Microsoft.NET

……………………………………………….Expertise in .NET Technologies

64 Toughest Interview Questions – Part 3

Posted by Ravi Varma Thumati on November 10, 2009

Question 17: What are your outside interests?

TRAPS: You want to be a well-rounded, not a drone. But your potential employer would be even more turned off if he suspects that your heavy extracurricular load will interfere with your commitment to your work duties.

BEST ANSWERS: Try to gauge how this company’s culture would look upon your favorite outside activities and be guided accordingly. You can also use this question to shatter any stereotypes that could limit your chances. If you’re over 50, for example, describe your activities that demonstrate physical stamina. If you’re young, mention an activity that connotes wisdom and institutional trust, such as serving on the board of a popular charity.

But above all, remember that your employer is hiring your for what you can do for him, not your family, yourself or outside organizations, no matter how admirable those activities may be.

Question 18: The “Fatal Flaw” question

TRAPS: If an interviewer has read your resume carefully, he may try to zero in on a “fatal flaw” of your candidacy, perhaps that you don’t have a college degree…you’ve been out of the job market for some time…you never earned your CPA, etc.

A fatal flaw question can be deadly, but usually only if you respond by being overly defensive.

BEST ANSWERS: As every master salesperson knows, you will encounter objections (whether stated or merely thought) in every sale. They’re part and parcel of the buyer’s anxiety. The key is not to exacerbate the buyer’s anxiety but diminish it. Here’s how…

Whenever you come up against a fatal flaw question:

  1. Be completely honest, open and straightforward about admitting the shortcoming. (Showing you have nothing to hide diminishes the buyer’s anxiety.)
  2. Do not apologize or try to explain it away. You know that this supposed flaw is nothing to be concerned about, and this is the attitude you want your interviewer to adopt as well.
  3. Add that as desirable as such a qualification might be, its lack has made you work all the harder throughout your career and has not prevented you from compiling an outstanding tack record of achievements. You might even give examples of how, through a relentless commitment to excellence, you have consistently outperformed those who do have this qualification.

Of course, the ultimate way to handle “fatal flaw” questions is to prevent them from arising in the first place. You will do that by following the master strategy described in Question 1, i.e., uncovering the employers needs and them matching your qualifications to those needs. Once you’ve gotten the employer to start talking about his most urgently-felt wants and goals for the position, and then help him see in step-by-step fashion how perfectly your background and achievements match up with those needs, you’re going to have one very enthusiastic interviewer on your hands, one who is no longer looking for “fatal flaws”.

Question 19: How do you feel about reporting to a younger person (minority, woman, etc)?

TRAPS: It’s a shame that some interviewers feel the need to ask this question, but many understand the reality that prejudices still exist among some job candidates, and it’s better to try to flush them out beforehand.

The trap here is that in today’s politically sensitized environment, even a well-intentioned answer can result in planting your foot neatly in your mouth. Avoid anything which smacks of a patronizing or an insensitive attitude, such as “I think they make terrific bosses” or “Hey, some of my best friends are…”

Of course, since almost anyone with an IQ above room temperature will at least try to steadfastly affirm the right answer here, your interviewer will be judging your sincerity most of all. “Do you really feel that way?” is what he or she will be wondering.

So you must make your answer believable and not just automatic. If the firm is wise enough to have promoted peopled on the basis of ability alone, they’re likely quite proud of it, and prefer to hire others who will wholeheartedly share their strong sense of fair play.

BEST ANSWER: You greatly admire a company that hires and promotes on merit alone and you couldn’t agree more with that philosophy. The age (gender, race, etc.) of the person you report to would certainly make no difference to you.

Whoever has that position has obviously earned it and knows their job well. Both the person and the position are fully deserving of respect. You believe that all people in a company, from the receptionist to the Chairman, work best when their abilities, efforts and feelings are respected and rewarded fairly, and that includes you. That’s the best type of work environment you can hope to find.

Question 20: On confidential matters…

TRAPS: When an interviewer presses you to reveal confidential information about a present or former employer, you may feel it’s a no-win situation. If you cooperate, you could be judged untrustworthy. If you don’t, you may irritate the interviewer and seem obstinate, uncooperative or overly suspicious.

BEST ANSWER: Your interviewer may press you for this information for two reasons.

First, many companies use interviews to research the competition. It’s a perfect set-up. Here in their own lair, is an insider from the enemy camp who can reveal prized information on the competition’s plans, research, financial condition, etc.

Second, the company may be testing your integrity to see if you can be cajoled or bullied into revealing confidential data.

What to do? The answer here is easy. Never reveal anything truly confidential about a present or former employer. By all means, explain your reticence diplomatically. For example, “I certainly want to be as open as I can about that. But I also wish to respect the rights of those who have trusted me with their most sensitive information, just as you would hope to be able to trust any of your key people when talking with a competitor…”

And certainly you can allude to your finest achievements in specific ways that don’t reveal the combination to the company safe. But be guided by the golden rule. If you were the owner of your present company, would you feel it ethically wrong for the information to be given to your competitors? If so, steadfastly refuse to reveal it.

Remember that this question pits your desire to be cooperative against your integrity. Faced with any such choice, always choose integrity. It is a far more valuable commodity than whatever information the company may pry from you. Moreover, once you surrender the information, your stock goes down. They will surely lose respect for you.

One President we know always presses candidates unmercifully for confidential information. If he doesn’t get it, he grows visibly annoyed, relentlessly inquisitive, it’s all an act. He couldn’t care less about the information. This is his way of testing the candidate’s moral fiber. Only those who hold fast are hired.

Question 21: Would you lie for the company?

TRAPS: This another question that pits two values against one another, in this case loyalty against integrity.

BEST ANSWER: Try to avoid choosing between two values, giving a positive statement which covers all bases instead.

Example: “I would never do anything to hurt the company…”

If aggressively pressed to choose between two competing values, always choose personal integrity. It is the most prized of all values.

Question 22: Looking back, what would you do differently in your life?

TRAPS: This question is usually asked to uncover any life-influencing mistakes, regrets, disappointments or problems that may continue to affect your personality and performance. You do not want to give the interviewer anything negative to remember you by, such as some great personal or career disappointment, even long ago, that you wish could have been avoided.

Nor do you wish to give any answer which may hint that your whole heart and soul will not be in your work.

BEST ANSWER: Indicate that you are a happy, fulfilled, optimistic person and that, in general, you wouldn’t change a thing.

Example: “It’s been a good life, rich in learning and experience, and the best it yet to come.

Every experience in life is a lesson it its own way. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Question 23: Could you have done better in your last job?

TRAPS: This is no time for true confessions of major or even minor problems.

BEST ANSWER: Again never be negative.

Example: “I suppose with the benefit of hindsight you can always find things to do better, of course, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything of major consequence.”

(If more explanation seems necessary)

Describer a situation that didn’t suffer because of you but from external conditions beyond your control.

For example, describe the disappointment you felt with a test campaign, new product launch, merger, etc., which looked promising at first, but led to underwhelming results. “I wish we could have known at the start what we later found out (about the economy turning, the marketplace changing, etc.), but since we couldn’t, we just had to go for it. And we did learn from it…”

Question 24 Can you work under pressure?

TRAPS: An easy question, but you want to make your answer believable.

BEST ANSWER: Absolutely… (Then prove it with a vivid example or two of a goal or project accomplished under severe pressure.)

Question 25: What makes you angry?

TRAPS: You don’t want to come across either as a hothead or a wimp.

BEST ANSWER: Give an answer that’s suited to both your personality and the management style of the firm. Here, the homework you’ve done about the company and its style can help in your choice of words.

Examples: If you are a reserved person and/or the corporate culture is coolly professional:

“I’m an even-tempered and positive person by nature, and I believe this helps me a great deal

in keeping my department running smoothly, harmoniously and with a genuine esprit de corps. I believe in communicating clearly what’s expected, getting people’s commitment to those goals, and then following up continuously to check progress.”

“If anyone or anything is going off track, I want to know about it early. If, after that kind of open communication and follow up, someone isn’t getting the job done, I’ll want to know why. If there’s no good reason, then I’ll get impatient and angry…and take appropriate steps from there. But if you hire good people, motivate them to strive for excellence and then follow up constantly, it almost never gets to that state.”

If you are feisty by nature and/or the position calls for a tough straw boss.

“You know what makes me angry? People who (the fill in the blanks with the most objectionable traits for this type of position)…people who don’t pull their own weight, who are negative, people who lie…etc.”

Question 26: Why aren’t you earning more money at this stage of your career?

TRAPS: You don’t want to give the impression that money is not important to you, yet you want to explain why your salary may be a little below industry standards.

BEST ANSWER: You like to make money, but other factors are even more important.

Example: “Making money is very important to me, and one reason I’m here is because I’m looking to make more. Throughout my career, what’s been even more important to me is doing work I really like to do at the kind of company I like and respect. (Then be prepared to be specific about what your ideal position and company would be like, matching them as closely as possible to the opportunity at hand.

Question 27: Who has inspired you in your life and why?

TRAPS: The two traps here are unpreparedness and irrelevance. If you grope for an answer, it seems you’ve never been inspired. If you ramble about your high school basketball coach, you’ve wasted an opportunity to present qualities of great value to the company.

BEST ANSWER: Have a few heroes in mind, from your mental “Board of Directors” – Leaders in your industry, from history or anyone else who has been your mentor.

Be prepared to give examples of how their words, actions or teachings have helped inspire your achievements. As always, prepare an answer which highlights qualities that would be highly valuable in the position you are seeking.

Question 28: What was the toughest decision you ever had to make?

TRAPS: Giving an unprepared or irrelevant answer.

BEST ANSWER: Be prepared with a good example, explaining why the decision was difficult…the process you followed in reaching it…the courageous or effective way you carried it out…and the beneficial results.

Question 29 Tell me about the most boring job you’ve ever had.

TRAPS: You give a very memorable description of a very boring job. Result? You become associated with this boring job in the interviewer’s mind.

BEST ANSWER: You have never allowed yourself to grow bored with a job and you can’t understand it when others let themselves fall into that rut.

Example: “Perhaps I’ve been fortunate, but that I’ve never found myself bored with any job I have ever held. I’ve always enjoyed hard work. As with actors who feel there are no small parts, I also believe that in every company or department there are exciting challenges and intriguing problems crying out for energetic and enthusiastic solutions. If you’re bored, it’s probably because you’re not challenging yourself to tackle those problems right under your nose.”

Question 30 Have you been absent from work more than a few days in any previous position?

TRAPS: If you’ve had a problem, you can’t lie. You could easily be found out. Yet admitting an attendance problem could raise many flags.

BEST ANSWER: If you have had no problem, emphasize your excellent and consistent attendance record throughout your career.

Also describe how important you believe such consistent attendance is for a key executive…why it’s up to you to set an example of dedication…and why there’s just no substitute for being there with your people to keep the operation running smoothly, answer questions and handle problems and crises as they arise.

If you do have a past attendance problem, you want to minimize it, making it clear that it was an exceptional circumstance and that it’s cause has been corrected.

To do this, give the same answer as above but preface it with something like, “Other that being out last year (or whenever) because of (your reason, which is now in the past), I have never had a problem and have enjoyed an excellent attendance record throughout my career.

Furthermore, I believe, consistent attendance is important because…” (Pick up the rest of the answer as outlined above.).

Question 31: What changes would you make if you came on board?

TRAPS: Watch out! This question can derail your candidacy faster than a bomb on the tracks and just as you are about to be hired.

Reason: No matter how bright you are, you cannot know the right actions to take in a position before you settle in and get to know the operation’s strengths, weaknesses key people, financial condition, methods of operation, etc. If you lunge at this temptingly baited question, you will probably be seen as someone who shoots from the hip.

Moreover, no matter how comfortable you may feel with your interviewer, you are still an outsider. No one, including your interviewer, likes to think that a know-it-all outsider is going to come in, turn the place upside down and with sweeping, grand gestures, promptly demonstrate what jerks everybody’s been for years.

BEST ANSWER: You, of course, will want to take a good hard look at everything the company is doing before making any recommendations.

Example: “Well, I wouldn’t be a very good doctor if I gave my diagnosis before the examination. Should you hire me, as I hope you will, I’d want to take a good hard look at everything you’re doing and understand why it’s being done that way? I’d like to have in-depth meetings with you and the other key people to get a deeper grasp of what you feel you’re doing right and what could be improved.

“From what you’ve told me so far, the areas of greatest concern to you are…” (Name them. Then do two things. First, ask if these are in fact his major concerns. If so then reaffirm how your experience in meeting similar needs elsewhere might prove very helpful).

Question 32 I’m concerned that you don’t have as much experience as we’d like in…

TRAPS: This could be a make-or-break question. The interviewer mostly likes what he sees, but has doubts over one key area. If you can assure him on this point, the job may be yours.

BEST ANSWER: This question is related to “The Fatal Flaw” (Question 18), but here the concern is not that you are totally missing some qualifications, such as CPA certification, but rather that your experience is light in one area.

Before going into any interview, try to identify the weakest aspects of your candidacy from his

Company’s point of view; Then prepare the best answer you possible can to shore up your defenses.

To get past this question with flying colors, you are going to rely on your master strategy of uncovering the employer’s greatest wants and needs and then matching them with your strengths. Since you already know how to do this from Question 1, you are in a much stronger position.

More specifically, when the interviewer poses as objection like this, you should…

  1. Agree on the importance of this qualification.
  2. Explain that your strength may be indeed be greater than your resume indicates because…
  3. When this strength is added to your other strengths, it’s really your combination of qualifications that’s most important.

Then review the areas of your greatest strengths that match up most favorably with the company’s most urgently-felt wants and needs.

This is powerful way to handle this question for two reasons. First, you’re giving your interviewer more ammunition in the area of his concern. But more importantly, you’re shifting his focus away from this one, isolated area and putting it on the unique combination of strengths you offer, strengths which tie in perfectly with his greatest wants.

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