Preparation is the zen of the job interview.

applicants interview cartoonThis is a guest post by Reese Jones.

It’s the final judgment.

Each word you blurt out can decide the next years of your life.

This is how an important job interview usually plays out. For some, the stress alone could be their one way ticket to rejection and unemployment. For others who came prepared and confident, success in almost guaranteed.

While most job interviews can be rough, some are just plain nerve-racking.

One fine example of an interview from hell is the hiring process of McKinsey & Company. According to job database Glassdoor, the company starts off with a bang; asking the applicant a question straight out of a master’s degree thesis defense!

Below are some of the most terrifyingly difficult job interview questions and how to answer them.

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1) Why you, of all people?

This is a staple one, and applicants usually overlook this question.

As an applicant, your main job is to focus on selling all your credentials. Review the job description and memorize the qualities the company likes. Stealthily align your personality with these qualities, but don’t sound too rehearsed. mentioned that the wrong way to answer this is along “because I need the job.” The correct answer will be: “I want the job because I know I am capable,” then support your claim.

2) Tell me more about yourself.

This should be an opening question, designed for the human resources manager to assess your personality more than your skills. First impression definitely last in this setup.

A safe way to answer this is to mention all of the four life areas: your childhood, education, past work, and recent opportunities related to the industry. Don’t talk too much about specifics here since you are being judged on how you answer than what you say.

3) Why did you choose our company?

Preparation is the key. tells us that this is actually a multi-layered question. You have to answer these implied inquiries:

  • What do you know about the company?
  • Are you interested in the industry? How?
  • Other than monetary compensation, what drives you to work?

These are basically easier questions to digest; and answering these three in a single speech can work very well in your favor.

4) Describe your personality.

Ian Ruddy, Head of Human Resource Operations at Telefonica’s O2 UK, said that this question is asked to their applicants because personality is important when considering employees. There are many ways to not over-hype yourself while remaining positive. Use (positive) adjectives such as easy-going, methodical, motivated, punctual, and reliable.

5) Will you leave after five years of employment and no promotion?

The correct way to answer is to mention that you are an eternal learner. Say that you are ambitious, but you understand the office setup.

“Different companies promote people at different rates, and I’m pretty confident that working for you will keep me motivated and mentally stimulated for several years to come,” is how Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, would answer this one.

6) Why did you choose to go to your university?

Always start by mentioning the quality of education of your alma mater. Drop the names of famous professors that might be recognized by your interviewer. Tell that you considered many different campuses but ultimately picked the one you thought would offer you the best education for this particular industry.

7) Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is a tricky question. What the interviewer is actually asking is if you are looking for a position or a long-term career.

The safest way to answer this is to say that you see yourself excelling in the position you are applying, and drop the company’s name as a catalyst for your ambition.

Career expert Thea Kelly’s answer would be that “I am currently exploring my career path, but I do know it will involve this industry, so this job is a great fit. I admire this company because [insert well-researched company fact] and I see myself continuing to develop my career here.”

8) How do you fit a giraffe in a refrigerator?

Ah, this question is infamous. Questions like these are along the same line of “How many jet planes are flying on the world right now?” and “Estimate the number of tickets sold during the Olympics this year.”

It actually does not matter if your answer is on-point. What matters is how you solve this seemingly impossible problem. The key here is to let the interviewer inside your brain. Tell him or her exactly how you would solve the problem.

9) Are you willing to travel far for the job?

If you are, then don’t hesitate to show your enthusiasm. Natural travel junkies should have no problem with this question. Otherwise, be careful in mentioning your dislike for travel. A blatant ‘no’ will surely make you lose the job.

10) Which influences led you to this industry?

Be candid. Tell stories of your youth and how you were inspired by a person, event, or object. Tell them that you have been pursuing this dream ever since you could understand (if true).

Interviewers love to listen to entertaining and insightful anecdotes. This is not very difficult to answer, but many still fall flat and sound fake by answering clichés such as ‘myself’, ‘God’, or a global figure like Gandhi or Bill Gates.

11) How do you handle office conflict?

This is an example of a behavioral question. Hiring managers love to ask a couple of these during interviews.

The best response would be to cite a concrete example. Tell a story of how you handled conflict in the past and how you were able to amicably resolve it. “Conflict questions are common because everybody wants to hire a good ‘team player’,” says New York University adjunct professor Pamela Skillings.

12) What didn’t you like with your past employer?

Never, in a million years, talk negatively about your past company or employer. With a question like this, you have the added task of turning a negatively-loaded question into a positive answer.

Start by complimenting the company, and segue into the little stuff that ‘annoyed’ you rather than ‘irked’ you.

If possible, try and make a general statement towards the tasks rather than the management or people. “I was tasked with too much paperwork when I feel like I would grown and excel more when interacting with people,” can be a great answer.

13) Why do you want to leave your current job?

(Or: why did you leave your last job?)

Like question number 12, don’t talk negatively about your working conditions. Tell them that you look to broaden your horizon despite enjoying your current work, but be honest.

14) How do you define success?

Immediately start by telling the interviewer how you evaluate success. Different people have different perceptions of success, but always link your answer to the office environment. Meeting goals, growth, and skill mastery are great substitutes to typical answers like ‘money’ and ‘wealth.’

15) Do you know any jokes?

Always prepare one. Never enter a job interview without a ready-to-go harmless joke in your pocket. Not delivering anything is worse than a bad joke.

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About the Author

reese jones portraitReese Jones is a tech blogger from London. She has been writing for Techie Doodlers while doing her research on new media communication technology and human resource management. Follow her on Twitter or Google+.

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Jacob Share

Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Ezra

    Interesting tips! I had not been exposed to the giraffe in the fridge problem nor the request to tell a joke. In both cases (as you mention)the priority is to let one’s personality and thought process shine through.

    Out of curiosity, for what reason was the ‘greatest weakness’ question omitted?

  2. Pingback: 15 Nerve-racking Job Interview Questions and Ho...

  3. Reese Jones

    Thank you! Since there has been a lot of talk regarding the dreaded ‘greatest weakness’ question, I thought that it was a rather easy-to-answer question. The best way for me to attack that question is to never reveal too much but say enough to sound earnest. This question is actually to test if a person knows his or her skill set. A great answer would be: “My weakness is my below average knowledge on newer software, but I have taken short courses to learn more about them.

  4. Vicki

    “Are you willing to travel far for the job?

    …A blatant ‘no’ will surely make you lose the job.

    As it should, if the job involves travel. Better to find that out now.

  5. Pingback: Interview Tips for the Weary Job Seeker | 15 Nerve-racking Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them | Joe Johnson 515 Congress Avenue

  6. Pingback: 5 1/2 Reasons Why You Won't Find a Job – CareerAlley

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