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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.

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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