April 22, 2013
How to handle hardball interview questions
Even candidates who are able to make a strong sales pitch in job interviews can find themselves easily tripped up by the unexpected: hardball questions.
The trick to fielding those questions is to realize that they’re asked primarily to gauge how fast you can think and how well you perform under pressure.
“If you rehearse answering tricky career-related questions, you’ll be more apt to respond to them confidently,” says Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast. “Nothing beats preparation.”
According to the career website, there are ways to steel yourself for the hardball queries, even when you don’t know the specific question.
For example, when you are asked, “Could you tell me a little about yourself?” you should briefly cite recent personal and professional work experiences that relate to the position you’re seeking, and that support your credentials. Prepare a personal branding statement that quickly describes who you are and what you can bring to the company.
If you are asked why you left your previous employer, or why you are leaving your present job, there are several strategies you can use. If you were fired for performance issues, merely say you “parted ways,” and refocus the discussion on how your skill set matches the current position.
If you currently have a job, focus on why you’re seeking greater opportunity, challenges or responsibility. Make sure that you have very strong references regardless of why you left, or are leaving, a position.
Should the employer ask about your strengths, briefly summarize your work experience and the strongest qualities and achievements that are directly related to the responsibilities of the job you are applying for. Focus on self-motivation, initiative, your ability to work in a team and willingness to work long hours.
Spin the negatives
If you are queried about your strengths, you’ll also be asked about your weaknesses. Turn this question around and present a personal weakness as a professional strength.
If you’re detail-oriented, a workaholic and someone who neglects friends and family when working on important projects, turn these weaknesses around. Explain by saying that you’re meticulous and remain involved in projects until you’ve ironed out all the problems, even if it means working after hours or on the weekend.
Here's another tricky one: "What do/did you like most and least about your present/most recent job?" Don't say, "I liked the atmosphere." Instead, say, "I enjoyed the camaraderie of being part of a team." When discussing least-liked aspects of your present or previous job, try to mention an area of responsibility that's far removed from the functions of the job you're seeking. But be sure your answer indicates that you either performed the assignment well or that you learned something useful.
If an employer questions whether you are overqualified, focus on the experience and skill set you'll bring to the position, and the value the employer will receive by hiring you.
When an employer asks you about what sets you apart from other applicants, he or she is really probing your readiness for the job, your ability to handle it, your willingness to work hard at it and your fitness for the job. Show your readiness by describing how your experience, career progression, qualities and achievements make you an asset
Sometimes employers will ask about your future plans, such as where you see yourself in three years or so. The worst answer is to say that you want to be president of the company or have the interviewer's position. Instead, talk about what motivates you, especially what will motivate you on this job and what you hope to have accomplished.
Near the end of an interview, an employer might say, "Do you have any questions? Can you think of anything else you'd like to add?"
Don't say "no," or that everything has been thoroughly discussed. If you think the interviewer has any doubts, now's the time to restate why you're the most logical candidate for the opening. Show your interest in the company by preparing some key questions in advance.
Do your homework on the company in case the employer asks you to talk about the company and industry in which you are interviewing. Interviewers want to know that you’re interested in more than just a job.
Kirk Hallowell, a talent management industry veteran, offers the following tips on company research.
• If you were referred for a position by a colleague, network contact or recruiting professional, remember that your reference most likely has a number of insights about the organization and the opportunity. Tap this expertise to ask what he or she believes the organization is looking for in hiring this position at this time.
• Dig deep into the website to understand how the company represents itself to the world and to demonstrate your preparation for the interview.
• Conduct a simple Internet search on the company name, or division names, with a “news” filter to provide you with a summary of local, regional and national stories.
• Familiarize yourself with the significant amounts of financial coverage available on the Internet for publicly traded companies. You should be familiar with the financial performance of the organization in the past two years, and understand any major challenges and opportunities that are affecting revenue and growth.
• Check with current or previous employees who may be willing to discuss their experiences. LinkedIn and Glassdoor.com are two of the most established resources in this area.
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