When you prepare for an interview it is important to sound natural and not rehearsed.  Canned answers to the easy questions are not okay. Hiring managers have heard it all.  You have to talk about your accomplishments and learning experiences – whether in response to an easy question or a difficult one.

Here are some typical difficult questions and how to answer them:

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU DISAGREE? Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.  How did you handle it?  This is not really about your personality or your boss’.  This is about how to handle conflict on the job.  Did you present the facts and research that supported your point of view?  If the supervisor went in a different direction, how did you respond?  Did you work towards a satisfactory compromise and conclusion?

TELL ME ABOUT A FAILURE Tell me about a time when you had a failure at work – this is not to find out whether you were successful or not.  This is to ascertain whether you learned from your mistake, what you learned, and how you used that learning to improve later for the next project.  Be prepared to tell the story of a project that did not meet its goals, what you learned, and how you improved the process, resources, staffing or timing for the next project.

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST WEAKNESS? What is your shortcoming? Describe a characteristic or skill that you lack that is not relevant to the job at hand.  For example, if the job is about financial analysis and you are not good at sales or promotion, say that.  It will not diminish your relevance to the job.  If you are in marketing and lack writing skills, that might be a problem.  If you lack budgeting skills and the job does not include budget forecasting, then you are okay.  Or, you may state a skill that you lacked and now you are taking a course (if that is so) to learn more or deepen your understanding.

WHY DID YOU LEAVE YOUR LAST JOB? (Or any of the other jobs)  The best answer you can give is for a better opportunity to use my skills and meet new challenges.  Never say negative things about your previous supervisor, the company, or your colleagues because that reflects badly on you.  It is either seen as sour grapes, or, worse, a good reason not to hire you because you badmouth people.

Keep your answers brief, and then turn the conversation back to what you can do for the organization.  Move on to how your skills and accomplishments can improve the company’s programs, services, and the bottom line.  Remember, it is all about THEM not about YOU.


Amy Geffen, PhD