At a recent small group meeting, we decided to address the Five O’Clock Club topic of the week: “Handling Difficult Interview Questions” before we handled the issues each person faced in their job searches. Each group member was to come up with a question they most feared would be asked of them on an interview. The first person would present his or her question to the other four group members, who in turn would present their answers and people would vote on the best answer. Then the next person would present his or her question.
The exercise provided insight into the types of questions job hunters fear most when going on an interview, and frequently have the most difficulty in answering. So how did our group members fare at this meeting? Below is a brief synopsis of the questions selected by our five group members (Gloria, Al, Vanessa, Jose and Bob), and the answers selected as the ones most liked by them.
Gloria’s question: “What are your development needs?” Al, Vanessa and Jose found the question too vague or open-ended, and only offered some approaches they would take to answer the question. However, Bob specifically mentioned having access to mentors; learning who succeeds in the company; and, would seek out constructive feedback once in the job to further develop themselves. The winner was Bob!
Al’s question: “You just finished a contract assignment, why didn’t the company hire you full-time?” Vanessa and Jose said the assignment had an end date, and were told by the company that no full-time opportunities were available. Bob said he took the assignment to try something different, and it helped provide the experience he needed to compete in a tight job market. Gloria added the company wanted to hire her full-time but it wasn’t in the budget, but the company offered to provide good references. The winner was Gloria!
Vanessa’s question: “What was your salary in your last job?” Gloria preferred not to discuss salary at this time, but rather “down the road.” Al said his salary was in line with the market for his level and position, and instead was interested in discussing the job itself. Jose said he would give a salary range based on market rate (not sure everyone understood the question). Bob said he would avoid giving a number, said he understand salary is within a certain range, but did not want salary to become a distraction. The winner was Bob!
Jose’s question: “What makes you the best candidate for the job?” Gloria said she had the qualifications, mindset and ability to hit the road running. Al said he had the experience and skill set for the job, and worked on a variety of related projects. Vanessa said the job has a lot of what she had already done, and few candidates would bring their same level of commitment and energy to the job. Bob said that based on the needs of the company, he would bring the experience, education and passion to do the job. The winner was Al!
Bob’s question: “When was the last time you lied on an interview?” The other four group members were unanimous in saying they would not lie on an interview, with the exception being to protect someone’s feelings. Maybe it was in the delivery, but the winner was Al!
So, was there really a learning curve to this exercise? While some of the members would have welcomed more of my input on what is the right or correct answer to these questions, I’m not sure there really is any one right answer. My message to the participants was this: Regardless of the question asked, it is how you handle the question. We know from experience that hiring managers are often more impressed with how you handle a question than in the content of your answers.
In my view, Bob did the best job overall by giving more information, and presenting his answers in a positive light. He also came across as the most savvy and business-like in how he would handle questions. One insight I did share with the members was the importance of using real examples of their work (think of the Seven Stories Exercise) to best demonstrate their ability to meet the needs of the interviewer — something noticeably missing in each of the teams’ answers. In the final analysis, the questions posed by our members are not all that uncommon in an interview, and some might say, not all that difficult to handle. But as you can see from the above results, how you handle the questions can be the difference between getting an offer or never making it to the second round of interviews.
Bravo to our winner and kudos to our other four members because of their efforts, which alone will put them one step ahead of the competition!