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Tactics for Tackling Tough Job Interview Questions

Given tighter staffing budgets, employers want to make certain that every professional they hire is truly the best person for the job. Learn how to answer challenging but commonly asked interview questions.

June 18, 2009
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

Given today’s tighter staffing budgets, employers want to make absolutely certain that every professional they hire for open accounting or finance positions is truly the best person for the job. As a result, hiring managers enter job interviews with no shortage of tough questions up their sleeves. Following are several challenging but commonly asked interview questions and strategies for answering them effectively:

What Attracted You to Our Company?

This seemingly straightforward question is asked to gauge your interest level. Employers are looking for enthusiastic candidates who’ve taken the time to study up on their business and industry. Fulsome flattery that fails to mention any specifics (Example: “Because your company is so incredibly wonderful!”) will be viewed as insincere.

Do your homework prior to the interview. To get the company’s perspective, thoroughly review the firm’s website, marketing materials, recent annual reports and executive biographies. To gain a more objective opinion plus details on any difficulties the company may now be facing, conduct an online search on the company’s name. In addition, ask members of your professional network if they have any insights into the firm. Taking these steps will help you gain a solid understanding of the company, its mission, corporate culture and leaders.

In your interview response, weave in the beyond-the-basics details you uncovered to show that you conducted extensive research. Remember: The more information you learn about the open position and the organization, the more opportunities you’ll have to directly connect your unique skills and qualifications with the employer’s needs.

Can You Tell Me About the Worst Boss You’ve Ever Had?

Be cautious and diplomatic because the way you speak about former managers will go a long way toward defining you as a job candidate. Simply put, this is not the time to vent. Regardless of how nightmarish a supervisor may have been, coming across as angry, contemptuous or petty will only raise red flags and jeopardize your chances of landing the job. Griping about an “impossible manager who had unrealistic expectations” will cause employers to question your ability to take direction, meet goals and work well with others.

Instead of providing a laundry list of negative adjectives to describe the boss, share an anecdote that proves you to be a positive-minded problem-solver. For instance, you could explain that your boss traveled frequently and was extremely difficult to reach. Mentioning that you sought mentors in the organization whose insight you tapped when challenges arose and your boss was not available showcases your initiative and resourcefulness. You might add that having an absentee manager enabled you to elevate your decision-making skills and strengthen your ability to work independently.

What Is Your Biggest Weakness?

Many job seekers give clichéd answers that attempt to turn a positive trait into a negative one. “I’m a perfectionist,” “I’m a workaholic,” and “I care too much” are classic examples of fake flaws. These canned responses are transparent and fail to answer the question.

A savvier and more sophisticated approach is to cite an actual shortcoming, but immediately follow up with information about specific steps you’ve taken to overcome the weakness. For instance, you might note that you used to struggle when writing lengthy explanatory reports and memos, but that you’ve completed multiple communication courses that have improved your writing, your confidence, and your proficiency in producing high-quality reports in short order. This type of answer will show that you possess self-awareness, drive, soft skills and a commitment to ongoing professional development.

Do You Have Any Questions for Us?

Of all the questions you might face, the final one the interviewer will likely ask could be the most crucial to prepare for. “Do you have any questions for us?” is a simple query, but it provides a great opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd and close the interview on a high note. In short, asking several well-thought-out and pertinent questions allows you to steer the conversation and reiterate or expand upon your biggest strengths.

Inquiring about common career paths and advancement opportunities, for example, indicates that you are goal-oriented, ambitious and interested in growing with the organization over the long-term. Asking a question about educational training opportunities tells an interviewer that you’re a knowledge-hungry professional dedicated to keeping up with the latest trends and developments in accounting and finance.

A successful job interview begins with proper preparation. That being said, you can’t anticipate every query you might be asked. If an interviewer catches you off guard with a tricky question, stay calm, cool and collected. Take a moment to compose your thoughts. You won’t go wrong if you consistently give answers that highlight your poise, professionalism and optimistic attitude.

The Likeability Factor
  • Knowing how to smoothly handle tricky questions in a job interview is critical, but don’t forget that being personable and courteous is another way you can win over prospective employers. From the minute you step on company grounds, be friendly and polite to everyone you encounter.
  • Managers do not make hiring decisions in a vacuum; they typically seek input from other people with whom you interacted while on their premises. In fact, 61 percent of executives polled in a recent Robert Half International survey said they consider their assistant’s opinion important when evaluating interviewees.
  • The Lesson: Present a pleasant and polished image to every single person you meet — whether it’s the company president, the receptionist or the payroll intern you meet in the elevator. You never know whose opinion might factor into the hiring decision.

For more career advice, listen to Robert Half’s podcast series, The Management Minute, at www.rhi.com/podcasts.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 360 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.roberthalffinance.com.