Answering Tips for Difficult Interview Questions

Describe a time when you failed to meet your goals?

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case you fail by default”

J.K. Rowling


Some failure in life is inevitable. Those who are brave and bold attempt many new things and thus fail much more often. Don’t be afraid to explain a time when you wanted to achieve something, but you were not able to do it. Chances are that the interviewer is more interested in learning how you handled the failure that you experienced. He wants to know whether you learned from your mistakes and whether you are motivated to succeed in the future.

When you think of a story, don’t pick a major failure and try to choose a story where external factors influenced your failure as well. Inexperience on your part is OK too, given that you are in the early stages of your career. Don’t point out as a reason for your failure qualities that can have a negative impact on your work in the future (for example attention to detail, ability to handle pressure, etc.).

It is very important to show that you turned a negative situation into a valuable learning experience. This will make a great impression to the Interviewer.

Example:

Last year, I was eager to find a summer internship opportunity, but I wasn’t able to do that. One of the main reasons behind this was the tough job market that we are currently facing. Along with that, I believe I was too inexperienced and did not realize how difficult it was to find a good opportunity.

This year I had a totally different approach. I learned my lesson perfectly. I started preparing myself from November. I created a shortlist of opportunities that I wanted to pursue, researched all potential employers and chose the ones that were really interesting. I had more time to work on my CV and Cover Letters and to prepare for interviews. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

What is your greatest weakness?

The problem with this question is that you are being asked about your shortcomings, while you are doing an interview and you want to make a good impression. Make sure that you don’t choose something that can impede you from being great at the job you are interviewing for. For example, if you are interviewing for a controller or a financial analyst, it is OK to say that you do not like to speak in public. However, if you are applying for a consulting or an investment bank job you should not say that, because public speaking can be essential for those professions.

Choose a weakness that you can turn into a positive. “I am usually not good at… but I am making an effort to improve that”. Avoid cliché answers like “I work too hard” and “I am a perfectionist”. No one is perfect – that is why you need to indicate a weakness when you are asked about one. This shows that you are self-aware and have listened to feedback.

Example:

The tutor at my previous internship gave me some interesting feedback: “Don’t try to do too much.” I remembered that and had a chance to reflect on it, once the internship was over. He was right; I tried to do too much. I was eager to prove myself and implement everything that I learned in university so I could perform great. Trying to implement complex models and “doing too much” is something that I need to control in the future.

This experience allowed me to understand that greatness is a lot of small things done well.

Therefore, I decided that the next time when I am facing a similar situation, I will focus on my own duties and will make sure that I do everything that is expected of me well, instead of trying to invent the next formula of relativity.

What are your salary expectations?

There are several reasons why you don’t want to answer this question:

  • You can scare the employer by saying a number that is outside of their range
  • You can undercut your salary by giving a low number
  • You don’t know how the other candidates responded to this question

Some people try avoiding this question by saying that money is not their prime motivation for this position or by asking the recruiter what the company’s budget for this position is. These are valid tactics, but it is very likely that your employer insists on learning your salary expectations.

So the best thing that you can do is… to be prepared. Try doing the following:

  • Research before the interview what is the average salary for this type of position (talk to friends and people who work in the industry, check out information on websites like Glassdoor.com)
  • Base your salary range on the market for your skills
  • Don’t give a range unless you are willing to be offered its lower end

And lastly, if your interviewer insists on receiving a precise number, you should be ready to give him one.

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