How to Handle
Tough Interview Questions
Contributed by:

Ong Wooi-Hsen, Senior Lecturer (Communication Skills),
Singapore Polytechnic
If you've ever been at an interview and been stumped by the questions, you are not alone. What I find to be the case after interviewing candidates over the last twenty over years is that quite a number are not very clear on how to answer even the basic questions. The fact is, with some insights and preparations, you can increase your chances of securing the position.

Whatever questions your interviewers throw at you, they are basically asking 'Why Should We Employ You?' Truth of the matter is, whatever your response, you need to come across as competent, positive, enthusiastic, relevant and confident! These are five key attributes to do well at the interview!

The questions below are common in many interviews. Some are asked deliberately in the negative (I feel) to ascertain your professionalism and if you are a good fit for the position and the organisation.
Tell me something about yourself?
This is the elevator pitch question where you give a quick summary of your most sellable attributes and relevance for the position. Do not spend more than a minute to answer this question. Some must-shares include your education (for fresh graduates).

Throw in a recent project which you were involved in (directly relevant to the position) and what are some personal and professional achievements related to it. You should provide enough interest for them to ask you further based on what you have shared.
What are your weaknesses?
Some candidates actually misinterpret this as a confessional moment. It is not! Don't start digging out the skeletons in your closet!

On the other hand, you shouldn't say that you have none! You will not be believed! The interviewer wants to see if you are introspectively reflective. They also want to know how you manage your weaknesses. Whatever your weakness, choose something which allows you to showcase that in certain contexts, it can be a strength.

You could also mention that over time, you have learnt how to adjust certain behaviours to achieve optimal outcomes (without compromising ethics). A good example could be a team dynamics issue where you adjust your behaviour to suit a particular situation or a certain profile of a team member. Give a specific example to show how you were adaptable to other peoples' workstyles to achieve win-win outcomes.

Sometimes, to inject some humour into your response (if you sense that the interviewer is someone in a light mood), you can start off by saying, "Well, besides premium chocolate,…."
What are challenges you face typically at your workplace?
This question is not to put you in a spot to condemn yourself. Challenges are prevalent in most jobs and you should share how you manage them. Show that you understand the reasons for the challenges and that you handle them based on your assessment of the situations.

You can show how adaptable, intuitive and fair you are in decision-making and rising to the challenge. For fresh graduates without work experience, you can share challenges in your academic projects or co-curricular activities.
Do you have any questions?
Most candidates intuitively know that they need to show ask questions to show interest in the job and the company. However, unless they craft their questions carefully, they may actually demonstrate something else instead. See the different responses below (and the possible impression on the speaker in brackets):
What are the daily functions of the job? (ignorant) You should be aware of the main job functions. It's probably in the advertisement.

How much are you willing to pay? (ignorant, self-interested) Avoid this until they have offered you the job. You should also know the industry standard and be confident that you deserve usually a little above your scale.

Do you have any training for your new staff? (not confident) You've probably been trained in some capacity for the job functions so you need to give some context which sells you for the position.
What do you like most about working in this company? (too direct) Avoid as you probably would not have established that close a relationship with the interviewer yet and it also puts the interviewer in a spot if he is not willing to share.
You can ask your questions in a way which sells you for the position. See more developed responses below and how they reflect more positively on the interviewee.

I understand from the advert that the job will require me to do this, this, this and that (specify). I am familiar with these tasks. As I am someone who thrives in a challenging environment, I would like to know if I may be given more responsibilities once I settle down so that I can stretch myself professionally? (aware of job functions and willing to contribute and grow)
My training and experience puts me in good stead to handle the current functions of the job. However, the market is extremely competitive. Over the next three to five years, as requirements evolve, what are your organisation's plans to keep staff well-trained for the changing economy? (confident, aware, proactive and looking at corporate needs)

All the best at your next interview. Remember the five key attributes to do well! You need to come across as competent, positive, enthusiastic, relevant and confident! That will show them 'Why THEY should employ you!'
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