39. Can you work well under stress? You don’t have to say that you like stress, but you should provide an example or two demonstrating that you work effectively under stress. Most stress comes from deadlines and long hours. Perhaps the question is asked since in the past people have quit because they could not tolerate the stress. You should know in advance whether this organization, field, or industry typically requires long hours or faces lots of deadlines.
40. Do you prefer to work individually or as part of a team? The best response depends on what you know about the job. If the organization is looking for a decisive person, you would emphasize your individualism and independence. If most work is done by committees and task forces, emphasize your ability to work as part of a team. If you are not sure of the best response, describe how you enjoy both aspects.
41. Are you a team player? With the question worded in this way you are virtually assured that they are looking for a team-oriented person. Describe how you are philosophically committed to working as a team. Indicate that you do not hesitate to state your beliefs, but when the group makes a decision, you willingly go along with it. Show that you are flexible and cooperative. Provide evidence that people enjoy having you on their team. Use an example where effective teamwork was essential to the success of the project.
42. Tell me about the last incident that made you angry. How did you handle it? Pick an example that would have made anyone angry. Describing how you reacted is particularly important. Make sure your reaction was mature, rather than childish. If it was a somewhat childish reaction, describe it in a humorous way so both of you can laugh about it. Being cut off in traffic or seeing someone blow through a red light makes most of us angry. Use such common occurrences rather than an argument with a spouse, child, boss, or coworker.
43. What are the things that motivate you? Challenge, creativity, success, opportunity, and personal growth are the motivators most frequently mentioned. You can also mention specific skills that you are motivated to use. These might include troubleshooting, problem solving, planning, speaking, writing, or counseling people.
44. How do you handle people that you really don’t get along with? If you are one of those fortunate types who get along with almost anyone, tell the interviewer so. However you answer the question, indicate that you work hard to get along with others. Think through how you really do respond to difficult people. The interviewer is using this question as an opportunity to learn about your human relations skills. As a follow-up question, the interviewer could ask you to describe an actual instance in which you dealt with a difficult person.
45. What have you done that shows initiative? Pick an example where you decided to do something on your own initiative because you knew it would benefit you, your boss, or your department. It should be something that was immediately embraced by your boss and coworkers, or became widely accepted after its benefits were readily seen. If it was something which primarily benefited you, explain how it saved you time and enhanced the quality of your work. Developing a new process or procedure can be very useful. A person who uses spreadsheets, for example, might describe creating a macro which enabled a complex procedure to be calculated in much less time than before. Or it could be some type of report that benefited you or your boss by creating useful information in a very concise form. Indicate that this experience is just one of several examples that you could use. An interviewer who asks such a question is obviously looking for someone who has a history of taking initiative. It would also indicate that this person does not want someone who will need a great deal of supervision, so use the opportunity to sell the fact that you are self-motivated and very disciplined. Be sure that when you took initiative it was not something which went against company procedures or policies. Supervisors frequently want people who take initiative, but they won’t want you breaking company policies or department policies they established.
46. What personal qualities are important for success in this field? To answer this effectively, list four or five key qualities. After listing them you might add, “I think that there are other important qualities as well, but those are the key ones.” Then go on to give 20–30 seconds describing how you demonstrate each of those qualities. To keep the answer fairly short, you might remind the interviewer of a story you have already told, and show how that experience demonstrates each of the characteristics you’ve just mentioned.
47. Sell me this pen. While this question has historically been asked of salespeople, today everyone must understand the concept of features and benefits because virtually everyone in a company must sell. Of course the item to be sold may not be a pen, but it often is. Like so many interview questions, it is artificial, since no one is ever asked to sell a product without having received training in how to market it. Nevertheless it is an increasingly used question for nonsales positions. The primary principle is to know the difference between features and benefits. A feature of a pen may be that it is plastic; a benefit is that plastic makes it lighter and less expensive. In other words, you would mention the feature that it is plastic, only if you were going to join it with the benefit that the plastic makes it lighter and cheaper. Sell benefits, not features. Years ago I developed a strategy for my sales clients which worked wonders, and it can do so for you as well. Decide that you are going to have fun with this question. Study the object for one or two minutes and make up some benefits that, if true, would help you sell this product. After all, how can you know for sure what the benefits are if you don’t have a price guide and sales literature? So you have to make it up. With a pen, for example, you might answer like this:
I think you’ll be very interested in our product. Hold this pen for a moment as you would while writing (a sales technique is to get a customer involved and to actually hold and closely examine the product). Notice how comfortable this pen is. Our engineers spent over 1,000 engineering hours developing the absolutely perfect ergonomic design. You can write with this pen for hours without experiencing writer’s cramp. Our research shows that people love their pens so much that they become extremely upset if they lose them or if they run out of ink. So we ingeniously added two very interesting benefits. This pen has three times more ink than a normal pen. In addition, we added a very inexpensive chip which memorizes your unique grip. If someone accidentally or intentionally walks off with your pen, it will emit a very slight beep which will cause the person to immediately return it to you and ask how they can obtain one of their own. That’s why nearly half the pens we sell are used for marketing purposes—companies give them away with their name and logo on the pen. They come in five standard colors as well as four neon colors. We can give you delivery in three weeks for the pens with your company name on them and one week without. How many gross do you think you’ll want?
In a real sales situation you would spend time asking questions and you wouldn’t try to close so quickly. Since this is an interview, you must quickly demonstrate that you know how to sell benefits and ask for the order. Study the brief sales presentation and notice what the person did. First he created a benefit by saying the pen is so well designed that people can write for hours without getting writer’s cramp. Next he added another benefit—the ink lasts three times longer than the competition’s. Mentioning the chip which memorizes a person’s grip brought a little lightness and humor to the interview. Then the person gave some useful information about colors and delivery times. Ultimately the person asked for the order. When you are asked this question, the interviewer will always be looking to see if you ask for the order.
48. Are you willing to take calculated risks? Be careful. Before you answer you should have a sense of what the interviewer is looking for. If you are interviewing with a rapidly growing, highly entrepreneurial firm, they may be looking for people with good judgment and a track record for taking risks that have worked. On the other hand, if you’re interviewing with a slow growing organization in a very mature market, they may be hoping to find that you are not a risk taker. It’s fair to discern what the interviewer is really looking for so you can adjust your response. After all, you are probably a risk taker in some areas of your personal and business life, and a very conservative, risk-averse person in other areas of your life. You merely need to decide which side of your life you will describe. Obviously whatever risks you discuss will be those in which you succeeded.
In any case you must begin by stating that while you are willing to take calculated risks, you do everything possible to reduce the risk or reduce the cost in case you are wrong. Describe the work you typically do or the research you do to gain assurance that the decision you are about to make is the right and prudent one. What complicates your answer is that everyone realizes that if you are too risk-averse you will miss opportunities. Frequently the window of opportunity is very short and decisions must be made quickly, often with less information than you would want to have. If you are unsure of how to respond, discuss how in one case you were cautious and events of the future demonstrated that you were wise to hold back. Then share a brief example of how you took a small gamble and got a high reward.
49. Can you establish effective methods and procedures? This question is usually directed to people in supervisory and management positions where change is continual and where both methods and procedures for doing things must constantly be updated. Sometimes this question is posed to lower-level staff because today nearly all employees are in a position to improve methods and procedures. Those working daily in a job are often the first and best people to recommend and implement improvements. In essence you want to show that you are a person who is constantly looking for better ways to do things. Begin with an overview describing your history of improving processes. You’re the type who is never satisfied with “good enough.” You don’t subscribe to the concept that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Even when a process or technique is not “broken,” there may be a better way to do it.
Show that you involve bosses when appropriate, such as when a change you make will affect others. Your future boss who is interviewing you does not want to hire a loose cannon who makes major changes without consulting others. When you make a change that only affects you it is okay to show that you did it totally on your own. This can also be a good opportunity to show that you are a team player by describing how you and one or two others came up with the idea and implemented it. You should always provide an example to demonstrate that you truly are a person who seeks improved methods. Describing things you did on your own shows initiative.
50. We have some very difficult and demanding customers. Can you handle that? This question begs an example. Begin by emphasizing that a customer has the right to expect a lot from its vendors. Then point out that some customers are not very tactful about the way they make demands and can be downright rude. You would indicate that you don’t prefer that kind of behavior, but that you have learned how to deal with it: you are always polite, you always listen to the customer and his complaints, and then assure the customer that you will take care of it. Indicate that you always follow up with the customer to indicate what is being done to fix the problem. Then give an example of how you tactfully handled a complaint from your most obnoxious customer.
51. We need someone who is resourceful. Resourcefulness is the ability to make do when you don’t have all the tools or support that is usually required for a task or project. Somehow, resourceful people always find a way to get it done. They are can-do people. These people find ways to obtain the necessary resources through other than normal channels. To answer this question state that it is always nice when you have all the tools and resources available to you, but that they are often not available. Your attitude is that the task still must be completed. Show that individually or with your team, you brainstorm and come up with creative ways to get it done. Wrap it up with your most creative and resourceful solution to a problem.
52. What has been your greatest challenge? This is different from “Describe your biggest crisis.” Keep in mind that while many challenges involve problems, a challenge can also be viewed as an opportunity. A problem occurs when something is going wrong and must be fixed. A challenge occurs, for example, when you can see that a competitor is developing a technology that you must match or exceed quickly or else lose market share. You still have a fine product, but you realize you must stay ahead of the competition. Another type of challenge occurs when you are working on a project and you can see numerous road blocks that must be overcome. List a few challenges and then practice sharing two or three of them.
53. Describe a team project where you were proud of the team’s result, as well as of your personal contribution. List some of your best team projects, some where you were a lead person and others where you contributed but had no leadership responsibility. Recall some where there were real conflicts among team members or where there were arguments about how to proceed or how to solve certain problems. If you played a role in getting that group to resolve its differences, that would be an excellent experience to share in the interview. If there was a particularly difficult person on the team, but you helped everyone else get along better with that person or helped that person feel part of the team, that would be an excellent example. If you were part of a team where everyone clicked and the team came up with really creative solutions, that would also work well.
54. Describe a difficult decision you’ve made, and the process you went through to reach that decision. Recall and then list several difficult decisions you’ve had to make. Pick one that was truly difficult but had a good outcome. It may have been difficult because you didn’t have all of the information you might have wanted. It may have been difficult because key people opposed the decision or told you that it would have negative consequences. Then list the steps you went through to arrive at it. It might be good to have one example where you did a great job of analyzing tons of information and distilling what you needed to decide. Then recall a decision where you primarily used your intuition, even in the face of contradictory data. As you think about difficult decisions you’ve made, determine if there are methods that you almost always use. If you use different methods under different circumstances you could show that you are quite flexible and that you use strategies that fit the situation.
55. Give me three qualities that are really helping you get ahead and three qualities you must work on if you are going to achieve your career goals. You are well on your way to answering this question if you have worked on, “What is your greatest strength?” “Why should I hire you?” and “What is your greatest weakness?” You should identify 8–10 strengths and be prepared to describe any of them. If the question asks you to describe three areas you must work on, they do not have to be weaknesses. You could have a fairly good ability in some area yet realize that to achieve your goals you’ll need to improve upon this skill some more. Be prepared to describe what you are doing to become stronger in those areas.
56. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in the last ten years? Clearly the interviewer wants to know that you learn from experiences, challenges, opportunities, and even mistakes. Basically the question requires a lesson learned and it should include information about the specific experience. Use a positive experience with a positive outcome. List several experiences where there were lessons learned so you can pick just the right one for each particular interview.