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Difficult Interview Question

Answering a Difficult Interview Question

From Career Tips, 2015 Volume 6, June 2015


Many times in workshops or client sessions, I am asked about an interview, "How should I have answered this question?"


Thinking About Answer

There is an assumption that there is a best answer to any question. In fact, often times the 'best' answer is to not answer the question at all. Or at least not to answer it directly.


Your job as the candidate is to always be thinking about where the interview and the interviewer are headed, and what you should be doing to ensure it goes in the right direction.


Of course, you are following the interviewer's lead, but you are also continually nudging in the direction that will help that person see you as a strong candidate, AND that will give you the chance to determine if it is the job YOU want.


Here's one example: Suppose you are asked to tell about your global experience, and you have no direct international work experience.


You could simply admit that you have none.


You could say that you don't have direct global experience, and discuss the ways in which you have done things that might be relevant. This could be:

  • the extensive work you have done side by side with people of different cultures and backgrounds on various projects.
  • your management of remote teams that included overseas components.
  • the analysis you did into a potential international opportunity that your company ended up not pursuing.
  • your facility with foreign languages.
  • the courses and independent studies you have done into international markets.
  • the extensive personal travel you have done internationally, and that summer you spent as an exchange student in Chile.


Or you could start by applying clarifying questions to find out exactly what the interviewer is seeking:


"I've found that global experience can mean different things to different people - understanding of a particular international market, experience on the ground in another country, or even facility working with people of different cultures. Can I ask what you mean by it, and how that relates to the goals you are trying to achieve?"


This gives you a chance to get into a deeper conversation with that interviewer, starting to show how you might best craft your response. If you are really good at this, you can quickly get into the underlying challenges, and then whatever you are going to tell that interviewer is related to the real reasons for hiring someone.


So, always be thinking about where the interview and interviewer are headed, and where YOU want to head. Don't just take questions at face value, but use your answers and your own questions to help steer the interview in the right direction, and to uncover valuable information that can set you apart from other candidates.

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