Fielding Tough Interview Questions
By Cixx Admin Date Posted.. 2009-09-15 18:45:19
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 The first thing to remember is that interview questions are calculated to produce information. The interviewer may not be as interested in the answer to the question as he is in understanding what makes you tick. Armed with this perspective, you will be in a better position to provide valuable insights by giving careful thought to your responses. Let's evaluate some of the more common but tricky questions you may run into.

1. What makes you want to work for this company? or Why did you select this career?

Bad Response:

"I've had a difficult time deciding what I really want to do in life. I thought I'd give this a try. Your company looked like as good a place as any to start."

Better Response:

"I have always had a very strong interest in Manufacturing. I believe that my experience and education will provide a solid foundation for success. I am targeting your company because of your dominant market position in Widget production. It has become obvious to me through my research that you are committed to a high standard of excellence and that you are in a unique position to sustain and build upon your competitive advantages."


The interviewer wants to feel that you have your head on straight and that you have a clear sense of where you are heading. He wants to feel that you are enthusiastic about the industry, the company and the position. To effectively answer this question you must have done your homework. You must be able to talk intelligently about what the company does, and how it stands out among it's competitors.

2. Why should I hire you? or What do you bring to the table?

Bad Response:

"I could really use the job. I've had poor luck lately and have not really been able to stay on track with a good company. It would be really nice if you could take me in."

Better Response:

"I have excellent analytical and problem solving skills and I am an effective team player. I also have a solid work ethic and possess a strong desire to succeed. I understand the industry and believe that I could add significant value to your organization."


This is really your opportunity to sell yourself. The interviewer is putting you on the spot. She expects a direct response without a lot of waffling. If you cannot articulate rather forcefully how your presence will benefit the company then she may conclude at that moment that you are not the person for the position. Be reasonably brief, but don't be afraid to bring specific experience and education to light if you feel it applies to the position or industy.

3. What is your greatest weakness?

Bad Response:

"I have a hard time getting along with people. It has been a problem all my life really. I am hoping to be able to overcome it with time."

Better Response:

"I certainly do admit that I'm not perfect. I sometimes lack patience when I must rely on the work of others to meet a tight project deadline. Generally however, I have found that through direct and frequent communication, I can gain the cooperation I need to see the project through to a successful and timely conclusion."


Some consider this a no-win question. With a little thought and preparation, however, you can turn your response into a positive rather than a negative. Use sincerity, creativity and good judgement to turn this situation to your advantage.

4. What is your greatest accomplishment?

Bad Response:

"I won $1,000 in Vegas a couple of weeks ago. I wish I could say the same thing about this past weekend - it was a real roller coaster - I ended up giving most of it back."

Better Response:

"I have many accomplishments that I am proud of. A recent example would be when I was given the task to improve throughput on our production line by 20% through process improvements alone - without any capital assistance. My team had to focus incredible creative energy to accomplish the goal. But we were able to achieve the mandate three weeks ahead of schedule."


It is usually best to keep your responses to this type of question work related. To the extent possible you should also try to orient your response to an accomplishment that has relevance to the company or position to which you are applying. Avoid taking undue credit or telling tall tales. You want to come across as sincere and believable - not like you just walked in off of Fantasy Island.

5. What did you dislike most about your last job?

Bad Response:

"Oh, that's easy. My boss. He was a real jerk!"

Better Response:

"I really don't have any complaints about the job or the company. In fact, I learned a great deal from my last job. However, I am seeking a position with a company that is more growth oriented and where my contributions will be more visible."


Bad mouthing your past employers is considered a no-no in an interview setting. Avoid negative comments - even when a the interviewer specifically asks for them. Keep your response short and positive. No employer wants to saddle himself with a troublemaker. Keep all discussions about past employment experiences as positive and upbeat as possible.

6. How would you describe yourself? or How would your co-workers describe you?

Bad Response:

"I'm about 5'10" and a little on the heavy side. Green eyes..."

Better Response:

"I am a self starter. I like being part of a team and am primarily motivated by achievement. I am creative and feel that I can generally be relied on to do what it takes to get the job done."

"I believe that my co-workers would describe me as being a strong contributor and a team player."


The interviewer will typically be looking for signs that you possess a strong degree of self confidence and that you are intelligent, reliable and hard working. She may also want to develop a comfort level with your ability to fit into a team environment.

7. Describe a difficult situation you faced and tell me how you handled it. or Tell me about a time when you overcame a major conflict.

Bad Response:

"I was once challenged in a meeting by a co-worker who had no idea what he was talking about. I asked him to step outside. When he refused I came across the table at him. Boy, you should have seen people scatter - it was really something."

Better Response:

"I was once asked to perform some analysis on a controversial project. Unfortunately, my results conflicted with the perspective and opinions of a key senior manager in the company. I knew he would not be happy when he saw my analysis, however, I also felt strongly that my analysis and recommendations were correct. I discussed the situation with my boss and got his buy-in on my work. We then approached the senior manager together and indicated that we were interested in receiving his feedback on our analysis before going public with it. This seemed to defuse the situation and we had a productive discussion. Ultimately he was able to see that the analysis was solid and we were able to move forward with my recommendations."


The interviewer will be looking for evidence that you are able to cope with criticism and resolve conflict in a professional and productive manner. Think carefully about situations like the one described above that you have been involved in. Take the time to sketch out a brief synopsis of the situation. Avoid unnecessary details. Make the key points and emphasize the positive nature of the outcome. Rehearse these in your mind until you can relate the incidents fluidly and with appropriate emphasis.

8. What is your salary requirement?

Bad Response:

"What are you getting at? You're not one of those really cheap companies are you? The next thing I know you'll be telling me that you don't offer a signing bonus!"

Better Response:

"Well of course I want to make a fair wage given my skills, experience and education. However, salary is certainly not my only criteria for making a job decision. I feel that your company has a lot to offer in many ways. Can you tell me what the salary range is for this position?"


This is a difficult subject - particularly if you are in the early stages of the interview process. You want to avoid throwing out the first number if possible. This will be critical to the negotiation process. By answering the question with a question you can often throw the ball back into the other court and put the impetus on the interviewer to frame the potential salary range for you.

If the interviewer presses you or becomes insistent that you divulge your salary requirement then you should be as candid as possible. A good way to do this is to offer up a salary range. "Somewhere in the 50's" for example. This doesn't tip your entire hand and often provides sufficient information to satisfy the interviewer.

When indicating your salary requirement don't shortchange yourself, but don't be unrealistic either. You don't want to eliminate the possibility of an offer by coming across as arrogant or unreasonable at this stage. Remember that once an offer is given, there is still room for negotiation. Your initial objective is to get an offer.

9. Tell me about yourself. or Walk me through your background.

Be careful here. This is generally a copout on the part of the interviewer. It usually (although not always) means he hasn't really taken the time to review your resume very carefully - if at all. That's o.k. Go ahead and take him through it. But do it concisely. Take advantage of what you know about the organization to tailor your summary to the specific position. Focus in on those areas of experience and education which are most applicable. Don't dwell on points that are not particularly relevant.

More Questions

Listed below are additional questions that are commonly asked in interviews. You should consider formulating responses to as many of these questions as possible prior to the interview. While the interviewer may not use this exact language, many of the questions you will ultimately hear will be variations on these general themes.

Why should I hire you?

Are you willing to relocate?

What motivates you?

What qualities should a successful manager possess?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

What are some of your personal interests?

Why do you want to leave your current job?

Why do you want to work here?

What interests you most about this position?

Do you work well under pressure?

How do you feel about travel?

Give an example of a time when you were involved in a group project. What was your role? What was the outcome?


A little thought and preparation will go a long way in preparing for an interview. By thinking through some of these questions now, you will avoid stumbling through your responses in an actual interview setting. You will come across as professional, polished and prepared. And you will compare very favorably to those individuals who are willing to just take things as they come. Good Luck!

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