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Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions

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You got the interview. It’s next week – or gasp, tomorrow. You need to prep – and prep well. You will have standard-issue questions you think are easy but often aren’t. And there will always be tough interview questions, throw-you-for-a-loop curveballs even.

To get you started, we pulled some tough interview questions from the InternMatch.com blog and asked two experienced internship seekers how to decipher and answer some tough and “trick” questions.

And they know all about interviewing for internships. As a marketing and journalism major at Michigan State University, Liz LeCrone interned at Wakefield Media and InternMatch; now she’s a research assistant at her school analyzing media coverage bias of the 2012 Presidential election.

Then there’s Matt Hudgins, a graduating senior at University of Puget Sound. While building his resume and experience, the business and communications double major has held marketing intern positions at Liberty Mutual and the Tacoma Arts Commission, and is currently on the client services team at Rally Marketing.

They’ve sat in the hot seat, they’ve fielded tough interview questions, and here, they give great answers to a few of them.

Q: “Tell me about yourself” aka “Walk me through your resume.”

Liz: So this isn’t really a trick question, though it often feels like one, simply because it is so vague. You can talk about how you ended up where you have. In my case, it’s an interesting story to tell them how I started in electrical engineering and made an about-face to marketing and journalism. The reasons behind the switch are just as important as the switch itself. I left engineering despite my father’s expectations, which says a lot about how hard I will work to succeed in the field I chose for myself.

Matt: Take advantage of this question to make yourself more than your resume. Use the experiences on your resume as mileposts for the story you tell about your larger career development. Start with a brief introduction of who you are and your interests, then explain how your resume illustrates those interests. Describe the internships and jobs you held growing up, and move into your current position (if you have one) or most current career goals. Then explain how you plan to use the specific skills and experiences you have developed in your career thus far to advance your career in the role you’re interviewing for. Don’t just re-iterate what’s already on your resume. Instead, build upon it and provide the larger context of your professional narrative.

Q: “Give me an example of a situation in which you faced a conflict or difficulty with someone at work.”

Liz: Or more simply put, “Do you play well with others?” This is a crucial question in an interview, because it tests two things: what kind of situation you consider difficult and how well you handle it. Yes, it is a test. Consider explaining a situation where you disagreed with someone about the best way to do something. This is a good example (whether it was at work or on a group project at school), because then you can explain why you felt that your way was better, and, more importantly, what you did about it. Tell them how you managed to sway the other person’s opinion, how you compromised, or how they swayed you.

Matt: This is NOT an opportunity for you to trash talk your old coworkers or admit to the biggest mistake you’ve made. Rather, this question is usually asked to test your skills in conflict resolution, decision-making, and relationship management – all of which are crucial to... well, everything. For situational questions like this, I like to use the STAR method. Start with describing the (S)ituation - briefly describe where the incident happened, who was involved, and what conditions led to the conflict. Then describe the (T)ask you were faced with. In this case, the task would probably be the different options you were faced with. Then explain the (A)pproach you took to resolving the conflict. Finally, describe the (R)esult of your approach to the conflict. The most important part of a question like this is actually not the resolution; rather, the employer mostly wants to see your approach to dealing with conflict and adversity.

Q: “What is your biggest weakness?”

Liz: Ah, now this is a trick question. There are a couple ways to go about this question, and they’ll all depend on the company you’re interviewing for. Explain your weakness, whatever it may be. But then you must also describe how you compensate for it. Because like many interview questions, it isn’t actually about the problem. It’s about how you can make it relevant to work. It’s about how you can fix it. So, you have a terrible memory, but you keep a detailed calendar and write everything down. Or you are bad at talking in front of people, but you imagine them all in their underwear and it helps you feel less exposed. It’s all about the “but.”

Matt: Try to reflect on your last job, internship, or group project in school. Did your manager, group member, or professor highlight one of your weaknesses? Did you struggle with something that can be fixed, like public speaking, organization, or asking for help? Was there something you’ve struggled with in the past but have been working to improve, like time management or working with others? Your interviewer doesn’t want to know why they should be afraid of hiring you, they just want to see that you can think critically about yourself, accept criticism from others, and work to overcome challenges.

Q: “What’s the last book you read?”

Liz: The biggest thing with this question is determining whether or not you read. And if you get this question, it’s because the company you’re interviewing thinks it’s important that you read. It doesn’t have to be a literary classic or a New York Times bestseller, but it should be something, even nonfiction. This question always gives me trouble. Because invariably, the last book I read was some young adult fantasy novel where good triumphs over evil and everybody lives.

Matt: Questions like this usually come towards the end of the interview are your chance to reveal a little personality and connect with your interviewer on a more human level. This doesn’t mean you should treat it too casually, though. Try to gauge the tone and personality of your interviewer throughout the interviewer to inform how to approach these questions. If your interviewer seems more professional, consider discussing a book or article you read recently which is relevant to the industry or job you’re applying for. If the interviewer seems a bit more fun and you’ve been connecting with them on shared interests already, consider discussing a book you think they might have read or might be interested in. Don’t feel the need to lie if you don’t read regularly or the last book you read was Twilight, just make sure you show your personality and connect with the interviewer on some level.

Q: “Can we see your Facebook page?”

Liz: There’s a lot of controversy around whether or not employers should be able to ask this question, given Facebook’s nature as a personal profile. But, the question can and often does come up. I am completely okay with showing my profile, because I am firmly of the opinion that if a company doesn’t like me, they shouldn’t hire me. But then, I don’t have inappropriate pictures or profanity splashed across my page that would reflect badly on my employer.

Matt: I’ve never been directly asked this question, which I think is a good thing. If a potential employer were to ask me this in an interview, I would likely respond, “Yes, you may. May I see yours?” This might make me sound like an “entitled millennial,” but I think employee-employer relationships need to be open and need to go both ways. If you really want the job and don’t want to risk losing it over an issue of principle, though, I would recommend responding “yes.” If you choose to take this approach, make sure your profile has been cleaned up before your interview, or at least that the less flattering content has been made private and only visible to close friends.

Follow Liz LeCrone on Twitter. And circle in with Matt Hudgins on Google+.

Suggested Reading for Job Interview Questions

Complete Q and A Job Interview Book 04 Edition 9780471651253 Jeffrey G Allen  301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions 05 Edition 9781402203855 Oliver Acing the Interview How to Ask and Answer the Questions That Will Get You the Job 08 Edition 9780814401613 Tony Beshara Your First Interview For Students and Anyone Preparing to Enter Todays Tough Job Market 4th Edition 9781564145864 Ron Fry Knock Em Dead Job Interviews 9781440536793 Martin Yate

 

Photo credit: Flickr/Rilee Yandt