How to Answer Job Interview Questions, PART 3

Dr. Burrell’s classnotes


In order to prepare yourself for the workforce, there’s no way, in general, that you can bypass the dreadful interview process. The following is an essential guide from Dr. Burrell, a graduate school professor, that will help alleviate the fear of answering common interview questions.

Job Interview Questions

21. Give me an example of a time when you had to think out of the box
Intent: This is code for asking about your innovativeness, creativity, and initiative. Interviewers want to learn about not only a specific creative idea but also how you came up with it and, more importantly, what you did with that insight.
Context: This is another behavioral question, and the example you select is critical. It should be relevant to the job you’re interviewing for, and your impact in the story should be significant.
Response: Tell interviewers how you came up with a creative solution to a customer problem, improved an internal process or made a sale via innovation strategy.

22. What negative thing would your last boss say about you?
Intent: This is another way of asking about your weakness
Context: A good approach is to discuss weaknesses you can develop into strengths. However, do not say you work too hard or are a perfectionist. These answers are tired and transparent. Come up with something visible to a past boss that was perhaps mentioned in your performance reviews as a developmental area.
Response: “I don’t think she would have called it negative, but she identified that I needed to work on being more dynamic in my presentation skills. I have sought out practice opportunities and joined Toastmasters. I have seen some real improvement.”

23. Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma
Intent: The interviewer is looking for evidence of your high ethical standards and honesty
Content: You might want to say you haven’t had any ethical challenges, but we all have our ethics tested at some point. For example:

  • You discovered wrongdoing, or someone asked you to engage in a cover-up
  • Your employer failed to deliver the value and quality on products or services paid for by a client
  • A colleague cut corners on a project

Response: Without naming names, describe the situation and how you dealt with it. The response may focus on you, or it may involve other people. Remember, your political acumen is being tested—sometimes the best action isn’t blowing the whistle but taking care of the problem yourself

24. Tell me about a time when you failed
Intent: No one wins all the time, so the key here is to forthrightly discuss what you learned from a situation that went awry. The interviewer also may want to hear how you handled any resulting fallout
Context: Failure comes in different forms: taking the wrong action, omission, or not doing enough or taking action soon enough. Some failures are big; most are small. Tell a story that isn’t a career killer but shows you learned something substantive
Response: Perhaps you failed to trust your gut on a hire and the person didn’t work out, or you didn’t intervene early enough with a problem employee. Talk about the lesson you learned from the mistake

25. Why do you want to leave your current position?
Intent: The interviewer wants to make sure you won’t walk out after six months and that you’ll be satisfied in your new position
Context: You have greater market value when you are looking on your own terms. Prepare a positive response you are very comfortable with. Refer to fit, personality issues or new directions. Your goals and readiness for a new kind of role are generally safe terrain. Just be careful to emphasize benefits to the employer, not your personal aspirations
Response: Tread carefully. You don’t want to bad-mouth your current employer or put yourself in a weaker salary negotiating position. You could say, “Actually, I’m happy doing what I am doing now. But recently I have been keeping my eyes open for other opportunities. I don’t need to leave, but for the right opportunity, I would consider it. This opportunity seems to fit the criteria I set out.”

26. Tell me about a time when you faced a major obstacle at work
Intent: In this case, the interviewer is interested in your ability to overcome a major hurdle
Context: Pick an example that illustrates a significant obstacle that best demonstrates how you work and that had a positive, tangible outcome. Obstacles might include business problems, a difficult objective, key people who stood in your way or lack of resources. Once you have your example, explain the steps you took
Response: You could include the analysis you performed and the resulting strategy, the process you took, the key actions performed, your arguments or anything else that clearly demonstrates how you achieved your goal. A great response technique for this kind of question is to break your answer down into phases or steps: “First, I…Second…”


27. How do you deal with conflict?
Intent: Conflict is part of any workplace, and the reality is that you often can’t get ahead or perform well in your job unless you can deal with conflict at a basic level. Do you avoid conflict or face it? Do you think it through, or are you impulsive? Do you use constructive techniques to resolve the situation?
Context: There are different forms of conflict of course: the everyday interpersonal sort, disagreements in direction or strategy, and conflict over resources. You should describe how you handle conflict at an appropriate level. If you are a manager or executive, for example, pick a reflective example.
Response: Consider offering a specific example to demonstrate how you resolve conflict

28. Tell me about an assignment that was too difficult for you. How did you resolve the issue?
Intent: The intent can be varied. The interviewer may be interested not only in your ability to respond to a challenge but also in how you respond. Or he may want to know how you define “too difficult.” Your ability to learn from a situation you considered too difficult is also relevant. Answer the right way, and you can impress with your coping skills and range of abilities. The wrong answer could take you out of the running

Context: If you have been in challenging roles, then at some point you should have found yourself stretched to the limit. This is when we grow. So this question is a marvelous opportunity to talk about a time you dealt with a really big challenge successfully
Response: Do not make the mistake of saying you have never had an assignment that was too difficult for you. Discuss an example of a time you had to overcome a lack of knowledge, skill or experience, or when you took your game to the next level: “I wouldn’t say that it was too difficult for me. However, I was faced with…”

29. How would your past experience translate into success in this job?
Intent: Either the interviewer is asking in a tone that indicates his doubt about your legitimacy as a candidate, or he is asking you to make the connection for him effectively
Context: You can blow the whole interview here. In fact, you have no business being in the interview unless you are clear why you have what it takes to do the job well.
Response: You might start with naming the top few requirements for this job and then describing how you meet or exceed each one. Or you might begin with your background and summarize how it has prepared you for this job. Often, the context of the job is almost as important as the skills required, so don’t forget to speak to the specific challenges and objectives you see in the role

30. How would you tackle the first 90 days?
Intent: This question is about thoroughness, process and appreciation for organizational complexity. In a second or third interview, the interviewer may also be testing how much you have thought about the job itself
Context: Most people would say they would study the company’s business. You must go beyond this answer to speak to specific job’s key challenges or goals. You also want to assure your potential employer that current production will continue without interruption. Of course, you want to express that you would work with the team, your boss and any key influencers to get up to speed as quickly as possible
Response: Unless asked to do so, do get specific on changes or initiatives you would make. Instead, think of your response as an operating framework that demonstrates you have a solid, realistic understanding of what needs to be done and how

31. Given our company’s sluggish near-term outlook, you can’t expect a promotion anytime soon. Is that ok with you? Why is it ok?
Clearly you don’t want to say, “It’s ok. I’m happy to languish in a job that rarely challenges me, for however long.” Better to say: “I’m excited to learn as much as possible about organization while I do my job every day. I’m confident that after the economy turns around; your company will offer further opportunities for me”

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