interview questions

How to answer the most difficult interview questions

I received great feedback from last week’s email and received a bunch of questions from readers on how to handle particular interview questions.  Right now I’m compiling all the questions and ranking them based on the number of times they were asked. In the following weeks I’ll answer them and share a little surprise I’ve been working on.

Below is an actual question that was emailed to me although there were different variants of it from different people.

It reads:

“I had an interview where the director asked me the following: "I have 40 candidates that want this position, why should I hire you specifically instead of any of them?". That question made me freeze for a seconds, and it shook me. I wasn't expecting such a direct and personal question. Plus adding her strong personality and her fixation on me, made me feel a little intimidated instantly. I was answering all the questions in a good manner, until she hit me with that question.  

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them.”

Most interview questions are the same and they just vary somewhat between interviews/interviewers.  However, sometimes you get a question from left field which you may have no idea how to answer. Instead of practicing 101 Interview questions, you should focus on creating an Interview Theme.  

An Interview Theme is what you think you want to be seen as.  In other words, what kind of impression do you want to make when you’re there and what do you want to be seen as once you leave the interview.  As long as you have your Interview Theme created, you should be able to answer any question that comes your way.  

Instead of just telling you to practice a question, I’m going to help you break it down to its different components until we get into the why (purpose), the typical answer and why it’s not the best answer, an example of the perfect answer, and what makes up the perfect answer.  

By understanding what makes a perfect answer, it will help you create your own perfect answer.  This is better and more authentic than parroting some generic answer from a book.

On to the question!

What makes you different than the other candidates?/Why should we hire you?/I have 40 candidates that want this position, why should I hire you specifically instead of any of them?

Purpose:  This question is typically asked towards the end of the interview and it is used to see if there is anything else you would like to mention to make your case as the top candidate.

Typical Answer: “I’m a hard worker, I’m dedicated, and I’m a team player.”

Problem with Typical Answer: What makes you think you’re the only applicant who is hard-working, dedicated, and/or a team player?  Chances are everyone else gave the same answer.

Best Answer:  “I haven’t met the other candidates so I don’t know if they’re better than me but something that I know makes me different is my ability to find solutions/get everyone on the team to work together/get done things on time.  

For example, there was a time when I found a solution/got everyone on the team to work together/finished a project before the deadline by.… (Provide examples).”

Why this is the Best Answer: For this question you will obviously come up with one of your strengths. This is what makes you different than the other candidates.  An important point is to use a strength that relates to the job at hand.

If you notice that the job description has several instances of needing an expert in Excel, bring that up as your strength.  If communication is what the job requires, bring up examples of why you’re better at communication than everyone else (member of debate team, editor of college newsletter, etc.)

However, what will turn this answer from good to great is citing examples.  Instead of just saying that you’re good with Excel, talk about examples where you have used Excel successfully in the past.  Tie that in to how your previous Excel experience will tie in with the hiring company’s needs.  

Your Turn: What makes you different than the other candidates?

Remember to cite your strengths, provide examples, don’t be generic, and tie it to the job at hand.

Be Bold!


PS: Send me other questions you’d like me to answer and I might include them in my next email.

How to answer interview questions like Steve Jobs

I came across this the other day and I thought it was interesting.  It talks about how Steve Jobs (founder of Apple), handled an insult wrapped around a question during one of his famous keynotes.

You can see the video here: Steve Jobs Response

Aside from masterfully handling the question, the key to his answer was that he took time to think about his answer.  Many times when we’re in an interview or other high stress setting, we feel like we have to say something, anything, otherwise we might look like we don’t know what we’re talking about.  

Part of having a successful interview is being able to manage it.  A good way to manage an interview is to make sure you control the speed.  If you ever feel like you don’t know an answer or don’t know how to articulate something, don’t be afraid to say so.  

Just like Steve Jobs, don’t be afraid to slow it down and pause in order to gather your thoughts during the interview.  Not only does it show that you are human, but also that you are thoughtful about how you come across and what you say.

Below are two ways to handle this:

Situation 1: They asked you something you haven’t considered before and just need a little more time to think about it.

How to handle it: “I’ve never considered that before.  Can you give me a minute to think about it?”  

Use this time to figure out the answer to the question.  I’ve even gone as far as writing on my note pad some points I want to make sure I cover.  You would usually use this when you know an answer but you want to make sure you are concise and not ramble.

Situation 2: They asked you something you have no idea about.  It can be something technical or maybe a weird interview question.  You’re pretty sure you don’t know how to answer this one.

How to handle it: “Can we skip this one for now?  I’m not really sure how to answer this”  You can also say “I’m not sure about this.  How would you solve/answer it?” If you aren’t able to answer the question later on in the interview when they ask you again you can always tell them that you’ll think about it some more.  Once you get home, send them what you think your answer should be in the Thank You email.

I’ve used all of these during interviews that lead to job offers.  Interviewers know that sometimes you may get caught off guard by some question.  They realize that you’re human so they’ll cut you some slack. Now if they ask you something  that will be expected like “What’s your biggest weakness?” and you don’t know your answer, then maybe you won’t make the great impression you’re looking for.  

Have you had an interview question you weren’t able to answer?  What was the question and how did you handle it? What was the result?

You can read a detailed run-down of the video here: Steve Jobs answers questions with grace

Interview Questions YOU should ask

Interview Questions YOU should ask

If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know that my approach for interviewing is very different from what you’ve probably done before.

I don’t think you should go into an interview with hat in hand asking for a job. I think you should approach it as a conversation. Instead of sitting down and just answering questions, you should engage in a conversation and ask questions yourself.