Own Yourself Series 1: Acing a Few Tricky Questions

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Some things don’t change. I notice again and again in conversations with clients is that even after you have got your foot in the door, the actual interview can still go any which way. As hiring managers, as we assess how the person can add to the team, in addition to checking for baseline fitment, we will go on to ask more detailed questions. What could be an honest attempt to understand the person, their motivations, philosophy and their approach to work especially under stress, can start unraveling the candidate, who in turn feels “trapped.”

What do you do when faced with tricky questions?

I am listing the top 5 simple questions which are not as simple, and can be so annoying when we are candidates.

1.      What’s your weakness? I now think back to when I have asked this question as an interviewer, or been asked as a candidate. You know, I know that everyone is going to present some weakness which is really strength for the organization – like I am a work alcoholic. As an interviewer, I can immediately tell when the person has the stock answer ready or is sharing something more authentic. As a candidate, I am better off sharing a real weakness and how I am working on it. E.g. I can be quite impatient and am working on it with my mentor.

2.      Why did you get fired? Great if you got fired as part of a corporate restructuring, What if it was performance? It sure takes courage to acknowledge that I got fired for poor performance. Reflect on the reasons for your poor performance – poor role fitment. issues at work (crappy boss, poor pay etc), personal reasons etc. Whatever be the reason, don’t fall into the trap of criticizing past employers. You can mention the positive learning’s and how that has made you a stronger, wiser person. A corollary to this question is Why did you leave your last job? Always talk about what you are looking for in the next job. Don’t get into the personality clash, poor pay trap of answers.

3.      What is your dream job? Why do you want to work here? Uh..I would not be here if I was not interested…OK, leaving that aside, weave in the narrative about what aspects of the job you are applying for and the company excite you. You can also mention what parts of your current job make you best suited for the job you are applying for. Do your homework well. Now, if the job you are applying for is somewhere in the range of your dream job, then you can frame your answer tactfully. If it is your dream job, go all out to stress it emphatically. If your dream job is way off, better to not mention it. You can say that you have not thought what a dream job would be like. It’s the journey not the destination that is important.  

4.      The entire range of What If questions...What if your best friend at work was caught stealing? Or What if the Internet was down? These questions are essentially to test your ethics, creativity, problem solving skills etc. Just be yourself, and take a few seconds to collect your thoughts. Answer honestly with reasons. Seek clarity if you can’t understand the question.

5.      Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Being ambitious isn’t bad. This question is really to understand your goals and dedication. But shy away from asking for the promotion – focus on the scope of the job. Again, if you are too vague here, it can be counterproductive. If you plan to change careers completely after 5 years, decide if you want to share that upfront, especially if you are applying for a role where there is going to be a lot of investment in you. It’s actually a ridiculous question in today’s world if you ask me – the employer isn’t offering you guaranteed employment.

Two key things to always remember:

1.      YOU are awesome. Repeat it again and again.

A job interview does not define you – it is part of the cycle of life. Someone else may know the job they are hiring for, but they don’t know you.  

2.      Be Authentic – Never Hide Behind Lies.

Always always have authentic career documents. Avoid white lies, however easy it may be to sneak in your resume, portfolio etc. Lies always get caught – your grandmother was right.


I would love to hear from you. Post your comments, thoughts. Lets discuss.

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