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Last Updated on August 7, 2017

The Most Challenging Interview Questions and Answers You Should Give

The Most Challenging Interview Questions and Answers You Should Give

As Product Manager for Lifehack I’m often required to interview people. However, let me be honest with you – I don’t really like interviews. Having said that, there’s a part of interviews that I’ve actually grown to enjoy…

It’s the part that most candidates probably hate. Namely, the interview questions that move beyond the common and go into the realm of challenging or ridiculously tricky.

Some candidates answer these questions with cliched replies, others with weird replies, and still others rise to the occasion and answer with creative, intelligent and witty responses.

It’s the challenging questions that can set you apart from the competition

One thing I’ve learned after conducting numerous interviews, is that the challenging questions rapidly separate the weak from the strong candidates.

To give you an example of this, I remember asking two candidates the following question: “Can you describe yourself in three words?”

The first candidate looked horrified, before stumbling the words: “Confident… skilled… experienced.” Not the worst answer, but not the best either! Here’s what the second candidate did. She listened to my question, paused for a second, and then simply said: “Yes I can!”

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Given that we were hiring for a creative role, it’s no wonder that I much preferred the second candidate’s response. It was delivered with flair, and was an inventive (even funny) reply to a deliberately awkward question. The first candidate offered nothing more than a cliched, dull response.

What the responses immediately told me, was that the first candidate probably struggles under pressure – while the second candidate would be likely to thrive under pressure.

Clearly, a strategic, mature and imaginative reply quickly sets a strong candidate apart from a weak one.

Don’t answer with the information that the interviewer expects

The essence of answering difficult questions is never answer with the information that the interviewer expects, but instead, provide an answer that includes information you’d like them to know. It’s a subtle difference, but will keep you in control of the interview. (And will show your most favorable characteristics to the interviewer.)

In other words, you’ll be proactive instead of reactive.

To be a skilful interviewee, you’ll need to know how to easily and quickly switch the focus of an interview, so that your positive side is always on show. As you’ll see in a moment, there are several techniques that you can use to achieve this.

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It would be impossible to cover all the challenging questions that you may be asked. However, by looking at a selection of difficult questions, you’ll be able to spot the necessary tips and tricks for answering almost anything you’re likely to be asked.

“You don’t appear to have sufficient experience?”

When people talk about experience, they often mean ‘years’ of experience.

For example, a person with 10 years of experience at a company did the same things over and over again, while another person with 3 years experience at a company tackled hundreds of issues and even managed to save the company. Who is the more experienced candidate?

The nugget of wisdom to remember here, is that if you get questioned over your lack of ‘years’ of experience, you need to define exactly what your experiences have been. Be sure to highlight what you have done, and talk about the many challenges you’ve overcome.

By doing this, you’ll convince the interviewer that even though you only have 3 years of experience, that you’ve learned more than someone who’s had 5, 7 or even 10 years of experience.

“What’s your salary expectation?”

You should always be prepared for this question, and if given a range to choose from, make sure that you pick a salary that is higher than the median. This will demonstrate your confidence in yourself – and your ability to do the role you’re interviewing for. If no range is given, but the interviewer insists that you state it, choose instead to give a concrete number, not a range. This will persuade the interviewer that you know exactly what you want – and that you’re serious about the role.

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Forget about worrying whether the amount you’ve stated will be too high. If they really want to hire you, they will ask further details about the package you expect. And please don’t panic, as it’s unlikely that your proposal will scare a prospective employer. (Of course, ensure that you’ve done your research and know what the going market rate for the role is.)

If they really can’t match your salary expectations, then this is where some negotiating skills around a benefits package will come in handy. For instance, they may offer to pay for your internet connection at home, your travel costs – or even provide you with a company car. If you’re able to have a serious conversation with the employer about this, you’ll instantly demonstrate that you’re a professional person who’s open and willing to consider different factors.

“Why are you leaving your current company?”

You’re probably aware that it’s not good practice to criticize your previous company. However, I recall interviewing a candidate who cleverly talked about the reasons she wanted to quit her current company, but managed to highlight the achievements that she’d made during her time with them. It’s like walking a tightrope hundreds of meters above a canyon. One slip, and you’ll find yourself plummeting to the ground. One slip in your interview, and you’ll find your chances of getting the job plummeting too!

The candidate above impressed me. Her shrewd use of language persuaded me she was not bitter about her previous company – but instead, she was simply ready for a new opportunity. This is the type of candidate whom most employers are looking for.

A further example for you to think about…Let’s say you currently work in a call centre, and you like your job, but you’re not comfortable with the amount of sales pressure you need to apply to callers. The latter is a genuine reason to want to seek a position at a new company. However, in an interview situation, you don’t want to dwell on the negatives. Instead, you could say something like this: “I’ve enjoyed working at my present company, and have learned lots of things, however, I’m now ready to expand my skills and experience.”

“What you did before doesn’t fit our role very much?”

This may be true, as you might be applying for a role in a different field – or one that has a different scope or target customers, etc. However, instead of focusing on these superficial factors, you must decisively lead the interviewer to focus on the fundamental and common skill sets that your previous job and the new role share. For instance, a job in accounting would be complimentary to a job in business analytics. They both deal with numbers, and require a keen eye for accuracy.

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So, to answer this particular challenging question, explain how what you’ve learned before can actually be applied to the new position. If you can do this well, you’ll even be able to convince the interviewer that your previous experience can help you outperform those who are already working in the field. You can do this by emphasizing how the ‘difference’ can help you bring in new insights and ideas into their company. By doing this, you’ve taken a perceived weakness – and turned it into a legitimate strength.

Imagine for a moment that you currently work as a school teacher, but you’re now keen to change careers and to find work as a writer. In an interview situation, you could highlight how at school you used clear, concise and engaging stories to impart knowledge and wisdom to your students. These are the same skills that you could bring to writing news stories.

“Are you having other interviews, if yes, what are they?”

Always remember, the gist of answering questions isn’t to answer what the person who asks want to know- but what you want them to know.

For sure, you can answer their questions frankly, but be certain to switch the focus when needed. This might be to highlight what you’re looking for in a company. For example, “I’m looking for a company which is passionate about growth, and values open communication…” Statements like this will help persuade the interviewer that you’re a good fit for the role and the company.

As for whether to say you’re having other interviews… My recommendation is to say yes. You don’t need to state what they are, but be admitting that you have other interviews, will give you the aura of someone in demand.

My final piece of advice is: Don’t shy away from challenging interview questions. They are your opportunity to shine, and to show that you are head and shoulders above other candidates.

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Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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