How to handle difficult job interview questions

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Rey Elbo-125

In The Workplace

I was interviewed for the vacant post of vice president by the CEO of a major company. My experience with him was disappointing after he asked the following questions: “Describe a stressful work condition with your past or current employer. How were you able to handle it? What would you do if you found out that a colleague is stealing millions from the company? Would you play politics with a colleague asking for your favor so that he can use a company vacation house for a week despite a policy against it? Would you agree to be imprisoned for avoiding taxes in favor of the company? Would you be willing to answer my phone calls at two in the morning? How would you feel if top management takes credit for your work?” Imagine answering around 15 of these questions for close to two hours. What’s your take on this? Are these questions relevant to the job? (italz end) — Stressed Out.

A young boy was helping his grandfather dig for potatoes one summer afternoon. After a while, the boy began to feel tired and asked: “Grandpa, what was your intention when you buried these things, anyway?”

Innocent question, indeed. Socrates said: “The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.” That’s why and how we start to ask a lot of questions to learn, even unlearn and relearn many things during job interviews.

Your situation reminds me of my own experience when I was called in by a multinational firm for a similar interview for the vacant post of vice president for human resources around 25 years ago. The country director asked me a difficult question:

My answer was clear: “I believe in industrial democracy and the rights of people to organize. Many unions that I have encountered are reasonable entities that were cooperative in pursuing the common interest of labor and management. In fact, it would be more costly for any organization to do just that.”

Then I cited many concrete examples to prove my point including a major pharmaceutical company that is spending more money for the salaries and benefits of their workers so they would not resort to establishing a union.

He was stone-faced and it was difficult for me to decipher his thoughts, until he raised another difficult question: “How would you prevent a union from coming in?” My answer was: “Management can’t prevent a union from coming in. That’s the job of a happy, contented and highly-motivated workforce. If the workers are happy, they will not need a union. And I’m not even talking of spending so much money to please people as there are many low-cost, zero-cash motivational strategies out there.”

You’re right. I didn’t get the job. But I’m happy as well because I was not part of a company that vanished because of a tumultuous labor situation resulting in a painful and difficult merger with a competitor.

Let me tell you this. My situation is similar to your own. We have all undergone a stressful job interviews. Job interviewers like to put candidates in an awkward situation and determine their capacity to react to real-world pressures. If the CEO knows what he’s doing, those questions may have been inspired by painful lessons in the past.

When an interviewer asks: “What would you do if you come to know that a colleague is stealing millions from the company?” that question may have been prompted by an actual, true-to-life story that happened in that same organization. Of course, some interviewers are clever enough to hide some facts in their vain attempt to confuse the candidates. But more often than not, those questions have been prompted by difficult situations that were encountered by that organization.

And so, how would you handle a stressful job interview? Just like my answers, you must be honest with yourself and your interviewer. Make it simple, clear, and easy. Be truthful to your personal mission, vision, and values in life. If you know what is right and wrong, what is legal and illegal, what is ethical and unethical, then it should be easy for you to handle any stressful job interview.

If it’s wrong, it should always be wrong. No ifs, no buts. Even if a stupid thing is being done by one thousand people, it remains a stupid thing. Therefore, state your answers without any conditions. There’s no point of giving answers that are pleasing to the ears of a prospective employer that both of you might regret. Be honest. Tell the CEO or whatever interviewer you encounter about your true feelings and beliefs. Chances are, if they believe in the same principles, they will respect you for that.

Don’t worry at all. Aside from what you may have said during a stressful job interview or series of interviews, any employer will decide based on your total package that includes your educational attainment, work experience, significant milestones in your career, and many related things.

If you were not hired, be thankful as you would not want to be imprisoned for helping the company evade tax. Neither would you want to be a part of an organization planning to violate the law, ethics and morals.

ELBONOMICS: If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live and let live in peace.


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