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Job Interviews – Answering The Tough Questions

Posted on the 27 January 2011 by Combi31 @combi31

Job Interviews – Answering The Tough QuestionsWe have all been there, haven’t we? Sailing through an interview, answering questions about our experiences and how we are manna from heaven for the recruiter when suddenly we are stopped in our tracks, lost for words.Yep, we all know the feeling, a question is asked and we start over-thinking.That question was a behavioural question – a test that is often given during a job interview, to see how you react to a particularly difficult question, asked almost nonchalantly by the interviewer.Now, it could be argued that these types of questions are asked by interviewers who don’t really know why they ask them – it would appear to give them a break from the flow of the interview and put the candidate in the hot-seat while they rally their forces and take stock. I wouldn’t agree with this, even if your individual experiences may concur with this conjecture…I mean, why do they ask these sort of questions anyway? Things were going so well up to now. What are they looking for?Skilled interviewers know why they do this, and it isn’t the answers that they are really interested in, but the reaction of the candidate.Some behavioural questions are an implicit part of many job requirements, at least the way the candidate responds to these questions is, and can give a certain measure of how the candidate would potentially react in a real-life situation.Other behavioural questions can also be posed to confirm certain personality traits that are exhibited during an interview – if the candidate is under or over confident, then responses to “unexpected” questions can, potentially reveal more to the interviewer than a set of questions related implicitly to the job on offer.Typical examples professions that involve customer-facing skills, decision-making, urgency and change, dealing with crises and emergencies etc.Behavioural questions are asked as the answers that are given are viewed as one of the most accurate predictions of future performance – how you will perform, where you to be recruited.After all, in an interview setting, the interviewer has little else to go on, apart from the raw-materials in front of them and they need to make as informed a decision as they can to employ or not employ a candidate – this is why many selection processes run over several days for certain jobs.Remember that you may communicate a lot more than you intended through your non-verbals and para-linguistics, gestures, tics and body language – the meaning of your communication is the result that you elicit – people rarely give as much away verbally than they do non-verbally – just be aware of this.It is of primordial importance to:

  • Don’t look at the ceiling or the floor or out of the window. Talk to the person(s) in front of you, who asked the question. Looking down, up or away from the person could be interpreted as dishonesty or not being genuine. We generally believe people who look us in the eye when answering a question – don’t try and stare them out either …
  • Listen to the question carefully. Very often, behavioral questions tend be overly long a,d stilted, and sometimes sound vague  and abstract. Here is an example: “Good decision-making often includes a careful review of the salient data and weighing of options before making a decision. Give me an example of how you reached a practical business decision by an assessment of the data and weighing of options.”
  • Don’t fiddle, shuffle or fidget - Stay as calm as you can – distractions will distract the interviewer, who may ask themselves further questions about what you are displaying non-verbally.
  • Ensure you understand the question before you begin to answer. Don’t answer questions that you would like to answer if it wasn’t the question that was asked. Paraphrase the question and ask the interviewer if you understand it correctly. If necessary, ask the interviewer to repeat the question. Do not, ask the interviewer to repeat each question — the interviewer may question your understanding and listening skills.
  • Keep an upright, relaxed posture - Slouching or sitting stock-rigid may be interpreted negatively by the interviewer – stay calm, relaxed but alert.
  • Organize your answer. Allow yourself a short time to collect your thoughts and structure your answer. Interviewers appreciate this break — they could use this time to drink some water, review their notes, collect their thoughts and concentrate on you.
  • Give your answer. Even if the question was full of management speak and was long-winded, do not attempt to emulate this. A couple of minutes is long enough to give a clear response, whilst ensuring that the interviewer doesn’t lose their attention over a long-winded or endless story.
  • Stay on Track. The interviewer may be interested to know about you, but they don’t need / nor want to hear your life-story. Stay focused and stay pertinent.
  • Do not go off on a tangent. Don’t go down one-way-streets, go back and forth in time or add details as you are going along. Keep it structured, concise and coherent – short and sweet enough to give impact and having a beginning / a middle and an end. Avoid waffling to pad-out time.
  • Answer follow-up questions. If the interviewer asks follow-up questions that confirm or clarify your story – try to keep your answers short and to the point – once again, only answer the question that was asked.

I don’t intend to give a blow-by-blow recipe of stock answers to some behavioural questions, I could not, and this would not be appropriate nor realist, but we can have a look at a process for answering these type of questions in a satisfactory way – you will then need to add the rest, in terms of your personality, your discretion, your experiences and know-how and your own personal style.Let’s look at some of the typical types of questions that could be asked during an interview, but before we do this, here is one way to analyse and deal with behavioural questions, that will give you a logical and structured framework to provide answers.The model is called The STARR model, which can use bot or only one “R” according to the way in which you feel the responses could be give – the final “R” should perhaps be included, in order to demonstrate the way in which the situation has served as a learning opportunity.STARR stands for :Situation – give details of the context – What, When, WhereTask – What had to be carried outAction – What you did / How you did itResults – What were the outcomes?Reflection – What have you learnt? What would you do / not do again? Why you would / wouldn’t do this in the same way? How will you do / not do things differently?Some typical behavioural questions:

  • Tell me about a time that you had to deal with conflict with management.
  • Describe your three best accomplishments.
  • Tell me about a task that you found uninspiring, describe how you motivated yourself to complete the task.
  • Describe a time when you had to solve a complex problem – how did you go about it?
  • Give me an example of when you had to persuade people to come round to your point of view. How did you do that?
  • Tell me about a time when you didn’t manage to complete a task. What happened?
  • Describe your leadership style. What aspects of your leadership style have you changed over the years? Why?
  • Give an example of where you had to give 110% to get a job done. How did you do that?
  • Summarise an instance of where you failed in doing a task. What have you learnt from that?
  • Give examples of when you had to make unpopular decisions. What were the positive and negative outcome? What have you learnt from this?
  • Think about a difficult person you have had to work with. What made them difficult? How did you manage to work with them?
  • Tell me about your weakest points. What do you need to develop and why?
  • Tell me about your strongest points and qualities.

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