Answering Interview Questions

Making sure you are prepared to answer your interview questions will be critical if you plan to land your job. Get some great tips and advice on how to proceed. The stakes are much higher

Making sure you are prepared to answer your interview questions will be critical if you plan to land your job. Get some great tips and advice on how to proceed.

The stakes are much higher if you opt to talk about a colleague or a customer or a boss—there you could win big or lose big. So, if the interviewer isn’t specifying one of those three, see if you can recall an encounter with someone whose job it is to give you grief. You might think few such people exist, but actually the list is quite long. Some examples: someone from a rival firm, an agent for the client, a certified inspector, a journalist, a pressure group or someone from local government—they’re all supposed to give you a hard time, to a greater or lesser degree.

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Here’s what your answer should cover:

  • Could you have changed the situation?
  • Did you do anything to make it worse?
  • Did you listen to the other person?
  • Could you have reasonably been expected to put up with it—and if not, how did you stand your ground?
  • Did you keep your cool?
  • Do you see the world as adversarial or consensual?

It’s true that some people are just plain difficult, but that’s one truth that doesn’t have to come out of your mouth. You’ve more to gain by acknowledging that it takes two people to have a personality clash—that’s a good note to strike before handing back.

When were you last angry—and why?

The Real Question: Are you a hothead? Can you handle stress?

Top-line Tactic: Provide an example when you constructively worked through a stressful or annoying situation.

“Angry” is a strong word. It connotes losing control, emotionally driven thinking and impulses that are destructive rather than constructive. None of these things is exactly valued in business. So while the interviewer is asking you for an anecdote about when you were angry, on the face of it you shouldn’t provide one.

On the other hand, we’re only human and no one gets through a working week without some degree of frustration, annoyance and stress. Claiming you have the patience of a Zen priest is certainly going to appear disingenuous. Instead, massage the question slightly to replace “angry” with “stressed” or “frustrated” and offer the interviewer a time you ran into an annoying situation but were able to keep your cool and handle it constructively.

As always in interviews, beware of citing your supervisor as a source of stress. Interviewers generally take the perspective of management, so anything bad you say about your boss will probably strike them as a taste of things to come, i.e. an unreasonably disgruntled individual who can’t get along with his manager. Luckily for us, the world offers plenty of other sources of annoyance. Choose one of them and say something along the lines of:

I wouldn’t say I ever get really angry at work. I try to keep my emotions in check as I find it doesn’t improve the situation when you get emotional. I do get stressed and annoyed from time to time, of course. For instance, once we were designing a very important project that required approval from the engineers before we could proceed. We gave them plenty of time, but when I called to check in the day before the deadline, they hadn’t even looked at it. I was quite stressed about completing the project on time, so I was livid.

Shouting down the phone wasn’t going to help the situation, though, so I counted to ten and asked what was the problem. Apparently, they were swamped with a project themselves and hadn’t appreciated how urgent ours was. The guy I was speaking to agreed to work late to help us out. It was still tight, but we made the deadline and in the end the whole misunderstanding actually improved things because we came up with a new system to prioritize tasks so the same thing wouldn’t happen again.

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