Published On: Sat, Feb 9th, 2013

5 Tough Interview Questions Most Fail to Answer Correctly

Job interviews are nerve wrecking and challenging and we all have to do them at some point.

The best way to overcome your nerves in any situation is to be as prepared as possible. Preparation will give you the confidence you need to be poised and come up with good responses. It goes without saying that you need to be prepared for some of the more difficult questions that most people falter on.

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” – Bobby Unser

Here are 5 examples of questions and answers to consider prepping for your next interview:

1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years.

This question is very common and is one of the most loaded and common questions out there. No one wants to hire someone, train them and invest in them only to have them leave after a short period of time. They also don’t want to hire someone with no ambition. Your answer needs to address both concerns.

Do NOT give a specific title as your goal as titles belong to people currently working. Try to be a generic / general in your response as possible. Don’t make your interview uncomfortable by saying you want to be Manager of Customer Service when your interviewer might be good friends with Bob, Manager of Customer Service.

Answer: In 5 years my goal would be to be managing a department within the Company. By that time, I expect to have acquired enough knowledge about the business to be able to apply my leadership skills to take on the additional responsibility.

 2. Tell me about a time you worked on something and didn’t perform well. 

We all make mistakes, so don’t say “I’ve never messed up”. Think about an area where you could have done a better job with hindsight and what you learnt about the process.

Answer: At my last company we implemented a new customer relationship management system that was a really good tool. We were under pressure to get it up and running quickly so I took the training offered and immediately started using it with customers. I was able to use it very well and meet all the typical needs for my position. However, I was disappointed to find out later that the software had a number of more advanced features beyond the basics for which I had received training. I could have better utilized the software and performed better service if I had dug deeper to find out everything the product had to offer. Sometimes its good to just the basics covered before becoming more advanced but in this case I’m sure I could have accomplished the basics in addition to the more advanced features.

3. What about your work quality is most criticized? 

Be careful. Answering this directly would indicate that you have a weakness and are doing nothing to fix it. The tone of the question seems to imply that this is an ongoing issue. Make sure you lock it down to a specific historic event and explain how you resolved it.

Answer: When I was an entry level financial analyst I was really focused on making sure that I had the right set of information on my presentations. I focused on making it accurate, relevant and specific to the decision that needed to be made. It was only after a conversation with the CFO that I realized I needed to also make the presentations pleasant to the eye. I learnt that having the right colors, graphics and appeal made my presentations a lot more interesting to look at. It’s not that I spent less time on the information component of presentations after that, I just compiled them with an eye to making it “look good”.

4. Why have you been out of work for so long? 

“The economy sucks!” Please do not say this. Also please don’t say you decided to “take a break and tour the world”. Everyone is affected by the economy. Further, taking a break when you needed to tackle the problem of replacing your job is not a good sign. Show that you took the initiative to make yourself better. This will help differentiate you from everyone else.

Answer: I was laid off from my last job 6 months ago and decided to take some time to brush up on my skills and do some personal development. I took a course (or am taking a course) in advanced leadership skills and have also been coming up to speed on the latest accounting pronouncements (insert examples applicable to the Company).

5. Do you have any questions for me? 

On the surface this is not a hard question to answer but it is your last chance to impress your interviewer. Don’t fill the space with pointless questions about what “product do you sell in Venezuela?” or “tell me about your office in Zurich”. If  you have specific concerns by all means do ask but don’t ignore the opportunity to sell yourself one last time.

Answer: From what I’ve seen, you have a really complex and well integrated enterprise resource planning system that is involved in many parts of the business. What steps are you taking to modify the system to meet the new international reporting standards in 2014 while still maintaining local standards up until that point in time of the switch? [Interviewer responds]. Is there an opportunity for this department to be more involved in that implementation, it is an area I have experience in and find really interesting.

Interview questions can be a minefield and sometimes it is not even apparent that they are fully loaded. Try to also understand what the interviewer is trying to accomplish with the question. You either win or you lose a point with each answer you give. Avoid responses that indicate red flags and try to sell yourself with your responses where ever possible.

Good Luck!

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