Interview Success:
Answering the Tough Questions

by Greg Faherty, CPRW
With today's economy in the shape it's in, it might seem like getting an interview is the hardest part of the job search process. But for many people, the interview itself is the greatest source of stress. But if you prepare correctly, you can minimize some of your anxiety. Part of this is being aware of some common interview questions, and the best way to answer them.

1. What is your greatest weakness?
This is a question that's asked in nearly every interview. Most people don't want to bring up an actual weakness, and instead try to turn a positive attribute into a potential weakness, hoping to impress the interviewer. Examples of this might be, "I'm a perfectionist" or "I try to take on more responsibilities than my job description includes." However, these so-called positives can actually be viewed as detrimental issues. The perfectionist might be someone who gets lost in minute details and loses sight of the bigger picture. The hard worker might over-extend themselves.

Solution:  Talk about a weakness you used to have, but you grew aware of and found a solution for.

Example:  "I used to have a problem with over-managing, but I learned that I have to trust my subordinates and delegate work to them."

2. Tell me about a problem you've had with a supervisor in the past.
No one ever wants to admit to having problems with a supervisor. We automatically think the interviewer will consider us a problem employee. But the truth is, we all have problems with our bosses at some point. And it doesn't have to be a major issue. What the interviewer is looking is an explanation of how you resolved the issue.

Solution:  Have an example prepared regarding a time when you and your boss disagreed about something. For example, perhaps you developed a spreadsheet that streamlined workflow, but your boss was resistant to changing the method of doing something. You might explain how you put together a report detailing how much time the new spreadsheet would save, and how it would increase accuracy. In a perfect world, the outcome would be that your boss admitted your idea was good, and implemented it. However, maybe that didn't happen. Either way, you've demonstrated you know the proper way to present your side of things when opinions differ.

3. Describe a situation where you failed at work or at a project.
Nobody likes to admit to failure. But if you say you've never failed, no one is going to believe you.

Solution:  Prepare for this question by being ready to discuss something that may have gone wrong at one of your previous positions. Maybe you launched a new product at a time when the economy was crashing. Or perhaps you hired an employee who turned out to not be the top performer you expected. Then explain what you learned from the situation so that it doesn't occur again.

Remember, often times the interviewer is looking for honesty as much as information. The trick is to have answers prepared that are truthful, and demonstrate how you've grown from your past mistakes.

Interview Preparation Tips

  • Prepare for interviews by studying lists of standard questions.
  • Another way to prepare is to pretend to interview yourself. What questions would you ask?
  • Memorize your resume, so you can use the information in it for your answers.
  • Consider bringing an interview portfolio to the interview. It can be a great help.