Good answers to tough interview questions – Part 2

No magic answers

First off I don’t have a magic wand to help anyone get a job – I really wish I did. Also I don’t claim that my answers are 100% perfect as these types of questions and answers are very subjective and what might impress one person may completely fail to impress someone else.

Having trained interviewers for 17 years I have to say I take a fairly dim view of many of these questions because of their subjective nature, however they are still being asked in interviews around the country. I’ve spoken with the people asking the questions to try and understand why they are asking them and what constitutes a good answer in their eyes and this is what I’ve come up with – hope it helps!

Another 5 Tough Questions

1. What can you do for us that someone else can’t?

Why: Quite common in sales type roles where the ability to identify a USP (Unique Selling Point) is important. Remember the main thing you can bring that no-one else can is YOU!

Possible answer: “Whilst I think you’ll find a number of people with some of the skills I’ll bring to the role I believe I have a unique combination of skills and experience coupled with a keen ability to learn and develop further.”

2. What do you think of your boss?

Why: How well do you understand your bosses role and are you going to trash them? (You’ll be amazed how many people do!) I don’t care if you hate/ hated their guts, now is not the time to go into that!

Possible answer: “I worked alongside my boss on several projects and have a great deal of professional respect for their ability to get the job done.” (NOTE: You may be pushed regarding your personal feelings, did you “like” them. Bring this back to a professional footing with something like “I believe that whether I liked them personally has little relevance, what’s important is that we worked well together and delivered some excellent results.”)

3. Do you check voicemail and email when on vacation?

Why: Hard to tell. Some organisations want people who will do this, an increasing number value the importance of work/ life balance. My best advice is to be honest, if you wouldn’t then don’t say you would else you may be expected to do it.

Possible answer: “I understand why some people do that, however I wouldn’t. Before taking any annual leave I’d ensure that my work was up to date, an appropriate Out of Office message was set and that the rest of my team and my boss were fully aware of any key activities which may require attention during my absence.”

4. If you could choose anyone (alive or deceased) to have lunch with, who would it be?

Why: Really, why? This question drives me insane and yet I know so many places that ask it. Their reason/ excuse is that it “gives some insight into the candidate’s personality.” Hogwash, a properly trained interviewer can get that without resorting to questions more appropriate to drinks with friends. What they’ve told me they’re looking for is originality so, if you’re in the UK, don’t say Stephen Fry. Also avoid the Brad Pitt/ Angelina Jolie route. Pick someone who you genuinely admire and who reflects something about you.

Possible answer: (This is what I’ve said when asked this same question.) “I very much admire Brian Blessed as his passion and energy for life are truly inspirational. Also, when he climbed Everest he set himself the target of doing so without oxygen, near the top of the mountain he was faced with a choice of using oxygen and achieving his goal of the summit or sticking to his principles and heading back down. He chose to stick to his principles and I admire that strength of character.” (NOTE: A) Most Brits who know Brian Blessed are now laughing and B) when I used that answer and got the job I was earmarked as having the potential to be a bit of a handful. I took that as a compliment!)

5. If you were the CEO of this company what would be the top two things that you would do?

Why: They want to see what you know about the organisation. I recently spent a day interviewing 5 people, of those 5 three of them had done no research whatsoever about the organisation. Unbelievable in this day and age when information is so readily available and interviews are like hen’s teeth. Don’t go for specifics, stick to key things that bother any CEO.

Possible answer: “I think communication is key, I’d need to ensure that my vision and goals for the organisation are clearly understood by everyone within it and, as communication is a two way process, I’d also want to make sure that I got as much clear and accurate feedback as possible from front line staff about where improvements could be made. Secondly I’d make sure that I had a clear understanding of the challenges facing us over the next 2-5 years and had an appropriate structure around me to help us deal with whatever the future holds.” (NOTE: A good idea at this point is to throw in any relevant things you’ve identified through your research which may affect the organisation in the future.)

And finally…

As there’s a very good chance you’ll get asked questions which aren’t on this list then here’s my suggestion; before you leap in stop and consider for a moment why they are asking the question – once you’ve got an idea why they’re asking it then you’re in a much better position to answer it. Tough interview questions really aren’t so tough once you know why they’re asking them. Which is why, for the questions above I’ve tried to identify why they’re asking it before I’ve given a suggested answer to give you some ideas.

Beth Pipe is a Learning and Development Professional and freelance writer.
You can find more of her professional work here:
You can also follow her at @cumbrianrambler on Twitter.

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