Skillful interviewers who are very well prepared, will come to a job or promotion interview armed with a range of tough questions designed to get as much information as possible about you, your capabilities and behaviours.
Often these difficult questions are designed to see how you respond under pressure or deal with significant problems. The way you answer these questions may well have a significant bearing on the interviewers’ assessment of your suitability to deal with the demands of the job that you have applied for.
Here is a small sample of the types of questions you might expect (and can therefore prepare for), with some suggested ways that you can turn these to your positive advantage in the interview.
Tell me about your most recent setback/failure - what did you contribute to it and how did you overcome it?
Be brief on the details of the setback – spend most time on describing how you dealt with it and most importantly what you learned from the situation. Own up to your own contribution (shows your self-awareness and willingness to take personal responsibility). Conclude on a positive note by giving an example of a more recent success demonstrating how you positively applied the learning from your chosen setback
What is the most difficult decision you have taken in the last three months and how did you go about reaching your decision?
Focus on what made the decision so difficult, describe the options you considered, any advice/input you sought and the critical factors that determined your ultimate course of action. Give this some personality by being honest about the emotional dilemma’s you had to confront, but then show the rationality and logic of your approach
If I had a representative sample of the people who currently work for you in this room, what would they say are your main limitations as a manager of people?
Link your descriptions to any recent feedback you might have had (again demonstrates your self-awareness and openness to feedback). Don't provide a long list – just two or three “development” issues that you are working on – illustrate what you are trying/doing differently. Don't pretend you are perfect – but do illustrate your willingness and habit to learn from experience and feedback. Illustrate with a couple of examples where you have turned any past limitations into current strengths.
Give me an example of a recent decision made by your boss that you strongly disagreed with and felt it necessary to challenge. What was your objection and how did you go about challenging the decision and with what result?
Select an example where you positively influenced the outcome by changing or modifying the decision. Describe what arguments or influencing style you used to address the issue and persuade your boss. Say what motivated you to make the challenge and how you managed the risk you were taking.
Give me a recent example of your involvement in a peer group project where you were called upon to make a difference or change the direction of the project. What did you do to influence your peers and how did you ensure their continued collaboration and buy-in?
Be very specific about the actual difference you made (i.e. what specifically you did or said and what impact it had on others). Demonstrate how you asserted your own viewpoint but avoided being overly dominant or dismissive of others.
Give me an example where someone else’s “political” or manipulative behaviour caused you damage or difficulty. What did you do to confront or change such behaviour? What was the result in terms of ongoing working relationships with your colleague?
Select an example where you successfully confronted the negative behaviour of a colleague by being firm and assertive (as opposed to angry and aggressive). Illustrate what you did and said, and what change this made in your colleague’s subsequent behaviour towards you. Describe why you think you were successful in dealing with this.
Whilst this is a limited sample of the tough interview questions that you might expect, there are some general principles that can apply on how to respond to these and many other such demanding questions i.e.
- Show yourself open and willing to learn from setbacks and feedback
- Illustrate actions you regularly take to raise your own self-awareness of your impact upon others
- Show how you can be resilient, clear-headed and logical when under pressure or faced with difficult decisions
- Demonstrate how you can be firm and push-back on others but in a manner that is purposeful and assertive not aggressive and negative
- Demonstrate that you are both very focused upon achieving the right result and/or outcome from difficult situations but that you try and do so in a manner, where possible, that sustains or gains the commitment of others
- Show how you can positively change or influence situations without needing to resort to formal authority or positional power.
And above all else, remember that tough questions are much less tough if you have thoroughly prepared for the interview and rehearsed your responses to different type of challenging questions.
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Brosna Career Consulting