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Performing Well in Interviews

Performing Well in Interviews

An interview (whether it is for an internal job or promotion or for a new job in a new organization) is typically a highly directed and often formal conversation between two people (or in some cases an interviewee and a panel of interviewers asking one question at a time). The key word in this sentence is “conversation”. In other words, for the interview to work well, information should flow back and forth to reveal a picture about whether or not there is a good person and job fit. Interviews should not therefore be seen as interrogations and a candidate does not consequently have to be a relatively passive respondent to the interviewer’s questions. Instead, a candidate should aim to answer all questions fully and in a rounded way to demonstrate capability (even when the questions are not that well put in the first place).

So, performing well at interview can often mean giving adept answers to questions but given this what are the most popular questions that many employers like to ask, so that candidates can be better prepared for them? Here are just ten that are often popular with interviewers:

(1) You may be under-qualified for the position we have to offer (what do you think?)

If you have made it to interview, the chances are that you meet most if not all of the minimum criteria to perform in the role that is on offer. This question is therefore more aimed at testing the confidence of a candidate to take on the role and grab it fully.

(2) Don’t you think you may be over-qualified for the position we have to offer?

This question is usually asking if a person may become bored in a role that appears to be smaller than a previous one performed by the candidate, or one from which the candidate may move on quickly once selected.  The goal here is therefore for the candidate to demonstrate that he or she is interested in a long-term association, and that the organization is likely to get a better/faster return on investment because of the long experience.

(3) What is your management/leadership style?

This question aims to tease out your approach to people-is firm or soft, directive or participative, closed or open door-based, theory X or theory Y based, etc.? If you don’t really know or haven’t given this much thought, you may want to think about it and evolve a good response that you can explain. 

(4) Why do you see yourself as a good/effective leader? (give examples)

This question asks you to explain specifically why you lead people well. An effective answer should therefore focus on good outcomes achieved with people in the past and on a range of leadership competencies that a candidate has developed and honed over the years (planning, organizing, managing time, teambuilding, communicating etc.).

(5) What do you see as the most difficult part of being a leader or manager?

This question recognizes that management is not always “plain sailing” and looks for candidate realism about what challenges him/her the most when trying to cope on a day-to-day basis. Common response areas here are things like fitting everything in, given limited time, keeping the team constantly focused and on track and dealing with conflicting priorities from time to time. 

(6) What do you look for when you recruit people to your team?

This question reverses the interview process and asks the candidate to focus on what he or she most looks for when hiring people to his or her own team (either internally or externally). Apart from good job fit, the best answers here are usually in the area of initiative, adaptability, flexibility, self-motivation, persistence etc. (as most employers rank these factors highly in almost all job candidates).

(7) Have you ever disciplined or even fired anyone? If so, what were the reasons and how did you handle it?

This question is clearly aimed at how a candidate handles under-performance. The best answers here are therefore about setting clear standards and expectations at the outset, addressing problems and performance deterioration at the earliest possible stages and then being able to confront continued under-performance with a firm but fair hand, as necessary.

(8) What would past subordinates (or colleagues) say about you?

This question looks for both candidate realism and the insight to know what others may say about him or her. The best answers here are honest and straightforward and may include both positive things (hard working, creative, open etc.) and less positive things (hard-headed, driven, doesn’t suffer fools gladly etc.)

(9) What is your biggest strength as a leader?

This is clearly a simple question looking for good self-awareness and some insight that may not have been gleaned from other questions during the interview. Once again, honest appraisal is the best approach here although it should also be an admirable quality in a leader, of course.

(10) What is your greatest weakness/development need as a leader?

Many candidates know this question may be asked but often struggle to answer it or simply say an unhelpful “none that I can think of right now”. This gives the impression of low self-awareness and even arrogance, so it is better to offer an answer such as “I’m stickler for detail” or “I give people a little too much latitude at times”. These are often called “forgivable weaknesses” and avoid the trap of saying something that may lead to uncomfortable follow-up interview questions.

As popular as they are, an interviewer may ask none of the above questions and many more of their own that are similar or possibly quite different to these examples. However, the point is that candidates should expect to answer these types of questions and should consequently do as much preparation and planning on the kinds of answers that will be most beneficial as they can.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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  1. Bill BurnettJune 1, 2013 at 3:07 am

    Being able to handle such question is important, but only so far as you don’t screw things up. Answering them expertly will not win you the offer. Why? Here the research is crystal clear. It’s because the hiring manager is going to hire the person he or she likes the most. You have to become that person and the little book The Peak Interview tells you how.

    • Dr. Jon WarnerJune 3, 2013 at 3:37 pmAuthor

      Sadly Bill, I think this happens more than it should. However, this does not mean that an individual should not also be well prepared-poor preparation may well los a candidate a job at first interview and well before they even get to meet a hiring manager.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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