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with Alan Carniol
Preparing for the Tough Interview Questions
with Alan Carniol

To prepare for tough interview questions, Alan Carniol recommends doing this exercise:

Ask yourself this: What is the question that could cost you the job offer? Take 30 seconds to think about your answer and then write it down.
Here's a list of sample interview questions that some people find tough and dread during the interview:
  1. What's your biggest weakness?
  2. Tell me about your biggest failure.
  3. Tell me about the most difficult situation you've had with a co-worker.
  4. Tell me about yourself.
  5. Picture this scenario.
  6. Why aren't you working at the place where you did your summer internship?
  7. You don't seem to have enough experience / You have too much experience...
  8. As a career changer, I'm not sure you have the experience to keep up?
  9. We've interviewed a dozen other promising MBAs. Why should we hire you?

Different questions vary for each person. It can be paralyzing and it can cloud your mind waiting for that question. So how do you approach answering such questions?
Here are 5 steps to reduce your fear or panic during interviews:

  • Identify any question that you are worried about.
  • Acknowledge that you're not the only person worried about this question.
  • Be a Team Member who can identify problems, fix them and move on.
  • Be clear and simple in demonstrating your abilities.
  • Layout your answer in 4 parts.

  • Remember to always focus on the positive so you can solve problems and bring results.

    In providing answers to tough questions, here’s a four-step structure that can be used as a guideline:
    1. Give a background.
    2. Identify the problem.
    3. Layout how you came up with the solution.
    4. Show how this would benefit the company.

    The 4-part structure in detail:

    1. Background - Here's what I am and what's going on. Try to paint the overall picture so people can understand where you’re coming from. You can use a couple of sentences that creates a baseline without getting into any problems.

    2. Problem - Identify the problem as it arose out of that situation. Keep the problem simple and straightforward even if it's messy.

    3. Action - Talk about actions that lead to the resolution of the problem. These actions are specific steps that you've taken. It can be a story on how you solved the problem or things that you do in a daily basis or way of thinking that helps you overcome this problem.

    4. Results – Provide how this resolution that you created can be a benefit to your potential employer. If you know how to solve certain kinds of problems, that could be something that's useful.

    Examples of answers using the 4-part structure:

    Example #1: “What is your biggest weakness?”
    1. Background
      I'm someone who keeps a busy schedule and enjoys getting a lot done.

    2. Problem
      But I found at times I have a hard time taking a step back and getting perspective.

    3. Action
      To work on this - over the last two years, I invested heavily in strategy courses that developed my capability to see the bigger picture and took on leadership roles where I led the direction instead of just producing results.

    4. Results
      When I feel myself biting at the bit to get started, I have learned to take a step back before diving in, to ask those important questions that prevent time being wasted pursuing the wrong goals.
    When you use this structure for your answer, you are acknowledging there is a weakness and you show how you proactively solve the problems including this weakness.

    Example #2: A career changer - "I don't see how your four years in non-profit fundraising will be of benefit to our M&A Banking Team. You'll have a lot of catching-up to do."
    1. Background
      In my pre-business school experience, I worked with some of our largest donors, taking the lead in building those relationships when my boss was unavailable, understanding their specific needs and solving their problems. These donors include similar CEO's of the companies that we would target with our M&A proposals. I also worked with developing a number of smaller clients, got comfortable "Making the ask", being told no, and turning a no into a "not for the moment but let's reconnect soon."

    2. Problem
      I do acknowledge that my technical spreadsheet skills through that position were not of the same caliber as someone who participated in a banking analyst program, nor my depth of finance.

    3. Action
      That's why over the past two years, I've taken the most rigorous set of finance courses available, participated in the MBA M&A challenge, and taken on "Training the Street" to build up my spreadsheet skills.

    4. Results
      In my classes, when it comes to racing around an Excel spreadsheet with quick keys, some of my classmates have me beat in terms of speed, but in terms of tackling finance concepts, solving cases and working through problems, I can definitely keep up. More importantly, because of this fundraising background, I know how to talk to the caliber of people who are your clients and prospects, feel comfortable taking direction from them and resolving their problems, and can be someone who will feel comfortable making the ask and closing the deal.
    Whatever negative situation you face or answer you are afraid of, remember:

    L - Lay out your answer ahead of time.

    A - Acknowledge clearly and simply. Don't ignore a negative.

    F - Focus on the positives and how you solve problems and bring results.

    P - Practice your answer beforehand.

    Practicing will help you polish your answer and feel more confident during the interview.

    Expert BIO

    Alan Carniol is the creator of the Interview Success Formula. Through his websites, workshops and one-on-one counseling, he has trained over thirty thousand job seekers to craft persuasive interview answers, find their confidence, and win the jobs they desire and deserve. He has an MBA from the Yale School of Management.