Job interviews are a necessary part of any recruitment process, however with the right planning and approach even the most nervous of interviewees can avoid difficult interview questions and give a good performance (see our earlier article http://www.wynneconsulting.co.uk/interview_preparation/ on how to prepare effectively for any interview).
Conversely – we regularly encounter situations where seemingly excellent job candidates have failed at an interview as a result of answers to one or two difficult interview questions.
Dealing with difficult interview questions that have a “negative” answer:
One of the biggest problems at an interview is how to deal with a historical negative situation. Almost everyone leaves jobs at some stage in their career, so there is invariably some kind of negative reason for why that move took place. Even if it’s not a job move, many of us have some kind of negative situation on their CV which a good interviewer will probe. Explaining a negative situation in as “positive” a way as possible is tough, but with the following simple rules you can tip-toe your way around all sorts of interview land-mines:
- The No1 rule is do not make personal comments about a specific individual, or talk negatively about an individual relationship. If you hated your boss, despised your colleague or felt intimidated by your CEO; in our experience being brutally honest about a personal relationship will invariably be taken as a negative. Remember, the interviewer doesn’t know you as a person; so has no way of making a balanced judgement on who caused the negative relationship. The overriding word here is “negative” – which when interviewing is quickly extrapolated to “risk”. Employers don’t know you personally – so any risk identified will immediately set alarm bells ringing and count against you. A common reaction we encounter are things like “He seemed to dislike a lot of people, which made me think he’s either a trouble-maker, or someone who struggles to form relationships with colleagues. This won’t work here as we’re a closely knit team. Remember, a job interview is a sales process; so although it’s important to always be honest – there are differing levels of honesty. Our advice is take the cautious route.
- Following on from this, avoid making any disparaging remarks whatsoever about previous employers, companies, clients or suppliers. Irrelevant of how bad the situation was, interviewers aren’t agony aunts or councillors. Once again – any “negative” comments at interview are invariably judged as “risk” – so will reduce your chances of success. One recent situation we encountered involved a Sales Manager looking to hire a Regional Sales Engineer. We identified a strong candidate who’d previously worked with the Sales Manager – so he liked the candidate straight away. The issue arose at 2nd interview when the Sales Director saw the candidate’s CV; only to realise that he had made disparaging remarks about the company to a client OEM 2 years previously which working for another company. These remarks had been fed back to the Sales Director (on an e-mail that he’d kept for posterity). This stopped the process in it’s tracks and the candidate was rejected.
- Everyone likes passionate people, but in an interview situation there is a thin line between passionate and emotional. Try as much as possible to remove emotions from the situation as it can cloud your judgement. Anything too “personal” about any one individual; negative personal & emotional comments about companies, “mud slinging”, rumours and gossip are all 100% “no, no’s” if there is a negative element attached.
So, our advice on how to deal with difficult questions is:
- Keep everything as positive as possible. Use positive language, turn negatives into positives and if there is a difficult specific situation with an individual or company; talk more generally about the situation.
- One great tip to deal with troublesome colleagues / managers is rather than being specific; talk about the “culture” of a company not being a “good fit”. If you had issues with an aggressive manager, a good side-step to talk about the “somewhat over-aggressive culture and approach of the company, which some people may find OK – didn’t bring out the best in me so I felt it better to seek new pastures”, etc. It’s nice and positive, doesn’t talk specifically about any individuals and although it’s dealing with the issue, it’s not creating any potential problems.
- Other legitimate reasons for explaining a job move include:
- Lack of progression – “Glass Ceiling scenario”
- Company had stability / cash-flow issues which were destabilizing.
- Products / Services weren’t market leading, so I moved for competitive advantage.
- Great company, but unable to evolve and progress with the changing market.
- Lovely management, but the culture was too easy going and didn’t challenge individuals to improve
Remember, most markets are incestuous. Everyone knows someone or something about a previous company, so tread carefully and the better your diplomatic skills, the more success you have overcoming those tough questions.