Brainy man answering a questionWhen we think of tough interview questions most of us tend to think of the archetypal hard-nosed interviewer, pressurizing a quivering candidate with a bank of too-hot-to-handle interview questions. But, we often disregard the fact that top talent is itself increasingly looking to assess employers to see if the employer suits the requirements of the candidate. One way interviewing really is a throwback to a bygone era, and it really is a two-way process these days.

Of course, many candidates will assess their employers passively by reading documentation, looking at their interviewer’s attire and manner, the office design, layout location, etc., but top talent may be bolder and may be asking direct, tough questions about your organization, making you feel like you are being cross examined.

So, what kind of tough questions will top talent be asking and how can you answer them effectively? I’ve given some example questions and answers below based on the kind of expectations that modern candidates have at the moment.

1. How would you describe your management style?

This is a hot question that well prepared candidates may be asking in the current climate. They may have seen studies, such as this one from Leadership IQ, or this one from Mcquaig (or remember from their own bitter experience), that their relationship with their boss was a key factor in career success.

In terms of response, it’s not in anyone’s best interests for you to sugarcoat this response and it’s vital to give a clear, honest and balanced answer about how you like to motivate, manage, and delegate your staff. You don’t want to misrepresent yourself here as you may mislead the candidate, leading them to misjudge this aspect of their assessment process. Ideally, you should do your own preparatory work so you have a well formed response. Recruiters and HR should ideally acquaint themselves with the hiring manager’s managerial style, so they can provide some provisional feedback to this question.

2. Is the business currently profitable and what are your profit forecasts for the next year or more?

This is an important question. Candidate trust is at an all time low, (finds this AMA study), as a result of pay cuts, broken promises, lack of transparency and the job insecurity that accompanied the recession. Candidates prioritize honesty, reliability, and security above all else when choosing an employer, suggests this Ranstad US study. If your business is doing well and forecasting profits and is transparent about its financial state, this is an easy question to answer. Be as specific and bullish as you can be in your response. If you don’t have a rosy picture of profitability this a much harder question to answer, and so you’ll need to have a well prepared response, which is honest, transparent, balanced, inviting, hopeful, and non alarmist—that is, if you want to get top marks here.

3. What are the opportunities and what is the process for career progression?

Let’s face it, workers have been economically squeezed for some time now and they want to earn a good salary and ensure they can progress in both money and status. Top candidates will be especially ambitious and sensitive to your answer. Try and talk about promotion success stories in your business, how and when internal jobs are advertised and the key qualities that you need to be identified as a high potential. If you answer this badly you may be prone to hiring short term types, just looking for a fast buck who are already planning their career move away before they join. Make sure your career offerings and candidate career expectations are aligned.

4. What are the most challenging parts of this job and working here?

Top candidates know that all that glitters is not gold and know that there are negative aspects about working at any job, but they want to understand if it’s within their acceptability threshold. It doesn’t have to mean they are weak, or not committed; they might just feel that their temperament, skill set, stage of life, etc., doesn’t quite suit this particular set of challenges. It’s important to be honest here, but balanced, by presenting both the negative aspects (and the frequency and intensity) alongside the positive aspects. If you dodge this question or are sketchy you may not appear trustworthy or honest and may make the candidate feel you are hiding something big and ultimately deter them.

If you found this article useful, please look out for part two. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about any tougher interview questions you’ve received from candidates and how you answered them, in the comments sections below.

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