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How to answer the toughest interview questions

When sitting down for a job interview, even the most qualified of candidates can feel the pressure of a hiring manager’s questions when sitting in the hot seat. And before you get to ask some of your own, you must impress with artful answers that tie your candidacy to both the position and brand.

Some hiring managers ask tough questions in an attempt to steer you towards revealing information you may be trying to conceal, while others want to get a better understanding of your thought process under pressure. Whatever their motive, you’ll want to be prepared to stand out.

Procom recruiters share insights into how to answer some of the toughest interview questions:

Question 1: “Tell me about yourself…”

Seems like a pretty easy question; you’ve got your whole life to pull from, right? Wrong. “Tell me about yourself” isn’t an invitation to tell the hiring manager everything about you; just why you’re the best fit.

• Give a 2-3 minute snapshot as to why you’re the most qualified for the job.

• Cover three topics: education, work history and recent career experience.

• Always highlight accomplishments and experience that directly relate to the job description.

Question 2: “What’s your biggest weakness?”

This is the part where many career books tell you to disguise a secret strength and present it as a weakness. But hiring managers are wise to those ways, (“Oh, I’m a workaholic,” or “I’m a perfectionist”) they’ve heard it all before. Just be honest. Employers want to hire someone who’s reflective about their skill set and knows what they need to work on.

• Use an actual weakness that you’re looking to improve on, the steps you’ve taken to overcome the issue and how you’ve become better because of the challenge.

• You want to convey the fact that you’re ambitious and have room to grow and learn new things.

Question 3: “There seems to be a gap in your work history. Why is that?”

Everyone is human, hiring managers understand that people can lose their jobs and sometimes it isn’t always easy to quickly find a new one. What they want to see is how you’ve used that time constructively.

• List any activities you’ve been doing during the stage of unemployment like freelancing, volunteer work or courses you’ve taken that relate to the position.

• Make it clear that you’re up-to-date with trends in your industry, and mention the professional organizations and industry related events you’ve attended.

Question 4: “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker or manager and how it was resolved…”

It doesn’t matter what industry or field you work in, there is always conflict. Hiring managers are interested in learning how you demonstrate reason, handle tense situations and work as a team player. They want to anticipate how past difficulties will affect future behavior.

• Never say you’ve never experienced a conflict in the workplace, everyone has experienced conflict and this will convey that you’re avoiding the question.

• Never place blame on the co-worker you’re speaking about; it doesn’t matter who was right or wrong. Instead, explain the issue succinctly and the specific action you took.

• At the end, explain what you learned from the conflict and state your relationship with the  co-worker after the issue. This will demonstrate that you don’t hold a grudge.

Question 5: “Why are you looking for a new position?”

Your current boss may be a maniacal control freak, the corporate culture may be toxic, there’s a co-worker you really dislike—all of these are reasons people leave their current employer; however, they’re not things you want to mention. You never EVER want to talk negatively about a previous employer.

• Always focus on the positives and the future, rather than the past.

• Reiterate that it’s been a great learning experience but that there isn’t room for anymore growth or advancement within the company, and you want to tackle new challenges and develop your skill sets.

Question 6: “How would you explain a complex database to your 10-year old nephew?”

Explaining marketing automation, CRMs or just about anything in terms a 10-year-old could understand shows your knowledge of their product, industry and business. Hiring managers are looking to test your ability to analyze complex data and extract the relevant information.

• Do your research on the industry and company and have an adaptable understanding of what it is they offer.

• Your answer sound interesting and insightful, so practice it in both technical and laymen’s terms so you, yourself, understand what they do to sound confident.

Question 7: “What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?”

Some roles involve a high-level ability to get back up after being knocked down. Hiring managers want to measure your ability to make controversial decisions that lead to success, or they want to know how you handled failure and rebounded afterwards.

• Align your answer with the values of the company and explain a situation where you were pushed outside your comfort zone and displayed these values.

• Provide an example of a situation where you encountered a major setback and pushed yourself to explore a new direction–and succeeded.

Question 8: “Why should we hire you?”

It’s the million dollar question. Everyone wants the job, this is your big chance to really differentiate yourself from the other candidates and highlight why you’re the best person for the position.

• Review the job description and qualifications very closely before the interview and identify the skills and knowledge that are critical to the role.

• Identify your own experience from your past positions that directly relate and how you demonstrated those skills.

• Are you the best person for the job? Show it by being passionate in your response and examples.

Your paper qualifications got your foot in the door, but now it’s you who has to be invited to stay. It’s important to do your research, demonstrate the value you bring to the role and be passionate about wanting to be a part of the team.

Are you working with a staffing agency to find your next great opportunity?

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How to answer the toughest interview questions

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