about what your team or group of people accomplished it is all about you and your contribution. Time to be selfish, you are allowed.
Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and make sure you take credit for your performance. What did you accomplish? What lessons did you learn? How did you leave things significantly better than you found them?
Top Tip: I personally recommend a minimum of three measurable results or accomplishments. It is simply not enough to say that you implemented a system, for example. You have to talk about the time savings, cost savings, improved processes, and eliminated bottlenecks.
All parts of the STAR method must be followed as this adds good structure to your example and also helps you to keep track of where you are in the story. Be as specific as possible, without rambling or being wordy.
As a rough guide, your STAR example can last between 5 and 8 minutes depending on complexity. (5 to 8 minutes speaking at medium pace, not rushing through the example)
Top Tip: If you cannot think of an example that contains a minimum of three measurable results, pick another example! You want the biggest bang for your buck!
Final Top Tip: If you cannot think of an example that is longer than 3 minutes, you are not thinking hard enough!
SAMPLE BEHAVIOURAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Practise using these common questions:
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult colleague and how you handled the situation?
Describe a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline and the steps you took to meet it?
Give me a specific example of a time when something did not go as planned? What were the problems and how did you solve them?
Tell me about a time when you had to lead a team and how you motivated them to succeed?
Give me a specific example of a time when you had to learn a new skill quickly and how you went about doing so and applying it in your work?
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 in 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-it notes 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.
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