How To Answer Tough Interview Questions

You're in the interview and you get a really tough interview question. What is the best way to answer? The answer is simple. Tell a story related to the question. Those stories are behavioral examples, exactly what the interviewer wants (whether he/she realizes it or not).

Many interviewers are trained today in behavioral interviewing techniques. This approach is based on past behaviors being the best predictors of future success. So in behavioral interviewing, you continue to drill down to the specific examples of past behaviors that relate to the position in general or specific competencies (i.e. competency based behavioral interviewing).

From your side of the desk, the behavioral interviewing approach can appear somewhat difficult at first. The interviewer will be consistently drilling down to specific examples in your past. When you have difficulty coming up with a specific example, a well-trained behavioral interviewer will not let you off the hook, but will provide you with a prompt to continue thinking until you can provide an example. The dreaded silence which follows can be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. Unless you are prepared in advance.

As you consider the variety of questions which can and will be posed over the course of a series of interviews, keep in mind that you will not always have the "right" answer to every question. In many cases, there is no "right" answer, but there is a best answer for you. If you are well prepared, you will have a variety of examples to draw from which will give you the background to formulate your answers.

So behaviorally answer interview questions with specific examples, whether or not you have been asked to provide them. This technique works in lockstep with an interviewer who is following a behavioral interviewing approach, yet it works even better with those who are not. Because you will always be providing examples and stories which make you a real person. With real experiences. Real experience that can benefit a future employer.

As you go through the exercise of interview preparation, carefully consider all questions in a "best example" format. Keep in mind the "Can you give me an example..." follow-up that is the cornerstone of the behavioral interviewing approach. Be prepared to use examples. And examples are simply stories. Tell the story about the time you went above and beyond. Tell about the time when you saved the day. Or when you stepped in to save the failing project. Or when you came up with a creative solution to a problem. Or when you simply made a difference.

Once you have grown accustomed to behavioral answering, you can expand your answers by turning your examples into compelling stories. Instead of merely providing an example that suits the question, weave the example into a compelling story with personality, flair and interest. Captivate your audience by providing the details and nuances that bring your story to life.

We all have compelling stories in our work. We tell them to our friends, our family, our loved ones. We laugh. We cry. And our hearts yearn for more. Yet we sometimes lose these stories over time, or bury them in our long-term memory bank.

To make your story effective, use the S-T-A-R technique – tell about the Situation or Task, then describe the Action you took and the Results achieved. By following this structure for telling your story and giving your example, you will be behavioral answering any question, whether it was a behavioral interviewing question or not. Always do your best to illustrate your answers with a story or personal example. Make it real.

The key to retaining these compelling stories for your interviewing is to write them down and/or practice them in advance. Go over the questions and bring to mind the stories you can weave together to provide your example in living color. And as another compelling story occurs to you or as you find yourself in the telling of another interesting tale, ask yourself if the story will provide potential substance in your interviewing. If yes, write it down.

After a period of time, you will have a collection of compelling stories to guide you through your interviews. As you become proficient in angling these stories to fit your needs, you will find yourself steering to these stories to illustrate your points.

How do you know if your story is connecting with the interviewer? By eye contact. This is where the interviewer will show his or her interest. If you are not connecting with your story, decrease the amount of detail and drive home your final point(s) quickly. Depending on the personality type of the interviewer, you may need to adjust the length of the story, yet compelling stories work with all personality types. With the extreme driver personality types, you simply need to keep the details to a minimum, while quickly making your point. Usually two or three shorter stories are better than one long story. At the other extreme, for feeling personality types, you will perform better with a longer story and more details. How do you detect the difference in personality types? By continuously striving to stay personally connected with the interviewer through eye contact. If this connection appears to be lost or fading during the telling of a compelling story, shorten the story and come to your point quickly. On the other hand, if you have a captive audience who is hanging on your every word, provide all of the descriptive details. If you are unsure, simply ask: "Would you like more details?" This gives the interviewer the safety check to move on to the next interview question, if needed.

The key to using compelling stories is that stories are remembered. Stories are what make you human. Stories are what put a face on you in the mind of the interviewer. And stories are what they will come back to when you are being sold to others internally. When that time comes, you have given your interviewer ammo for helping others to see why you should go on to the next step in the hiring process. Or be offered the job.