Tough Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

You might not have heard the name Martin John Yate before, but it’s not because he’s not trying. He has written at least 14 books on career advancement, and is considered an authority on getting your name out there. Among Yate’s works is Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions, much of which has little to do with the title but has great thoughts for job writing resumes, generating and developing job leads, developing questions for you to ask the interviewer, exuding professional gloss and other basic prep work. Still, enough of the book is focused on the gotcha questions to make it worth reading just for that.

Yate identifies at least six interview “trap” questions:

  1. What are your least favorite chores?
  2. How did you choose your university?
  3. How did you pay for tuition?
  4. What were the highlights and lowlights of your last job?
  5. What was the least relevant position you have had?
  6. At your age, why are you earning so little?

Let’s answer each in turn:

As for least favorite chores, avoid the negative. Consider this as a response: “Every position has ups and downs, but I have acquired valuable skills even from routine tasks.”

You picked your university “based on my own analysis of programs that could prepare me for future employment.” In other words, “My dad went there and I was a legacy” is the wrong answer.

“My parents paid my tuition,” though, is fine to admit if it’s the truth, but be sure to also highlight your self-reliance by describing any jobs you held while attending school.

Any question involving “lowlights” is not an invitation to trash your current or past employers. Leave it at “I really valued my last position, but your company provides a new opportunity.”

When asked about your least relevant position, don’t go off-script. If you need to be reminded, your script is your resume. If you worked one summer waiting tables in Sag Harbor, either put it on your resume or don’t but, if you choose not to, don’t mention it in the interview.

And although that last question isn’t specific to seekers of investment banking jobs, it might as well be. If you’re underpaid compared to your peers, take it as a compliment — that you’re glad someone noticed that you’re worth more. Turn it around and ask the interviewer what he or she thinks you should be pulling down.

Remember, how you respond to these types of questions could decide whether you advance to the next stage in the interview process – or not. Yate does offer this overarching advice: “Re-spin each question in a positive manner that highlights your past achievements, current abilities, and future goals,” he says. “Don’t get angry. The stress interview is just a test.”

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