The 3-step process for answering tough interview questions

There are literally thousands of questions that you could be asked during an interview. There is simply no way you can memorize a “correct” response for each one. Furthermore, most interviews dislike "canned" answers to their questions. No matter how hard you try to disguise the fact that you’ve prepared for a particular question, your answer usually has an air of phoniness.

One of the most important ingredients of the “right” answer is a fresh, natural response that comes only through being real. Anyway, you don’t want to take the chance of entering a new position on any pretense, for the odds are very good that it will prove a mismatch.

Since the unexpected usually happens in interviews, it is important to develop an approach to answering interview questions. Here’s a three-step process that will help you construct effective answers to even the most difficult questions.

Step #1: Understand what is really being asked.

One of your tasks in an interview is to understand what an employer is looking for. Employers’ expectations generally fall into three categories, and their questions are designed to probe these areas.

    • Do you have the skills necessary to be productive and make a contribution to the organization’s objectives?
    • Have you proved the fact that you can do this job in your work elsewhere? How successful were you at doing your previous job?
    • If you haven’t already done this sort of job elsewhere, is there enough evidence to suggest that you have the necessary skills to succeed in this job?
    • Are you sufficiently motivated and do you have the self-confidence to do the job? What evidence is there to support this?
    • Will you be dedicated, conscientious, determined and 100% committed to doing the job? Or, will you be distracted, noncommittal, or otherwise unwilling to measure up to the standard of achievement set by your co-workers?
    • Are you sufficiently interested in this type of work to be motivated to do a good job and make a contribution?
    • Will you stay long enough to make a contribution commensurate with the expense and time invested in recruiting and training you?
    • Will you be easy or difficult to manage?
    • Will you follow and/or support the organization’s policies and procedures?
    • Do you come across as critical or negative — and, therefore, likely to disrupt the general tenor of the workplace?
    • Will you support organizational changes?
    • Will you fit in with the existing style of management?

Step #2: Answer the question briefly, in a non-damaging way.

Respond to the question at hand without backing yourself into a corner, or offering especially damaging information. A good response to a question should acknowledge the facts, and present them as an advantage, not a disadvantage.

Step #3: Answer the real question by presenting your related skills.

Once you understand the employer’s real concern, you can get around to answering the often hidden question by presenting your skills and experiences that relate to the job.