Why don't you answer some questions
Interviews: This is how you answer tricky questions
Imagine the following: You have an interview via Zoom. You have only just got to know the HR managers. Actually everything is going like clockwork - the conversation is going well, your WiFi connection is working and you have prepared yourself so well that you can confidently list all possible reasons why you are qualified for the position in question. But then you are suddenly asked a situational question that completely confuses you.
You may know what kind of question I'm getting at: you're being asked to tell about a moment in your professional life when you screwed up - without coming across as incompetent.
Situational questions at job interviews pose a challenge and are intended to prove whether applicants are able to react quickly to unforeseen situations. At the same time, they also allow them to display a range of positive qualities such as honesty, empathy, and humility. The only problem is that such questions can be difficult to prepare.
For this reason, we spoke to a number of experts - from HR managers to recruiters to career coaches - who told us how best to deal with these types of questions. Ultimately, answering them is less about addressing a specific scenario and more about understanding the real question behind it and showing that you know exactly how to behave in a variety of situations.
Below, these five experts share some of the trickiest situational questions with us and how best to answer them.
Question # 1: "What has been your biggest professional failure so far?"
“Failure is a sensitive issue: it's not easy to admit it to you or talk about it. Therefore, this question can be quite unsettling. The challenge here is to find an answer that allows you to be honest and open without putting yourself in a bad light. "
“This question can also be representative of others. I strongly recommend that you deal with this question in advance and think about how you can best answer it. Try to find an example of what you are actually not particularly proud of and tell the other person what you have done over time to avoid such a situation from happening again in the future. Also explain how you would behave should this problematic situation arise again. "
“Failure is inevitable and quite simply a part of (professional) life. The point here is not just to show that you have learned your lesson, but also to prove that you have embarked on a new course based on your findings and would therefore act differently in the future. "
Question # 2: "Describe a situation in which you had to deal with difficult managers or customers and had to convince these people of your point of view or had to get them to change their own behavior."
“To answer this question satisfactorily, you can use the STAR principle. This English acronym stands for “situation”, “task”, “action” and “result”. Excellent candidates are characterized by the fact that they can explain the background of a situation clearly and concisely without expressing themselves negatively about their managers or customers. In this way you prove maturity and show that you work in a structured manner and are organized in terms of your thoughts. "
“Applicants should then mention the task or problem they were trying to solve and what specific measures they took to improve the situation. In this way you illustrate your thought process and give HR managers an impression of your interpersonal skills and your ability to think critically. Finally, it is best to describe how this situation ultimately turned out due to your behavior or what exactly you achieved. Successful candidates also use this opportunity to explain what they have learned from this experience and how they would behave in the future. "
Question # 3: “Tell us about a situation in which you noticed that your colleagues or superiors had made a mistake or needed support - which may not be obvious to everyone. How did you recognize that and what did you do? "
“During interviews, we ask situational questions that are tailored to the respective role. We are usually looking for someone who is able to deal modestly and openly with an uncomfortable conflict situation for himself and the other person. "
“[This is about] showing that you can put yourself in another person's shoes. We often interview young professionals who have often never worked in an office environment. That is why it is important to take a step back when answering such a question and think of similar scenarios: Perhaps you can cite comparable experiences with classmates or friends. "
“[This is also where it is important to show] that you are able to pause and ponder the question instead of answering immediately. It can be tempting to give a spontaneous answer. However, HR managers appreciate it when someone thinks about their reaction and takes some time to think briefly before reacting. Here it is important to draw from a wide range of experiences. "
Question # 4: "You work with difficult colleagues on a task. The project is not going as planned. How would you go about debriefing with colleagues and supervisors to find out how better results can be achieved in the future?“
“When answering situational questions, you should be careful to remember the skills that are relevant to the role you are applying for. In this situation, you have to prove that you are capable of working with people who may not necessarily be your best friends in the workplace, when things also turn out differently than hoped or expected. Here it is important to show that you can act diplomatically and communicate effectively even under complicated circumstances. "
“In other situations, you may need to demonstrate that you are effectively prioritizing tasks or that you are able to handle multiple projects at the same time, while keeping all teams involved up to date on how everything is going and what factors are hindering you seem to be."
“This is where you can shine by showing that you understand what skills the role requires, by highlighting the skills you need to be successful in this position. Use this opportunity to prove that you can master possible challenges. "
- Destiny Lalane, Recruiter, DrChrono
Question # 5: “When did you make a mistake that may have cost you your job? What did you learn from it?“
“This question seems easy to answer. But what I really want to find out is whether someone has already been in a professional situation that made it possible to make a big mistake at all. This is how I want to find out whether applicants were responsible for a project, for example. "
“I'm also looking for someone who can deal with mistakes and is willing to learn from them. If this is not a problem for you, it shows humility and future orientation. I also want to find out if each person is willing to admit that they did something wrong. After all, I want to hire someone who doesn't try to brush their missteps under the rug. A problem can be resolved quickly if we can locate it immediately. But if a person wants to look perfect and hides their slip-ups, the situation becomes untenable at some point - and that's in nobody's interest. "
“I never want to trick respondents or make an interview unnecessarily difficult - these conversations are nerve-wracking enough. However, this question can bring to light all 'career-ending' errors that could potentially be unethical or problematic. "
- Jessie Salsbury, Master of Arts, Human Resources, SHRM-CP
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