Have you ever been in a job interview that from your standpoint seemed to be going really well… until suddenly you were asked a question that made you go completely blank?
Isn’t that one of a job seeker’s worst fear?
I’ve been there.
In fact, I’ve been on both sides of the interview desk. As an interviewer, my heart silently went out to the person being interviewed when one of my questions had them freeze and/or start stuttering not knowing how best to answer it.
Then as an interviewee, I’ve done my best to thoroughly prepare for interviews but must admit, the odd question had my brain go into overdrive looking for the best possible answer as fast as possible wthout letting anyone know I was secretly sweating inside.
The three toughest questions I have been asked in interviews were
1- What are you salary expectations?
2- What else do you have to learn?
3- Which one of our company values do you like best and how do you put it into practice in your work?
Let’s deconstruct these questions a bit and delve into the best ways to answer them.
#1- What are your salary expectations?
This is certainly a standard interview question, especially in a first interview, often with the HR manager. The “tough” part of it is that depending on your answer, if you were to receive a job offer, you may earn more, or less than you’d like. That’s a lot of pressure for one question! When fully prepared however, you can turn this challenge into an advantage for you but it takes some restraint. The ideal strategy here is to postpone the salary discussion until you know you are being seriously considered for the role. At that poin, you’re in the best position to negotiate. Sometimes though, you may be pushed for an answer and can appear arrogant not to provide an answer.
If that happens, then you could say something like “based on the details of the role, I am confident that I can successfully do this job and in addition, this is the company that I would really like to work for because of A, B and C. If you were to make me a reasonable offer, I would accept it”.
#2- What else do you have to learn?
I was asked this question in an interview that I felt was going extremely well and this question came near the end of the interview, after I had shared all of my strengths and stories of major accomplishments in prior roles. What they were trying to assess here was twofold:
1- They wanted to see if I thought I still had anything or much to learn
2- They wanted to see if I still felt I had things to learn, what were those things.
Very smart question. This question also gets into the mindset of the interviewee. Is this someone that has a “growth” mindset meaning they are constantly adding to their skills since they are always in learning mode, or is this someone who has a “fixed” mindset meaning they solely rely on the skills and talents they were born with, and mostly believe you’re either “born with it” or not.
How do you answer such a question without seeming like you have nothing new to learn and without revealing what they may consider to be a “fatal flaw”?
My recommendation is to acknowledge that you still have much to learn, that you love to constantly learn and grow, that this is how you have had many successes in your career. Then, you need to pick something that you still have to learn but that would not impact your ability to be very successful in the role that you are interviewing for. For example in my case, I mentioned I still needed to learn more about a particular channel in development for the company. This was something that was evident from my resume anyway since I had never worked with that channel and at the same time, they had not listed this experience in the requirements for the role.
#3- Which one of our company values do you like best and how do you put it into practice in your work?
Wow, now this question assumes that you’ve done your research. In fact, it assumes you have done some “in depth” research on the company, culture, values and ways of getting things done.
I was asked this question in an interview and, fortunately, I had taken note of the company values while I did my research. This interview also happen to be a 1-way video interview which is a topic for an entire article. Suffice it to say that this allowed me to take 30 seconds to think about my answer. I quickly looked up my research notes which was easy as I organized them all in Evernote*. And there it was at my fingertips, the company values (4 of them). I quickly picked one that spoke to me and thought of a work success story where my actions completely put this value into practice.
I ended up acing that video interview and I’m sure this question was one that took a lot of people by surprise. I made it to the next round with this company and the hiring manager gave me great feedback on my video interview.
The secret here was to have done the research. Had I been in a live interview situation, I would have politely asked if I could take a quick look at my research notes since I jotted down the company values. Most interviewers would view this favourably. They would’nt not expect you to have memorized the entire “about” section of the company’s website! As long as you could pull your notes quickly and answer the question intellegitentyl within a reasonable time-frame, there’s no reason why you couldn’t ace such a question.
What’s the toughest question you’ve ever been asked in an interview and how did you answer it? Share with us below.
Note: if you’d like to learn more about the “growth” and “fixed” mindsets, there’s a great book where I learned all about this called, funny enough: “Mindset-The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck. Awesome read and powerful insights! Click here to find out more.
* Evernote is a free application (available for Mac and PC) that allows you to organize everything from web pages, voice notes, PDF’s, any type of note really, and it syncs with ALL of your devices. It’s my absolutely favourite app in the world, extremely powerful for job search organization as well as other applications. Check it out at Evernote.com