Answering the Toughest Interview Questions

In preparing for a mini-course I’ve been teaching; “Ignite Your Interview” I came across some terrific “inside information” from professional recruiter Skip Freeman. He suggests that the most challenging questions for candidates are:  “What questions do you have?” And “What is your salary expectation?” From my own experience in the staffing industry I am inclined to agree with him.  Let’s look at the first one.

When the interview is about finished, the typical interviewee is relieved and ready to make an exit.  Not surprising then that many candidates respond to the interviewers; “Do you have any questions you’d like to ask?” by saying something like, “no, I think I got a good overview of the position, thanks.”  Skip refers to this as the “kiss of death” for your candidacy.  What the interviewer wants to hear is why you should be hired.  You want to finish the interview expressing your value, your intelligence, and your ability to assert yourself.  Here’s the answer Skip suggests:

“Mr./Ms. Hiring Manager, let’s assume for a moment that I am your candidate of choice and that I become your next (position for which you are applying). It is one year from now. You look back over the past year and say, ‘I made a good hire.’ What is it that I would have had to have done over the year for you to be able to say that?”

Talk about getting inside info!  Not only have you impressed the interviewer with your question, you now have a better idea of what the job entails and the employer’s performance expectations.  If you aren’t comfortable with the above question, here are a few others you may find beneficial to ask:

  1. In six months, what would the successful candidate have accomplished?”
  2. What is the most important and pressing problem for the new hire to tackle?
  3. What would you like done differently by the next person who fills this job?
  4. I noticed on the company website that your firm’s mission is to ___________. How do you see the successful candidate contributing to that mission?
  5. How does this department affect the company’s profit?
  6. How would you describe the organization’s culture and personality?
  7. How are risk taking and creativity rewarded?
  8. How does the company recognize outstanding employees?

Now let’s look at how to answer the second question; “What is your salary expectation?” If your inclination is to name a salary that your want, stifle yourself!  Here is the answer Mr. Freeman recommends to his clients: “I am very interested in this opportunity.  If I am your candidate of choice and, in turn, you are my company of choice, then I know the salary will be more than fair.”

In this instance, you have let the interviewer know that salary isn’t the deciding issue on whether or not you’d accept the position.

It is also important to know what the average salary range is for the position.  Often the salary is not divulged in the job listing and it is up to you to do the research.  Check out and identify the job title, ex:  Sales Manager.  See if the description is a match to the position you are applying for and then scroll down to “Wages and Employment Trends”.  The Dept. of Labor provides the median national wages and employment outlook.  You can find out the local median wage by plugging in your state and then county or city.  Armed with this data, you can also answer the salary question by saying:  “the average salary range for this position is ______, I would entertain an offer in this range. Keep in mind the DOL data is usually a year or so old so adjust the rates accordingly. The salary information is critical to know if you are offered the position and chose to negotiate your terms of acceptance.

Bottom line for going into interviews is: Be Prepared!  Research the industry, the organization, the employment outlook and the nature of the job itself.  Use your social media contacts and network to identify and connect to employees in the company you are considering and do some informational interviewing.

May you land the job you want!




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