Advertising
Advertising

7 Simple Tricks To Sound Smarter When Answering Difficult Questions

7 Simple Tricks To Sound Smarter When Answering Difficult Questions

When You Have To Think On Your Feet

You’re a smart, capable person, right? Of course you are. However, we all occasionally face situations in which we are called upon to answer seriously tricky questions. What on earth should you do when you’re asked a question that leaves you stumped? First – try not to panic. Remember that everyone has been in your situation, and you certainly won’t be the last person to feel as though their brain cells have shriveled up and died at a crucial moment. Follow the tips below to help yourself navigate difficult questions.

1. If the question is vague, ask for clarification

Sometimes the fault lies not with you, but with the person asking the question. If you have no idea where to begin answering a question, there is a chance that the person asking it did not choose their words carefully. Politely request that they re-word their statement. For instance if you are asked a question like ‘Where do you see this role heading in the next three years?’ you could quite reasonably identify that as a vague question and ask that the interviewer narrow their focus. You could respond with something like ‘That’s a great question, but I’m not sure where to start! Is there any way you could narrow that question down a little?’ They may then well respond with a new question like ‘How do you think the primary responsibilities will change in response to competitor activity?’ which may seem less daunting!

Advertising

2. Define a word or phrase on your own terms

If you are asked a question which includes a term with which you are unfamiliar, it is better to ask for clarification than to risk making an absolute fool of yourself. However, occasionally you may be presented with a question featuring an ‘elastic’ term, and you can use this to your advantage. For instance, suppose you have a job interview in which you are asked to describe the last time you ‘failed’ or ‘made a mistake’ at work, and what you did about it. This can seem like a tricky question. However, you can take it upon yourself to define ‘failed.’ Rather than talk about the time you failed to meet an important deadline, you can elect to describe the time you ‘failed to implement a good work-life balance’ and overworked yourself for the good of the company instead.

3. Remember that your attitude is sometimes just as important as the actual words you use

This is especially useful to remember when it comes to job interviews. Yes, many job interview questions are designed to test how much you actually know about your area of expertise, or how well you will fit into the role. However, reasonable interviewers will not expect you to know the answer to every question imaginable. In fact, sometimes the way you approach the question and your general attitude can count for plenty. If you don’t know the answer, a spirited attempt and frank admission that you don’t have a ready answer will go much further in impressing an interviewer than a nervous, half-hearted response. For example, suppose you are asked how you would envisage working with the Advertising Department if you were given the role of salesperson with a new company. You may not have a clue about what you would do in reality, but talking with enthusiasm about how much you would welcome the challenge to gain new experience in cross-department working will win you some points!

Advertising

4. Respond to provocative questions like a pro

Occasionally you may be unlucky enough to be asked inappropriate questions such as, ‘Are you thinking of taking time out the workplace to have children in the near-future?’ It can be hard to know how to respond to such queries. However, assuming you still really want the job, a sensible approach in such a situation is to react in a short, assertive manner (‘No, I am not’) and re-direct their attention towards another topic. For instance, to continue with the above example, your answer could go as follows – ‘No, I am not, as I am determined to use my extensive experience in this field to further my skills in areas X, Y and Z.’

5. Get into the habit of speaking in a measured tone and leaving slight pauses

Sometimes, just a few extra seconds can make all the difference between an acceptable and unacceptable answer. When someone asks you a hard question, look them in the eyes, and allow yourself a brief pause to collect your thoughts. If nothing else, this will make you appear more confident and makes the other party more likely to formulate an image of you as being in control and knowledgeable.

Advertising

6. Answer a question with a question

Turning the tables on your questioner can help open up the discussion and sometimes even prevent them pursuing an answer to the original question in the first place. For instance, suppose your child asks you whether you and your spouse are getting divorced. This could be awkward or uncertain territory. By answering a question with a question, you can divert their attention long enough to either buy yourself some time or distract them completely. Asking them questions such as, ‘Why do you ask that?’ can work well in this case.

7. Sharpen your questioner’s focus

If you feel as though your answer to someone’s question isn’t quite all they were hoping for, a good strategy can be to end your answer with a statement or fact that encourages them to ask you follow-up questions that you can answer more readily. For instance, suppose you are asked in a job interview why you are leaving your previous role with another company. Ending your response with ‘…and I have heard many good things about the upcoming sales figures of your company this quarter, and wanted to move to a more prestigious organization’ provides a positive note upon which to move to the next question.

Advertising

Whatever the question, remember to always end with a positive statement if possible, preferably one that underlines your great attitude towards the topic at hand, or your expertise. Keep your breathing steady, try and remain smiling, and remember not to beat yourself up if you don’t get it right first time, every time. Like everything else in life, answering difficult questions is a skill that must be practiced.

More by this author

Jay Hill

Freelance Writer

3 Things To Give Up If You Want To Take Control Of Your Life All You Have to Do to Sleep Better How Social Media Is Making You Feel Bad about Yourself Every Day The Ultimate Guide: How to Become More Creative Day by Day How to Find Love That Lasts: Someone Who Fulfils These 5 Things

Trending in Communication

1 How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up 2 How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late 3 7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer 4 If You Think You’re in an Unhappy Marriage, Remember These 5 Things 5 7 Practical Ways to Change Your Thinking and Change Your Life

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

Advertising

How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

Advertising

A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

Advertising

Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

Advertising

How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

More Resources About Job Interviews

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

Read Next