I’ve contributed to the recent Management Today article explaining how to answer tough interview questions. 10 examples were used in the article, but I provided them with 20 so they could choose which to publish. Here are the other 10:
‘How do you cope with repetition?’ – Product Specialist, Automotive
All work is repetitive, so what is it that is repetitive in this job? If you can’t answer that then you can’t answer the question, and you probably shouldn’t have applied for the role. You might love this type of repetition, because it gives you the opportunity to do what you excel at, like Federer hitting a backhand. But if it’s something that you don’t like, be clear about what your coping mechanism is – and the best answer will be a live example, not just a guess about what might work.
‘How would your enemy describe you?’ – Advertising Sales Grad Scheme, Publishing
Why would you have an enemy? So maybe it’s more of a thought exercise, looking at your own strengths and weaknesses from a particular point of view. Start with an assumption – who is your enemy? Why and in what walk of life. Then address systematically the ways you are strong from this point of view, and if necessary what forces you’ll align to cover your flanks.
‘If you had a friend who was great for a job and an identical person who was just as good, but your friend earned you £2,000 less, who would you give the job to?’ – Associate Recruitment Consultant, Recruitment Consultancy
I’d want clarification here about what ‘earned you’ meant. Is that a one off commission for placement (it is a recruitment agency after all), or ongoing income? I’d also want to know more about context – how do you have the ability to give the job – are you the client here? Once context is clear you’ll have a better view of the way forward, which will include you talking about your view of friends & business, but also matters such as ethics, client choice, and potentially short-term vs long term gain.
‘What’s the most selfish thing you’ve ever done?’ – Graduate Consultant, Recruitment Consultancy
This is a way for the interviewer to understand your values and motivations more, after-all ‘selfish’ is a very subjective word. At its most basic though it’s probably the opposite of ‘taking one for the team’, so it’s vital that you’ve understood the role that you are applying for – does the job description ladle on terms such as team player, collaborative, co-operate, or is it a much more competitive, individualistic culture. Hopefully you have done your due diligence before applying, so you’ll find that your answer mirrors the kind of person they are looking for.
‘You are stranded on the moon with a group of other astronauts and you need to travel 200 miles back to base, here is a list of 15 items salvaged from the wreckage of the spacecraft you were travelling in. List them in order of importance.’ – Sales Employee, Sale Organisation
Unless you are applying to fly a space craft, the important part here is your reasoning behind the prioritisation, not your ability to understand the finer details of interstellar business continuity. So start with setting an overarching strategy – e.g. ‘survival of all until rescued’, and ensure that you have a sound, aligned, reason for why you prioritise what you do, and that you can explain it when called upon to do so.
‘There are three people, each with different salaries, and they want to find the average of them without telling any of the other two their salary. How do they do it?’ – Technical Delivery Graduate, Aerospace
This is a problem solving task, so they are probably looking for how you will approach reaching solutions rather than this actual solution. To do that you need to verbalise your thought process, to show them your working out as you used to in school exams. If you are applying for problem solving jobs then it’s a good idea for you to have a repeatable model you can follow – so start by telling them your methodology, then talk them through how it applies to this issue. If you don’t yet have a favourite model, get googling.
‘Who is your hero, and why?’ – Product Quality Employee, Industrials
The drivers behind this question are: what are the traits you admire in people; and what constitutes an achievement to you? This is a way for the interviewer to try to see the real you, and if it is the real you then you’ll be passionate in your delivery. This passion is difficult to fake, so be careful if your natural inclination is to be tactical in your answer. It’s unlikely that your hero needs to be aligned to your career path, but be prepared for a follow on question asking how you have demonstrated these traits, emulated the achievement or used this source of inspiration. In short, how are you going to monetize the hero worship for their organisation.
‘You have 50 red and 50 blue objects. Split these however you like between two containers to give the minimum/maximum probability of drawing one of the colours’ – Operations Analyst, Data Analysis
There’s nowhere to hide with this kind of question – either you can work through the answer or you can’t. It’s definitely the kind of question that your thought process is just as important as the answer, so you have to verbalise your thinking. It’s an analyst role in an analytical company, so applying a repeatable model will be really useful too. Finally, it’s a question that puts you on the spot – how you react to this will be taken as an exemplar of how you react to your client asking you something really difficult. Generally – if you don’t know say so, but then explain what your next steps are in order to find the solution.
‘What does social justice mean to you?’ – Content Marketing Manager, Technology Consultant
Why does a marketing manager of a technical consultancy want to know about your thoughts on social justice? There could be lots of reasons, but I’d say it’s just a way to understand your hinterland; what kind of person you are outside of the career path, and where you go for your information. It’s also an example of a wrong-footing question, a question that means all your preparation has gone out of the window and you have to fall back on your innate resources. When you do get a left-field question don’t be afraid to ask them clarification questions, or for time to think about your response, it’s fine to need space to process.
‘Are you a nice guy?’ – Product Manager, Internet Dating
A good place to start here is your definition of a nice guy, as it’s a very unspecific word. Then think through how this definition relates to the culture of the organisation you are applying for. Answer the question giving real life examples of when you have (&, where appropriate, haven’t) been nice. Examples will help the interview believe your response, and provide the necessary context for your answer.