Ever wonder what to say when the hiring manager asks tough questions like, “Who do you admire, and why?” or “Is it ever OK to lie in business?”
If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Business Insider recently flipped through “Why You?: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again,” a book authored by James Reed, who is the
chairman of Reed, a top job site in the UK and Europe, and found some of the best responses to the trickiest queries.
In his book, Reed shares one or two ideal answers to questions you’re likely to be asked during a job interview.
You don’t have to memorise and repeat these verbatim (of course, your answer will depend on your specific situation and the job you’re interviewing for), but these should help you come up with the perfect response to some of the toughest questions.
Some of Reed’s sample responses have been edited for length or clarity.
'Is it acceptable to lie in business?'
Reed explains in his book that the interviewer is trying to understand what your core values are when they ask this question.
He says you'll want to 'show that you leave lying to people who are content to win that way.'
He suggests answering with something like this:
'It's never OK to lie. People do, of course, usually for some short-term gain, but I don't think it's ever worth it in the long run. It's easy to make bad choices under pressure, and some businesses are even run in such a way that people don't know they're lying. I prefer to treat people the way I want to be treated myself, and nobody wants to be lied to. Life's much simpler if you always tell the truth. And more people will forgive you for making a mistake, but they will never forgive a lie.'
'What are your greatest weaknesses?'
Reed says 'there's no quicker way to break the rapport between you and your interviewer than to give a clichéd answer to this question, or to pretend, as many do, that your weaknesses are trivial and irrelevant.'
Don't be dishonest or insincere -- but be careful not to highlight a flaw that would make the hiring manager think you couldn't do the job at hand.
Reed offers to following response:
'I'd say my greatest weakness so far as you're concerned is that I've been out of the workforce for a couple of years in order to raise my family. I didn't drop out of the industry altogether during that time, though. My contacts book is up to date and I've kept up with industry trends. For example, I enrolled for online professional development courses with (give examples). That's something I wouldn't have had time to do if I'd been at work, so in a way being out of the workforce has done me some good. If you take me on, I certainly don't think I'll need retraining.'
'What career regrets do you have?'
On the surface, this might seem like a harmless question, but Reed says the interviewer is really asking, 'Is there something bad about you that I cannot see, and if there is, can I get you to admit it? Do you carry psychological baggage that you don't need? How readily do you forgive yourself -- and others?'
Reed suggests giving the interviewer 'a little bit of grit,' but says you should never use the word 'regret.'
'Regret is a loaded word: don't point it your way,' he writes.
Instead, Reed says you should 'focus on something positive and say you wished you'd done more of it. Then stop talking.'
Here's an edited version of the sample answer Reed offers in his book:
'All told, I don't have too many complaints about the way things have gone. If I could change one thing, I'd have moved into the cell phone insurance business sooner than I did. I turned out to be good at that, and I enjoy it too. ... If I'd moved into it sooner then maybe I'd have been sitting here a couple of years earlier -- but who knows? Missing out on that taught me to take the odd risk in life, and I'm thankful for that.'
'Every résumé has at least one lie in it. What's yours?'
Reed says there's no doubt this question is a 'stinger,' but there's a good reason employers ask it. 'One recent survey found that as many as 20% of job seekers admitted they're prepared to lie on their résumés.'
Hopefully, he says, you're not one of them. Not only would fibbing hurt your chances of getting the job if it's discovered, but it's also a 'sure-fire way to end up with a job you're poorly prepared to handle.'
If and when the interviewer asks you this question, try to pass it off with a joke. Should your wit fail you, he says, go with a flat denial. Reed suggests trying something like:
'Well, it says under hobbies there that I enjoy keeping fit. My wife would say that's stretching the truth! Seriously, though, I don't believe there are any lies on my résumé. I believe integrity on the job is very important and that starts with your résumé.'
If the hiring manager keeps pushing, accusing you of lying when you're not, you may want to rethink whether this is the type of person you want to work for. If you feel there's a lack of trust in the interview, this could be a sign of what's to come should you land the job.
'What is your dream job?'
Reed explains that the real question here is, 'Can we help you on your way, or is this the wrong job for you? Do you really want to work here at all?'
His suggestion is to 'play down the dream,' and to 'play up the things your dreams are made of.'
Reed says whatever you do, don't take this questions too seriously. Don't go on and on about how you've always wanted to be a ballerina. Answer it quickly -- focusing on what job characteristics you're attracted to, or what skills you'd like to exercise -- and move on.
For instance, you could try something like:
'My dream job would be one where I communicate with customers, use my expertise to solve their problems, and make everyone who meets me go home happy.'
'Have you ever stolen a pen from work?'
The thing is, we've all taken a pen or two, so if you say that you haven't, then they might think you're a liar. But if you say that you do it all the time and act like it's no big deal, then that could be problematic, too.
Reed writes in his book that saying something like 'I have once or twice taken a pen from the office in an emergency but I have always returned it the next day or the day after' is a terrible response. Why? The interviewer knows that pen is still on your desk at home and might challenge you.
He suggests going with something more realistic, like:
'Well, I'd be lying to say I haven't ever absentmindedly slipped a ballpoint into my jacket pocket, but it usually ends up back on my desk the following day, unless I leave it at home. I haven't got a spare room full of paperclips and staplers, though, if that's what you mean.'
'Who do you admire, and why?'
This question is really about your values, Reed writes.
The interviewer wants to know what qualities you value in other people, and in yourself, he says.
'The why is more important that the who -- make sure you show you value something the company values, too,' Reed explains.
A common, but perfectly acceptable response, would be to name a parent. 'Mothers and fathers are a very popular choice here,' he says, but don't pick them unless you have 'a very well-thought-through answer, else you risk making the interviewer's eyes glaze over.'
Reed offers the following response:
'I would say my mum because she's brought up four children on her own, running her own B&B. She was a great example of determination in the face of hardship and the value of hard work to me.'
'Would you rather be liked or feared?'
This is a trick question because neither option is the right answer.
Reed writes in his book that what the hiring manager really wants to know here is: 'What's your leadership style?' and 'Do you have the poise to wriggle out of a trick question?'
Reed says the best way to answer this one is to opt for the unsaid option: 'I'd rather be respected.'
He explains that this is one of the few instances in which it's OK to dodge the options given by the hiring manager, and to choose another adjective, so long as you acknowledge the original framing of the question.
Here's the full response Reed recommends you try:
'Well I certainly wouldn't want to be feared. I think fear is a terrible motivator: people are often feared because they're irrational and acting for personal and unpredictable reasons. I definitely don't operate that way and I wouldn't like anyone to think I did.
'Everyone wants to be liked, but I don't think being liked per se is enough. You can like someone and still think they're no good at their job. Also, sometimes you need to do unpopular things to get the job done. I'd sooner aim to be respected. That's a good mix of personal connection -- being liked; the ability to get done what's necessary -- being feared; and making my coworkers understand that I do whatever's best for the team as a whole.'
'Can you tell me about a time you went against company policy?'
This may seem like a trick question, but Reed explains that most hiring managers who ask this are simply trying to determine whether you're an independent thinker.
Of course, some ask it to find out whether you're a troublemaker or a liar (we all break or bend the rules from time to time, so don't act like you never have!) -- but most aren't.
'It's OK to present yourself as an occasional rebel,' Reed writes, 'but make sure you're a rebel with a cause who goes through proper channels.'
He warns that while things may be changing in the corporate world, most companies are 'still far from democracies.'
'While many tout their commitment to innovation and limited bureaucracy, most continue to value consistency and the ability to conform to 'how things are done around here.' For this reason, you need to handle this question with care,' Reed explains.
He says in his book that in order to impress the hiring manager, you'll need to 'walk the line separating a company yes-man from a disruptive rebel who is difficult to manage,' as they may be asking this question to 'sniff out and eliminate both extremes.'
Here's an example of a great response:
'At A&B it was company policy that no one could be promoted until they'd worked there six months. It wasn't something I question until I hired a recent grad who was brilliant. Within weeks of him starting I could see he was far too good for the entry-level job he was doing and, given his skills, I doubted we'd be able to hold on to him if I couldn't give him more responsibility. Plus, it just seemed a waste not to utilise him to his full potential.
'I told both my supervisor and HR that the company stood to lose a great person because of an arbitrary rule. It turned out that the rule had been made years before, and HR agreed to reconsider. Given the exceptional circumstances, they ended up letting me shift him into a new role straight away. He's still with the company today and one of our highest performers, so that's definitely one time I was happy to have challenged company policy.'
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