How To Answer the Hardest Interview Questions and Get The Job You Want

by redelf

One of the best ways to prepare for a job interview is to practice answering interview questions - particularly, the really hard questions - using behavior descriptive techniques

The scariest part of any interview usually takes place in the mind of the job seeker, long before the interview actually happens. Some people have nightmares about up-coming job interviews, but some simple preparation can help alleviate much of this anxiety.

If you have interviewed for this type of job before, you already have some idea of what questions will be asked. Arrange for a friend or acquaintance to ask you some typical interview questions, and then give you feedback on your answers. You can do this with a friend, via webcam, if that is more comfortable for you.

Even if you are applying for a different position from anything you have ever held, with a little research, you will be able to make some educated guesses about some of the things you will be asked.

Researching your potential employer

This is where your research pays off...

You have already researched the company, along with the position for which you are applying. Now's the time to put that to good use. Your research has shown you what the company is looking for in the job you want.

Some companies post potential interview on their website as part of their candidate search techniques, or give such a detailed job descriptions that you can see how your former job duties fit what they are looking for in the job you want. You have already tailored your resume to show these qualities to your prospective employer - now you need to practice explaining how these qualities fit the job.

The "Toughest Question"

"Tell me a little bit about yourself..."

This is a question many of us dread. It always seemed to come near the very beginning of the interview, when we are still a bit nervous and feeling our way. We're never sure whether we should talk in a strictly work related manner, or include personal information? How much is enough - or too much? What did they really want to know?

After working in HR, I came to understand that the reason for this question was not really so the potential employer could hear all about you, but mainly to put you at ease by allowing you to talk about something easy - yourself.

The best way to tackle this answer is to briefly mention about where you come from. It's always beneficial to talk a bit about how your previous jobs have led you to this one, and your current job goals. You can also mention community involvement or volunteer work. Many companies prefer employees that show an interest or involvement in some type of service work, as it tends to be indicative of a balanced life-style.

Do not go on and on, or feel you have to tell your complete life story in 3 minutes or less. Remember, this is an ice-breaker question, not an in-depth research question. Keep your answer focused and leaning more towards more the job. Save the more personal details for your friends.

Some helpful publications on Interview Techniques (Books)

Job Interviews For Dummies (For Dummies (Career/Education))

Deliver a show-stopping interview performanceDoes the thought of interviewing for a new job send shivers down your spine? It doesn't have to! Whether you're searching for your f...

$5.99  $2.02

View on Amazon

101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions

Tough interview questions are inevitable in today's competitive job market. Ron Fry's "101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions" has helped more than 500,000 job se...

$10.72  $2.19

View on Amazon

The Art of the Interview: Lessons from a Master of the Craft

THE ULTIMATE INSIDER’S LOOK AT THE FINE ART OF INTERVIEWING“I had a fantasy the other night that this interview is so great that they no longer want me to act—just do interviews...

$18.0  $2.24

View on Amazon

The Art of the Interview

This book teaches just that - the interviewer's art of preparation, attitude, interaction, and improvisation. In its few pages, it provides an invaluable set of practical guidel...

$2.0  $41.0

View on Amazon

Second "Hardest Question"

How you answer this question could potentially win or lose you that job...

The second "loaded" question is, "What is your greatest strength (or weakness)?"

I lump these two qualities together, because they both have the same pitfalls. The tendency of most job-seekers is to try and gloss over both answers, or to provide a novel-length list of sterling qualities for the first and blurt out the worst possible (though possibly true) answer for the second.

You can answer both with ease if you apply some research. The interviewer is not looking for a list of generic qualities. Their attitude tends to be that if you are not punctual, hard-working, and honest, why are you applying for their job?

Anyone can claim these virtues, though. What will set you apart from those dozens of other candidates?

How To Get a Great Job - Build a Great Resume
The best way to grab the interest of a potential employer and get your foot in the door for that all-important first interview is to have a great resume. This article can get you started on your way to your perfect job.

What makes you stand out?

How to realistically asses the qualities your potential employer needs

Take a closer look at your resume, and pick out the most important job duties you performed. What were the qualities that allowed you to perform them well? These are qualities that you will need to perform the job for which you are applying. These are then, the greatest strengths you bring to this new company. Pick out one that you feel comfortable talking about - briefly - and use that one for your answer.

Only an honest assessment can tell you what your greatest job-related weaknesses are. Ask a friend if you are in doubt - someone you trust to give you an honest answer. Are you easily annoyed by interruptions? Can you re-frame that particular weakness in a more positive light? 

Perhaps in your last job, you were able to take a course on time management that has enabled you to focus and prioritize your tasks more effectively.

Is the weakness that comes to mind one that will affect your ability to carry out your major job duties? If you are not able to positively re-frame that particular weakness, avoid using it as an example. Choose a weakness that you can at least say you are aware of and working to change

Behavior Descriptive Interviewing

What is it all about, and why was it developed?

One of the strongest trends in interview techniques is called B.D.I., or Behavior Descriptive Interviewing.

This type of interview technique was invented to improve employee retention. Too much time and resources were being expended in interviewing and training new employees, only to have to replace them because they were found to be unsuitable for the job.

Human Resources specialists called in to tackle the issue of employee retention and hiring suitability found that often the person who gave the best interview might be the most personable, but was frequently not best fit for either the job for which they were applying, or for the culture of the company.

Research soon showed them several interesting things. The most important of these was that past job behavior was the best indicator of future job behavior.

This led them to the second - the development of the technique of describing past job duties to show how they fit current job requirements, which is the key to behavior descriptive interviewing.

Large companies will often hire HR specialists to facilitate up-coming hiring. The specialists will exhaustively interview current key employees who already hold positions for which interviews will be held, about the activities they undertake in the completion of their job duties.

These specialists then compile and prioritize those activities into key job duties, and use them to produce interview questions.

The questions will then be used to interview potential employees. As this process can be lengthy and expensive, companies will often have interview questions compiled for most of the key positions in the company.

The behavior descriptive questions produced by this method allow the prospective employers to dig deeper than the simple comparison of past duties to prospective duties.

They allow for the employer to have a far more accurate gauge of what to expect from their potential new hire.

Behavior Description Interviewing: New, Accurate, Cost Effective

This book was written for people who want to make the best, most scientific hiring decisions within the structure of an interview. The people we have in mind come from many back...

Only $1.85

Behavior Descriptive questions

What kinds of questions should you expect?

What are some Behavior Description Interview questions you might expect to be asked? Here are some examples of B.D.I. questions:

  1. Can you tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a fellow employee? What steps did you take, and what was the outcome? 
  2. Was there a time when you strongly disagreed with a company policy or an instruction from your manager. What action did you take, and what was the result?
  3. Tell me about a time when you were successful at work. 
  4. Tell me about the worst thing that ever happened to you at work. What happened, how did you respond, and what was the result? 

Important Tip: Sometimes, the interviewer will leave off the second part of the question - in this case it is up to you to anticipate that and answer fully, even if they don't ask what for the steps you took and the results of your action.

How to answer B.D.I. questions

Here are two great methods: "S.T.A.R." and "C.A.R.L."

The best way to answer B.D.I. questions is to follow the steps outlined below. You can use an acronym to help you remember the steps. Many refer to this as the S.T.A.R., or C.A.R.L. method. I prefer the second acronym as it encompasses an important item in the steps that is missing from the first method - that of learning.

S.T.A.R. Method:

  1. Situation - describe the challenge or obstacle you faced. Keep the description civil and professional.
  2. Tasks - describe the tasks involved in or affected by situation
  3. Action - describe what steps you took. Describe the reaction of whoever else was involved, again remaining professional in your demeanor and description.
  4. Result - describe what happened as a result of the steps you took - was the outcome positive or negative?

Many believe that the situation you use to answer the question should always have had a positive resolution. I do not agree with this. So many situations in life do not have positive resolutions. What is important is that we learn something to carry into the next situation. That is why I prefer the second method - C.A.R.L.

C.A.R.L. Method:

  1. Challenge - describe the circumstances you faced, in a professional manner, and how they impacted your ability to carry out your job duties.
  2. Action - describe in a positive way, whatever steps you took to resolve the situation?
  3. Result - what was the outcome of the actions you took, either positive or negative?
  4. Learning - what did you learn from the outcome? Was there something you would repeat or change if the circumstance ever arose again?

Most employers or interviewers will be impressed that you took something positive away from a potentially negative outcome.

These steps can be applied to almost any situation in the workplace that you care to imagine, and most potential employers or interviewers will be impressed that you took something positive away from a potentially negative outcome.

Practice Makes Better...

Learn to avoid the pitfalls in a job interview

Now that you have the basic technique, you can see how it can be applied to the typical questions above, and to almost any interview question. There are a few pitfalls you should know about first though.

When you are asked to talk about a negative situation from a former job or regarding a former employer, I guarantee that the first one that will pop into your mind will be the worst possible situation. Human nature being what it is, you will remember the worst boss you ever had, the most awful thing that ever happened, and the one horribly embarrassing event that will show you in the worst possible light.

Everyone has some of those, but you want to put your best foot forward, not discourage yourself and possibly blow the interview by blurting out your most negative job experiences to a potential new boss. That is why it is so important to prepare for such an interview.

Select some less negative events from past jobs or even from volunteer positions that will fit those general circumstances. Write yourself a few notes and go over them. Then, ask a friend to ask you the questions.

Your answers should sound natural, not slick or polished, but you should sound like you have given the question some thought. Practicing will also help you banish those first awful stories - the ones that could be real interview stoppers - and replace them with some equally interesting, but slightly more positive situations.

What do you think of Behavior Descriptive Interviewing?

Have you ever been asked this kind of question?
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It could be a useful technique to answer regular questions
Tolovaj on 06/25/2012

I think it could be useful especially for people who tend to freeze in the middle of the interview. Maybe this technique can help to relax a bit too.

(c) 2012 Text and photos by Elle Fredine, All rights reserved

Updated: 07/28/2012, redelf
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redelf on 08/16/2012

I just went for a job interview today and got to put my advice into practice. The second question can be handled well if you have done your homework about the company. You should have a pretty good sense of what they are looking for, so choose the skills from your past jobs that best fit this company's needs.
For example, in your work, you are required to be detail oriented, focused on the work environment, and be ready to adapt to changing circumstances or an emergency (safety first), BUT you also interact with the public, so you are the face of "customer relations/service" for your crew. You have to know and apply the required standards to keep your crew and the public safe, and traffic flowing with minimum interruption, while making the public aware of the reasons for any delay, but keeping them calm and happy about the work.
You can then take that info, and say that your best qualities are that you have shown yourself to be conscientious worker, friendly and outgoing with the public, while maintain positive, professional relationships with your team, and any workers you supervise. As well, that you thrive in a challenging, fast-paced, work environment.
The final question to me today was "What makes you the best candidate for this job?" My reply was "I feel I am a good fit for the office, that my age and experience has taught me the value of hard work and goal-setting, and my background/skills will allow me to make a valuable contribution in supporting the goals of the organization. Also, as a mature worker, I have the luxury of being able to concentrate on my own career/work without having to worry about a young family at home."
(I added the "mature worker" statement because I knew the current person was leaving to have a baby, and I also knew they didn't want to train a new young person only to have them leave to get married or move away to the big city... Research is a wonderful thing.)

EnelleLamb on 08/16/2012

My mind goes blank when asked the second hardest questions LOL

redelf on 06/26/2012

Thanks so much, katie. I used to work as a facilitator in "Job Finding Club" and helping people with resumes, letters, etc. was a big part of helping them get back to work. Hopefully this will be useful for someone.

2uesday, hindsight is always useful - that's where we get all the questions to practice for "next time."

Flora, being nervous is on good reason to practice your answers. Some folks worry about sounding "rehearsed" but with a few practices, they do a much better job than going in cold.

Tolovaj, having more than one option will certainly relieve the pressure, and practice will help alleviate the rest (we hope).

katiem2 on 06/26/2012

This is one helpful bit of information I'm sure so many can put to good use as many unemployed are still searching for jobs. Going to tweet this right away. Thanks for the job hunting tips and guide.

Tolovaj on 06/25/2012

Thanks for provided so comprehensive guide to all job seekers. If i remember correctly I have never had significant problems at my interviews but this could be because I always had more than one option and never felt too much pressure... Maybe this can help others too?

FloraBreenRobison on 06/24/2012

I will return to this the next time I have an interview anywhere. I had an interview that wasn't a job interview a few days ago, but it was set up to place me to see where the office could best help me and I did indeed ending up telling them my "whole life story" in a short time out of nervousness. I have been known to sabotage myself by saying too much too soon in a variety of settings where I am nervous. The latest example had the person who gave me the informational interview the idea that I need a job that will exercise my mind-true of my ideal job. But when another job is available to help pay your take security.

But alas, my talk had the man convinced it was more important to me to get the ideal job than any job and therefore that dept. cannot help. I talk with extreme detail and speed when I am nervous.

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