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How to Deal With 3 Sticky Interview Questions

The good news is that you’ve been called in for an interview! But wait just a minute, the bad news is that you’ve been called in for an interview! The long-awaited interview can be your ticket to a new and better job, but it can also be an anxiety producer that keeps you up nights worrying. You are going to be called on to perform at a high level by people who may determine the course of your career and therefore you future. There’s no easy way to say it, this a critical chance to show them what you are made of.


Getting into the proper mindset is important. First, know that you need to prepare for the event. Second, realize you can’t memorize and rehearse every move you’re going to make, meaning over-preparation can hurt you. And third, you are going to have to rely on some confidence, instinct and self-knowledge.

Preparation for an interview involves a few basic things. Researching the potential employer, for example, makes you better able to align your skill set with their needs. Anticipating that you will need to communicate a positive attitude, subject matter expertise, interpersonal skills, and problem solving ability are important as well.

But knowing the type of questions you may be asked is one of the best ways to prepare. The purpose here is to see if you are a good fit for the open position. This is accomplished by directing questioning to see if you have the required skills, knowledge, and abilities to perform optimally. To determine this interviewers usually select questions that are behavioral and situational.

Behavioral questions are designed to analyze actual instances that you have faced in the past to see how you performed. A school principal may be asked how they handled an irate parent of a student, for example. Situational questions are similar except that the context is hypothetical. So a structural engineer may be asked what immediate steps she would follow if metal fatigue was identified in bridge supports.

But an interview team is probably going to want to get a general sense of your overall character beyond just your specific qualifications. There are three questions that often come up that attempt to elicit this.

#1: What is an example of a time you made a real difference for your employer? Even you felt that you were just a cog in a machine, being prepared to explain why you were a really good cog will help your cause. Telling how you increased production, saved costs, and handled unique challenges are ways of answering. Have a story or two ready for this question. And I do mean story, not just a short one or two sentence response.

#2: How do you deal with conflict on the job? No matter the industry one of the most common complaints of management involves employees, including managers, who can’t get along. Poor communication and mismatched personality types leads to lost productivity and poor morale. Having examples of how you did not contribute to and even improved a negative social climate at work will show you to be the team player every employers wants.

#3: Why did you leave your last job? Be honest. If the reason is because you truly see the next opportunity as an advancement for the new employer and your career, then the question is a softball. But if you were terminated, then answering honestly becomes more challenging. Still, don’t come across victimized, focus on what you learned and how it has made you grow, and explain on how you are even better prepared for adding value to their operation.

Here is your chance to shine, not shake. Do your part to turn the interview into golden moment.


William W. Ryan is a Concord, New Hampshire based career consultant specializing in customized career coaching, resume and cover letter writing, and personality assessments.