The Five Toughest Job Interview Questions
Martin Yate CPC
NY Times bestselling author
Knock em Dead The Ultimate Job Search Guide 2012
Copyright 2012 all rights reserved
Why have you been out of work for so long plus four of the other toughest questions you will face in an interview and how to answer them.
Why have you been out of work for so long?
This question always touches a raw spot and can be embarrassing; however, you can turn it around using facts and honesty.
“If you look at my work history you’ll see it has been steady for x years. Then I lost my job in this last recession. There were two problems for me: my complete lack of understanding about how to find a job in the worst recession in eighty years, in a world where all the rules of job search have changed beyond recognition.”
“I’d never had a problem finding a job before, but because of the changes in how you find a job today, when I did apply for jobs, most of the time my resume got stuck in a database and was never even seen by recruiters. The big reason I’ve been out of work is that my resume didn’t work and I just haven’t been getting interviews.”
Then move the conversation forward to what’s most important to the interviewer: what you can do and how long it will take you to be productive. You might finish with a question of your own, asking about the most difficult and/or urgent responsibilities of the job and why people fail in this job. The interviewer’s answer should give you ammunition to talk about how well suited you would be for the position.
Your job exists to help your employer achieve and maintain profitability. How do your efforts support these goals?
It’s a question that can only be answered when you really understand the guts of the job you are pursuing. It starts with an assertion, your job exists to help your employer achieve and maintain profitability. Because this is a statement of fact—all jobs exist to support profitability—you need to determine whether your job is chiefly concerned with generating revenue, protecting assets, improving productivity in some way, or is perhaps a combination of these imperatives. Once you have determined this you have outlined the framework for your answer.
The second part—how do your efforts support these goals?—is much tougher to deal with. To answer effectively you need to understand that the true guts of every job is essentially the same: to identify, prevent, and solve problems that occur within your area of expertise, and in the process help your employer achieve and maintain profitability.
You answer by identifying the strategies you employ to your make small but important contributions towards achieving and maintaining profitability:
a You anticipate the ways that problems can arise in your area of responsibility and explain how you execute your work in ways that prevent many of the problems typical to your job from arising in the first place. You have an example or two ready.
b You tackle and solve problems that do occur, because they cannot be prevented, in a timely, effective, and professional manner. You’ll have an illustration ready for this too.
c You do so in a way that is courteous to customers and vendors, and considerate to those coworkers who must deal with the results of your work. Again, you’ll have examples.
If you catch a break next time out and you aren’t asked such a tough question, you can make major points with any interviewer by using this understanding to color the way you answer other questions.
What is your greatest strength?
If you know about specific skill requirements, emphasize them. If not, stick to a brief outline of your key technical skills. Technical skills are the skills necessary for the day-to-day execution of your duties, and vary from profession to profession (though they always include technological skills). Also include and expand on a selection of transferable skills (critical thinking, communication, multitasking, creativity, teamwork, and leadership) and professional values (motivation, energy, commitment, reliability, determination, pride, integrity, productivity) that enable you to do whatever you do well. Whenever possible, give real-world examples to illustrate your points, such as recent accomplishments, challenges, and goals that show your skills in action.
The transferable skills and professional values can be applied in any job and at any level. Interviewers try to determine whether you possess these skills. When you understand how these particular skills and values can drive the success of your career, they will become a conscious part of everything you do, and over time become an integral part of your desirable professional brand.
What is your greatest weakness?
The truth of the matter is that we all have weaknesses, and this is one instance when any interviewer is going to relish an honest answer like a breath of fresh air. Your goal is to be honest and forthright without torpedoing your candidacy. We all share a weakness: staying current with rapid changes in technology. Changes in technology give everyone an ongoing challenge: getting up to speed with the new skills demanded if you are to do your job well. Your answer can address this very issue and in the process still show that you are someone capable of staying on top of things in a rapidly changing workplace. First talk about these constantly evolving challenges, and then follow with examples that show how you are keeping up with technologies that affect your productivity, “I’m currently reading about…” “I just attended a weekend workshop…”
With this type of answer you identify your weakness as something that is only of concern to dedicated and forward-thinking professionals.
Aren’t you over qualified for this job?
If you are told you have too much experience, respond with the positives: how your skills and experience will help you deliver immediately, and why the position fits your needs; perhaps, “I really enjoy my work and I have excellent skills [itemize], so I can deliver quickly and consistently. At crunch times and during emergencies, my experience makes me a steadying influence. I’m not looking for a promotion, so I’m not after anyone’s job, and I’ll be a reliable and trustworthy person to have at your back. Finally, I’ve made my mistakes on someone else’s payroll [smile]. I’m qualified, I can bring real benefits to the team, I want the job and you can count on me: I’m loyal.”