How to Answer Tough Interview Questions

You may have heard about some interview questions that people share as scary or as incredibly odd.

“Why are manholes round?”

“One of your friends cheats during an exam. What do you do?”

“When did you fail at something?”

“If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be and why?”

Interviewers like to ask these questions to learn more about a candidate’s values, thought process, and problem solving skills in the moment — and within a stressful environment. It’s sometimes hard enough to find answers to these questions on your own time, let alone during an interview.

But, never fear! I am here to reveal all of the secrets of interviewing (well, at least some!)

While you can’t prepare for every single question, the good news is that tough questions fall into categories that have strategies that you can apply when you are being interviewed.

One category of tough questions that is more and more popular for employers to ask is called “ethical interview questions”. This category includes questions about personal morals, worldview, and how you would act in potentially unethical situations. The questions can feel awkward, because a response can reveal a lot about a person and it often feels like the interviewer is seeking a “right answer.” Typically, the employer simply wants to know a little more about your thought processes and your experiences in different situations.

Here are some strategies for responding to ethical interview questions:

• Review your resume before the interview to reflect on your past experiences with diversity, current events, and ethical codes, preparing to mention specific examples in your interview;
• Research the mission and ethical values of the company or program and include relevant examples in your responses;
Include reasons why ethics are important as you share your answer;
• Relate your answers to specific experiences that you have had in your work, academic life, community involvements, etc.;
• Showcase important moral and ethical values that you possess;
• Describe the problem solving skills that you used to make judgements in the situations you share.

Employers want to hire people whom they feel they can count on and that won’t hide things from a supervisor. If the interviewer asks you if you would tell on a friend whom you saw cheating, say yes! The employer is asking you about an ethical situation so that they can get an idea of what you might do in a workplace setting. If you let someone cheat on an exam, what else might you overlook or do if left unsupervised?

Learn more about answering ethical and other interview questions at Interviewing: the Art and Science of Answering Tough Questions workshop on December 6th in the 1947 room in Homer Babbidge Library from 12-1p.m.

By Katherine Nelson
Katherine Nelson