How to Answer the Tough Questions

Tough Questions
Each interview has at least one, a question that you really don’t know the best way to
  It is the one that you agonize over for days and keep going over it and over it in
your head and you ask others how they would have answered.  There is not way to avoid
these types of questions but you can answer them with confidence to give yourself peace
of mind until you get a call back.

Do not feel that you have to answer immediately after you have been asked a question. 
You are not on a game show where the fastest contestant to answer wins.  Your
interviewers will appreciate that you have taken time to formulate your answer.  If you
are concerned by a prolonged silence – don’t be, it is normal.  If you have been asked a
question that you do not know exactly what to say, ask for a moment to think of an
appropriate answer.  This is preferable to taking a long time to answer without explaining
what you are doing.

If you really can’t think of an answer off of the top of your head, ask if you can come
back to the question in a moment – keep trying to think of an answer.  Don’t think that if
you get to the end of the interview and you haven’t answered the question that you are off
of the hook.  Even if your interviewer doesn’t ask again, it has not gone unnoticed that
you didn’t respond to a question.  The best case scenario is for you to bring the topic back
to the question and answer it accordingly.  Thank your interviewer for giving you the
extra time to come up with the right answer. 

If it is a lengthy question that is broken into parts, break it down into, don’t try and
answer it all at once – you can always ask for parts of the question to be repeated.

How to Thank an Interviewer

You may think that it is best to follow-up with an interviewer to thank them for their time
and keep your name in the forefront of their mind.  While this may have that affect on
them, it may not be in the positive way you are looking for.  An interviewer takes time
out of their regular job to fill vacancies in a department.  It is an extremely busy and
stressful time for them and they do not want (nor have time to) take calls from everyone
that they have completed interviews with.

But this is not to say that sending along a thank you is a bad idea, it’s not.  The method
that you thank your interviewer is going to make a difference.  If you received a business
card, send a quick e-mail to thank them for their time and that you are looking forward to
hearing from them.  Quick and to the point and leave it at that.  Do not expect a reply
because you probably won’t get one and do not follow-up on your e-mail to make sure
they received it – you will become an annoyance.

Second to sending a quick e-mail, you can send a short and professional thank you note
(this means no scented stationary or something too cutesy).  The message should be
similar, thanking the interviewer for taking the time to sit down with you, express how
much you enjoyed speaking with them and learning more about the company.  It is a
nicety that while not necessary, can be an added touch to a strong interview.

It may not guarantee you the job, but thank you notes, if done the right way, may open
doors for you in the future.  If there are openings in the company at a later time, the
interviewer may remember you and think of you before others.

If you Get Stumped by a Question

You can prepare for an interview until you are blue in the face and still get stumped on a
question during the process.  It is okay, it happens to a lot of people.  Some questions
come out of left field, sometimes you draw a blank, and others – you really don’t know
what to say.  Here is a brief run down of what you can do in these three situations.

A (Seemingly) Off Topic Question – These may be thrown in to the interview out of
curiosity by the interviewer or to gauge your knowledge on a certain subject.  It is not a
reason to dismiss the question though and not pay it the care and attention you would to
any other one.  Do your best, and if you really can’t figure out the correlation between the
question and the job you are applying to, you can ask at the end of the interview – along
the lines, “out of curiosity….”

You Draw a Blank – Ask for a minute to compose your answer, and do some fast
brainstorming.  If you feel that the silence is becoming uncomfortable, you can ask to
come back to the question at the end of the interview.  As long as you do go back to it,
this is an acceptable solution.  Silence is okay during an interview when you are trying to
think of an answer, do not feel obligated to fill the silence, concentrate on the answer you
want to give.

You Don’t Know What to Say – If it is a matter that you are sure what the interviewer is
looking for in an answer, ask for clarification.  Sometimes asking for an example of what
they mean can guide you in what you should say.  If you take a shot in the dark, you
might provide what they want – but why take the chance? 

Don’'t be Late for an Interview

This may seem obvious, but it happens way too often.  No matter the reason, there is no
excuse for it (besides an injury or family emergency and then kudos for you for showing
up).  Getting lost, bad traffic, or losing track of time doesn'’t matter to an interviewer.
They are taking time away from their primary duties to sit down with you to try and give
you a job.  It is rude and disrespectful to not show up on time.

Here are a few tips to ensure this doesn'’t happen:

*    Do a dry run.  If you are going to a city or a part of the city you are not familiar
with drive there a few days before.  Ideally you will do it during a week day at a
similar time to your interview time to gauge the amount of time it takes to get
*    Leave early.  Not just 15 minutes early, you can plan to arrive 30-60 minutes
before your interview time.  Don’'t go into the building though.  Get into the area,
find a coffee shop and relax while reading the paper or reviewing your resume.
Not only will this ensure that you are on time it also gives you time to relax and
calm yourself before walking into the building.
*    Pay for parking.  Don’t circle the block 12 times looking for cheap parking on the
street.  Pay the money to park in a parking garage.  You do not want to waste
valuable time looking for parking and start to stress yourself at the same time.

If you are running late (but really, you shouldn'’t be), make sure you call.  The
interviewer may not have time to complete the interview if you are running late and you
will save both of you the time if you let them know.  You can try and salvage the problem by trying to book another appointment right away.  And if you are lucky enough to
get a second chance, follow the tips above to arrive not only on time, but early.

Know what Your References are Going to Say about You

Before attending an interview, you should have your references lined-up and ready to
provide to the interviewer when asked.  More than just writing down names and phone
numbers of previous employers and bosses, you need to do additional preparation. 
Finding out how a former employer views you and your work history with them is vital
before providing that information to a potential employer.  Even if your memory of your
time spent there is positive, you don’t know how you were remembered or what will be
said unless you ask.

Your first step should be to contact everyone that you are considering using as a
reference.  You will want to confirm they are working for the same company and if their
phone number is the same.  If a boss has moved to another company, you can still utilize
them as a reference provided you can track them down.

When you reach a potential reference, don’t assume they will remember you and
everything about you – remind them.  Things you say during your conversation can have
a positive outcome on what they have to say about you later on.  Ask them if they are
comfortable providing you with a favorable reference and if there is any feedback they
have for you.  If you are very comfortable you can flat out ask how they felt about your
time working with them and what they would say about you if someone called to ask.

If you are not comfortable with providing a direct supervisor or boss you can use other
employees in the company that old a supervisory position.  Think of people you have
worked closely with on projects or such – they are valid and reputable people to provide
as references too. 

But if you have made it through the interview process, a reference would have to go quite
badly for it to affect a possible job offer.

Make a Connection

Depending on how popular or sought after the job you are interviewing for is you will
have a lot of competition for a few positions.  A stellar interview is crucial to make you
stand out from the rest of the crowd.  To give yourself an added edge and cement yourself
in your interviewer’s mind, try to make a personal connection with them at some point in
the interview.

A personal connection can take numerous forms.  If you are in the interviewer’s office
and they have a picture of a sailboat on their wall (and you happen to love sailing), make
an appropriate comment that identifies you as a sailor too.  This may not put you above
others more qualified than you but it will help you to stand out amongst those you are in
direct competition with.

Take your cues from the interviewer, if they seem uncomfortable with relaying any
personal information or are not comfortable veering off topic then follow their lead.  If a
personal conversation does develop, let the interviewer guide it.  When they bring it to a
close and either get back to the questions or say good bye, leave it at that.

At the end of the day, interviewers want to hire people that are qualified and who will fit
in with the rest of the team at the company.  If you can make a connection and have the
right skill sets you will be giving yourself a better chance than someone else.  You will
also help the interviewer recall who you are and stick out in their mind as that candidate
who knew a lot about sailing.

If you are not comfortable with discussing personal topics during an interview, don’t feel
that you must go out of your way to do so.  At the end of the day, your qualifications are
what you should be highlighting.

Pauses and Silences are Okay

There are going to be a lot of periods during an interview when there are going to be
pauses in conversation or flat out silence.  This can be initiated by you or the interviewer
and in most cases either is not an indicator that something is amiss. 

You can ask for a moment to think of an answer and during this time there is most likely
going to be complete silence.  This is fine and perfectly normal, don’t get distracted
because no one is talking, use the time you have asked for wisely and think of the best
answer or example you can give.

If the interviewer is taking notes (and most likely they are), be comfortable with the fact
that there is going to be pauses in between questions and they try and write everything
down.  This is actually a good thing because it means they have liked what you have to
say and want to remember it when they are later making a decision on who to hire.  Don’t
feel the need to fill this space, let them continue writing and wait for the next question.

If you have answered a question and it is met by silence and the interviewer is not writing
anything done, you may be at a loss as to what you should do.  It could signal that the
interview is expecting more information or they are not satisfied with the answer.  You
won’t know unless you ask, “Do you want me to elaborate on that?”  If the answer is no,
just patiently wait for the next question to be asked.

Don’t worry that the interviewer is not praising you on your answer to each question and
continue onto the next one.  They do not want to give you an indication of how you are
doing during the interview and are trained to be neutral when responding to answers, if
the respond at all.