How to wow at interview...
and fit a giraffe in a fridge...

"How do you fit a giraffe in a fridge?" Say...what???

We all know the common interview questions to prepare for and as a rule we do that reasonably well. But the toughest, scariest questions are designed to be difficult to anticipate, specifically to test how a candidate performs under pressure. Many of my close network have had long careers in HR, so I asked them to reveal their favourite killer questions. Here are the top five, with some tips on how you should – and definitely should not – respond:

"What is the biggest mistake you've made at work, and what did you learn from it?"

Here candidates fall into one of two traps. They either go safe - "I sent the wrong spreadsheet to my boss", or, once the interviewer starts probing, they end up blaming others. It's a tough question but a very common one, so prepare well. You want an example of where you really have failed, learnt something, and subsequently used the learning to create a more successful outcome.

"Tell me your 3 main areas for improvement."

Interviewees expect a question on weaknesses or areas for development and they've usually prepared one great example. What we then see is that they either fall apart when asked for more or become way too honest and ruin any chance of an offer! So prepare a few good responses - think about when you've failed and why, something you are actively working on and improving to show progress or even something you don't yet have experience of yet e.g. role-specific technology.

"What’s best…being efficient or effective? Which are you?"

This is what I call a continuum question. The interviewer is wheeling out a classic business dilemma – in this example it’s time versus quality – to try and get a peek at one of your edges - what makes you unique and interesting. The classic response tends to be otoh-botoh. People tell me that by reaching for “On the one hand…” they are showing that they understand the debate and that they empathise with those who operate at its extremes. Well, perhaps, but it's unlikely to bag you full marks. If you offer a more frank and direct answer – if you say something compelling about how you personally like to operate – then you can move your rapport into overdrive and become instantly memorable. For example: “I personally incline towards running my process really efficiently, as I find that’s how I drive improvements…so I ask my team to continually challenge me from the customer’s perspective just to check I’m not getting out of balance.”

"If I call you in 18 months into the role and tell you that you've failed, what would you have failed on?"

It's another one about your weaknesses - a common theme. But the best answer I ever heard to this turned it around completely. The candidate responded with: "If we were 18 months in then we would have both failed - me for not proactively letting you know what I was struggling with, and you for not raising it earlier and coaching me through the issue." Nice.

“How do you fit a giraffe in a fridge?”

The unprepared opt for a response that mixes obvious confusion with something along the lines of "Could you squeeze it in?" I guess that might work - kind of depends on the size of the fridge...and the giraffe for that matter. A better response would be asking questions such as: "How big is the fridge?", "How big is the giraffe?", "Can I chop the giraffe up?" You're being tested on your critical thinking skills - how you think on the spot, how you make decisions in a short space of time and how you identify the data you need to make the best possible decision.

If you want to make sure you're interview-ready with some expert coaching to turn any tricky question into an offer-worthy answer, simply contact me at [email protected] - I'd love to help!

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