Nailing the Interview Process, Part 6: Answering the Tough Questions
You’ve been invited in for a face-to-face interview. You feel this job is great for you. You like the variety of responsibilities and have heard great things about the company. You’ve done everything right so far – and now it’s time to answer some tough interview questions.
In order to do this, however, you’ll have to rely on the extensive research you’ve done on the company and position.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the interviewer is looking for three criteria in their next employee: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? And will you fit in?
Given this framework, you should be able to predict some of the questions that will be asked in the interview. Let’s address the three criteria:
Can You Do the Job?
Many employers consider this factor the most important of the three. Do you have the skills, experience, education, and/or licenses to handle the responsibilities of the position? Can you hit the ground running?
Questions related to this criterion can be quite challenging. One question you’re likely to receive will be delivered in the form of a directive: “Tell us about yourself.” To answer this effectively, you’ll need to share your elevator pitch.
You may be asked a situational question like, “How would you develop a social media campaign for our company?” Answering this type of question requires knowledge of the needs of the company, as well as some role-relevant technical knowledge (in this case, the functions and uses of various social media platforms.)
Will You Do the Job?
This component speaks to your motivation and enthusiasm, two traits that are necessary to overcome obstacles on the job. Employers feel those who are motivated will be the highest achievers in the future.
You may get a situational question such as, “How would you approach a project that is a week behind schedule?” Here, the interviewer is interested in the steps you can take to get the project up to speed, not necessarily your success in finishing the project.
More difficult are the behavioral questions, which ask you to recount scenarios from previous roles. For example, a behavioral version of the previous example question would be, “Tell us about a time when your team was a week or more behind in finishing a project. What measures did you take to get the project up to speed? What was the result of your team’s actions?”
Here, the interviewer is looking for a story, so you should use the STAR formula: situation, task, action, and result. (More on this below.)
Will You Fit In?
In addition to your ability to do the job, employers also want to know if you will be a fit for the company culture. They want to know that you will work well with others, particularly your potential supervisor.
This is where emotional intelligence (EQ) becomes critical. Defined as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” EQ may account for as much as 75 percent of job success, according to some sources.
Savvy interviewers will use behavioral-based questions to determine your “cultural fit,” which ultimately depends on your EQ. Sometimes, interviewers will specifically look for certain soft skills commonly mentioned in job postings, such as written and oral communication, teamwork, social skills, creativity, and/or integrity.
You’ll need to prepare for questions that address these soft skills and others. The best way to do that is practice your stories for behavioral interview questions like “Tell us about a time when you won back the trust of a customer.”
To answer the question, you’d use the same STAR formula I mentioned earlier.
A Primer on STAR Answers
If you’re not totally sure how STAR answers work, let’s take a look at an example.
If an interviewer asked you to describe a time you needed to win back the trust of a customer, your STAR answer might look like this:
One of our longstanding customers had left us prior to my arrival at Company X. I had heard the customer was unhappy to the point where he decided he no longer needed our services.
My vice president wanted me to persuade the customer to return. As the new manager of a group of five furnace technicians, it was my mission to win back this customer.
To begin, I first had to understand what made our customer unhappy, so I asked one of my subordinates who was close to the situation. He told me it was because the person who previously worked on his furnace did shoddy work and wasn’t responsive.
Armed with this information, I called our customer to introduce myself as a new manager of the company and to ask him why he was unhappy with our service. At first he was justifiably angry, telling me he would never use us again. He revealed that his furnace was never cleaned and that it still smoked.
This was going to be a tough one, based on the tone in his voice. I listened to what he said and told him I really couldn’t blame him for being upset. I agreed with him that he wasn’t treated properly. I was going to make it right.
“Too late,” he told me. He was going to go with a competitor of ours. He hung up before I had the chance to talk with him further.
I decided to go unannounced to his house to introduce myself. I was met with, “Boy, you’re persistent.”
I apologized for coming without warning and asked him if I could look at his furnace. He didn’t seem to mind and told me to go to the basement through the back.
“But I ain’t paying for nothing,” he told me.
“Fair enough,” I told him. “We want to regain your trust, and if I can’t fix what’s broken, I wish you the best.”
I am still sharp with my technical skills, so I was sure I could fix his furnace and win back his business. I spent two hours fixing what was broken – namely, the exhaust pipe was full of soot, which required vacuuming. In addition, the oil pump had to be replaced. This was not news our customer wanted to hear, but he was happy I was honest with him, and he appreciated the work I had done. He also said the former technician didn’t catch these problems – or didn’t care.
When he asked what he owed me, I told him there was no charge. I just wanted to be assured that he’d stay with our company.
The customer told me that I had regained his trust. He also said he appreciated my honesty and my concern that his furnace would be fixed right the first time. He returned to our company.
In the above story, you see how the job candidate proves his ability to provide customer service. Of course, the interviewer will ask more questions about customer service, and further questions will likely explore both positive and negative outcomes.
Remember that it’s not only the technical skills you have to focus on. You must also think about times you’ve demonstrated motivation, teamwork, and other soft skills.
Check out part seven, where we discuss how to follow up after an interview.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.