“Tell me about a difficult person you had to work with.” Most Common Interview Questions, #6

Interview questions about “a difficult person” are job search land mines. Watch your step!

This post is an excerpt from Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, available from Amazon as a softcover or eBook.

How should you answer this tricky interview question?

Sometimes the question is phrased a little differently: “Tell me about a time you had to work with someone you didn’t like, or who didn’t like you.”

However the question is asked, don’t project an image of yourself as someone who dislikes or is disliked by others. Reframe it as a situation where it was a challenge to work effectively with someone.

This question requires you to say something negative about a co-worker, which is generally a no-no in interviews. So be tactful by not giving any information that could identify who this person is.

Take an emotionally neutral tone. Resist the urge to kvetch, even if the interviewer encourages it by offering you sympathy.

Avoid characterizing the co-worker in judgmental terms like “Nothing was ever right as far as he was concerned” or “She wasn’t a team player.” Instead, describe the specific behavior objectively: “He would often make negative comments about team members” or “We needed her to provide a report every Monday, but it usually wasn’t done until mid-week.”

Be very brief about the difficult behavior, focusing primarily on what you did to make the best of the situation and how well it turned out. Treat this as a success story, emphasizing the positive results.

If you weren’t able to get any positive results, tell a different story! Remember, this question is not about the other person, it’s about you and your ability to collaborate with or manage others, to manage your own emotions and behavior, to resolve conflicts, and to use discretion and fairness in discussing a difficult situation.

Looking for more tips on handling tricky interview questions?

To read the other posts in this series, visit my helpful job search blog.

For a more complete interview guide, read Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview.

And good luck with your interviews!



What are your salary expectations? Most Common Interview Questions, #5

How do you answer the interview question, “What are your salary expectations?” This post is the fifth in a series of excerpts from my upcoming eBook, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, available from Amazon.

“What are your salary expectations?”

Answering this question too specifically can lose you a lot of money, or an opportunity. Naming a figure that’s too low can result in a lower offer, or even loss of the opportunity if your answer creates doubt about your value. A figure that’s too high can immediately disqualify you.

This is one of the few questions where formulaic, memorized verbiage may be the best approach.

First, as soon as you apply for a job make sure you understand the range of typical salaries for the position and geographic area, because this may be one of the first questions you will be asked in a phone screen, which could happen at any time.

You can research salaries via websites like Salary, Payscale, Glassdoor, Indeed, CareerOneStop, JobSearchIntelligence, a simple Google search, and sometimes via word of mouth. Use more than one source, since a broader range may give you more negotiating flexibility.

When the question is asked, respond with “Can you tell me what range you have budgeted for the position?”

If they tell you a range, say something like, “That seems like a reasonable ballpark. I’m sure once we agree I’m the right person for the job, we’ll be able to agree on a salary that’s fair.”

If they won’t state their range and put the question back onto you, say something like, “I’ve done some research and I’m seeing salaries anywhere from X to Y. I’m sure once we agree I’m the right person for the job we’ll be able to agree on a salary that’s fair.”

More Help with Common Interview Questions

Earlier posts in this series explored the common interview questions “What are your weaknesses?”, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, “Why did you leave your job?” and “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on the job?” For more posts like these you can subscribe to my helpful job search blog.

For tips on dozens of common interview questions (and some not-so-common ones) and much more, check out my book on Amazon.

Job Interviews: What to Say at the End?

Job Interviews: What Do You Say at the End?How do you “wrap it all up and tie it with a bow” at the end of an interview?

We all tend to remember what we hear first and what we hear last. In the past I’ve written about that crucial first question, but now let’s look at how a good closing statement can help ensure you’re remembered – and for the right reasons!

As the interview draws to a close, you need to accomplish two crucial objectives:

You also need to find out about the next steps in the employer’s process, so that you can follow up effectively.

Express excitement!

A pet peeve of interviewers is a candidate’s failure to indicate whether they’re still interested at the end of the interview. You might think they would assume you want the job, but they won’t. You need to say so! For all they know, something may have turned you off.

Tell ’em what you told ’em.

It’s like writing an essay: you summarize your key points at the beginning, then refer to them again in a memorable closing statement. That way your most important messages are clear and easy to remember.

Maybe you’re the General Manager candidate who has more impressive change management experience than most, or you’re the Account Manager candidate who’s got a superb track record with mobile solutions. Know what your “best stuff” is, and make sure you re-emphasize it at the end.

Of course, your key selling points may have shifted during the interview. For example, maybe you just discovered that the job involves mentoring others, which happens to be a great strength of yours. Add that to the closing remarks you had planned.

Next steps…

It’s very useful to know what the next step is, and when it will take place. If there will be another round of interviews, you want to know when that will be, and when they plan to make an offer. So ask!

When should you move into your closing remarks?

Since most interviewers ask for questions near the end, a good time for your closing statement may be immediately after that discussion. So when you’ve asked your last question about the company, or the interviewer indicates that he or she needs to wrap up, you say something like this:

“Well, I really appreciate this chance to talk, and it’s been very exciting for me to hear about (key points they told you about the company and position). This job sounds perfect for me because (reiterate a few of your strongest selling points). I’d really like to work with you and your team.

“May I ask, what’s the next step in the process? … Okay, great. And do you have a sense of when those next interviews will be happening? … And when do you think you’ll be making an offer? … Good! I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks again!”

Closing the sale: a stronger option.

If you think it is possible that the employer is ready to decide – and particularly if you’re applying for a position in sales, as an executive, or some other position where a stronger pitch may be expected – you might add something like “Is there anything preventing you from offering me the job right now?”

When you get home, do you sit back and wait?

Generally not, if you want to be remembered and seen as a proactive, assertive person who really wants the job. Be watching for a post on how to follow up memorably! Hint: It’s more than just a thank-you note.

Job Interviews: Don’t Just Tell – Sell!

Job Interviews: Don't Just Tell - Sell!Many job seekers miss the boat in job interviews, because they forget that the purpose of answering every question is to market themselves for the job.

You never forget that, right?

You’d be amazed how many questions you may answering is a less-than-strategic way. Most job seekers, at least occasionally, answer interview questions as if they were filling in a form: providing information by rote.

Let’s look at an example.


“What are the three most important skills for a human resources generalist role like this one?”


“Organization, communication and interpersonal skills like empathy and diplomacy are absolutely critical.”

Okay, that answer shows you have some understanding of the role you’re interviewing for. But do you have those skills? That’s the part where you sell yourself!

Better Answer:

“Organization is really important. I couldn’t have handled my role at BCD Co. as well as I did – as you saw in my LinkedIn recommendations – if I hadn’t been very methodical and organized. For example, I developed a system to track resolution of issues with our new EFG procedures. My manager often said things like ‘I love it that you’re so systematic.’

“Then there’s interpersonal skills like empathy and diplomacy, which may be even more important. For example, we had a conflict between two employees who …”

Is this too long? It may look long on paper, but if you take an organized approach to your answer – including relevant key points without rambling – it would probably take about one minute. A concise but complete answer can take some preparation, but this is a common question so you would be likely to have it on your interview questions list.

Let’s look at another example.


“What do you know about our company?”

Of course if you’ve looked at the company’s website you can clearly explain the company’s products, market niche, and so on.

But how can you go beyond just answering the question to really sell yourself with your answer? Here are some examples that might work, depending on your situation.

  • Dig deeper. Read news articles. Talk to people. (If you’re really savvy and interested, you may have put this company on your target companies list and you’ve been following them for quite a while. Say so, and demonstrate your knowledge.)
  • Offer ideas for new approaches, solutions or products. Be humble, but show that you’re already thinking about how you can add value.
  • Tell what attracts you about the company. Don’t wait for them to ask “Why do you want to work with us?” Bring your enthusiasm for their company into the whole interview.
  • Point out how your skills or interests relate to the company, e.g., they sell outdoor equipment and you’re an avid backpacker.

Using every question and answer to sell yourself for the job will really light up your interview. Instead of an interrogation, it becomes an engaging and persuasive conversation that’s much more likely to lead to a job!

The Yin and Yang of the Job Interview

The Yin & Yang of a Great InterviewInterview authentically and strategically. These are the “yin and yang” of good interviewing.

Actually, these aren’t truly opposites. The real opposite of strategy is randomness, or carelessness, which sometimes comes wrapped in the flag of “just being real.”

Many job candidates fail to be strategic. They interview in an honest and straightforward way, but without really communicating a unique selling proposition. They haven’t thought through what their key messages are, or how to convey them convincingly. That can take a lot of preparation.

Let’s say one of your key messages is that you have exceptional communication skills. Just saying “I have great communication skills” is unconvincing. Instead, demonstrate those skills by planning key talking points and stories that provide evidence. For example, you could talk about:

  • The time when you diplomatically sorted out a misunderstanding and kept a client from leaving.
  • The fact that you were sought out to provide coaching or training to new hires – especially if you were the only member of the team tapped for that.
  • The documentation you wrote that reduced service calls 50%.

Others don’t come across as being authentic. They give “right” answers that reflect what they believe the interviewer wants to hear, but sound over-rehearsed and make the interviewer wonder what they’re hiding. Often these messages are memorized, verbatim.

The best interview communication is savvy yet real.

Think through your statements carefully, but don’t memorize them. Write them out in advance, but not word-for-word, instead writing keyword outlines to practice from, so that you have to put the ideas into your own words.

It isn’t always easy to be authentic without inserting foot into mouth. But with careful preparation it can be done.

Let the interviewer see the best of who you really are.

Interview Questions: Remember to Read Between the Lines!

interview questionsInterviewers know better than to directly ask “Are you easy to manage?” or “Do you get along well with others?”

Instead, they’ll say something like this:

“How would you describe your ideal supervisor?”

Then they’ll read between the lines.

So beat them to it: read between the lines of what they say, and make sure you address that subtext, as well as the question on the surface.

Ask yourself two questions about each question:

  • What is she trying to find out by asking that?
  • How can I sell myself with my answer while still being authentically “me”?

With the “ideal supervisor” question, for example, the interviewer is not trying to find out how the company can choose the right supervisor for you. They’re probably not looking for input on how the existing supervisor can best work with you, either. They want to “read” your answer for insights on how you work with a boss.

Most candidates, if they don’t think much about it, will say something like this:

“My ideal supervisor would be someone who is very fair, always available for questions, and gives clear guidance but doesn’t micromanage.”

This answer is clear and true – both important qualities – but it doesn’t address what the interviewer is really interested in, and it does nothing to sell you. In fact, it may make you sound hard to please. A better answer would show that you perform well with various types of supervisors, ideal or not.

Here’s another common question:

“Tell me about a time you had to  work with a difficult person.”

What are they trying to find out? They want to know about your willingness and ability to deal with difficult behaviors and achieve great results nonetheless. They want to know specifically how you have done this. They also may be testing you to see whether you are fair and discreet in what you say about others.

How are you going to remember, right there in the interview, to identify what the interviewer is looking for? By preparing and practicing. Look up lists of common interview questions in advance, analyze them and practice your answers.

Even if the interviewer asks totally different questions than you prepared for – as they will – you’ll “wing it” more effectively because you will have internalized the skill and the habit of approaching interview questions strategically.

How to Identify Your Accomplishments

Employers are keenly interested in a candidate’s accomplishments – success stories from their past and current experience – but it can be hard for job seekers to identify and recall them.

My best accomplishments on my previous job? I’m not sure I can remember!

In my recent article, Accomplishments: Resume Rocket Fuel!, I discussed what accomplishments are and why they’re important.

Now let’s look at how to pull your accomplishments together.

  1. Look through your old written Evaluations, Letters of Recommendation, or recommendations on your profile. There are usually accomplishments there. Which are most impressive and relevant to your career goals?
  2. Ask past or present co-workers or supervisors what they see as your best accomplishments.
  3. Find lists of Behavioral Interview Questions.  Answer those questions for yourself and make notes of your answers.

It is extremely useful to keep a list of your accomplishments, giving each one a name to help you remember it, i.e., “Client Satisfaction: 98%.” For each one, jot down a few notes to help you remember key talking points. Use the SOAR approach: Situation + Obstacle + Actions + Results = SOAR. Read my article Job Search Storytelling that SOARS for more details.

Accomplishments will add tremendous power to your resume, interviewing, and even networking conversations. They can be the most powerful tools in your job search.

Accomplishments: Resume Rocket Fuel!

resume, interviewDescribing your job duties is not what a resume is really about. Once the employer sees your job title, they already have a pretty good idea what you did from day to day – or they could google up a job description!

The same goes for interviews. By that point they know what your jobs have been about.

What they don’t know is: How well did you do it? How did you do it better than someone else would? And what difference did it make for your organization?

The answers to those decisive questions are your accomplishments, the “success stories” or “wins” that propel your job search communications.


Let’s say you’re a Sales and Marketing Executive, and one of your responsibilities was to sell services to large corporations. Your accomplishments might include:

  • Grew the business by 20% in 2011. (Or express this in $$ if the amount is likely to impress your target employers.)
  • Ensured a high level of client satisfaction resulting in 98% renewal rate.

Each of these bullet items is an extremely concise summary of a success story, boiled down to one sentence for a resume. In an interview, you could tell it more fully. (More about that in a later post!)

It doesn’t matter whether the accomplishments are in big bucks or small problems solved – the principles are the same.

Let’s look at the elements that make an accomplishment different from a job duty.

Anatomy of an Accomplishment

Let’s look at the elements of an accomplishment statement like those bulleted above.

  1. Solutions and Impact: Tell what you improved – e.g., you streamlined a complicated procedure, invented a new system, etc. – and what the positive impact was.
  1. Specifics: It’s not enough to state that an effort was “successful.” In what ways was it successful?
  1. Evidence: “Prove” how well you did the work by describing positive responses from customers – e.g., your work “saved” a major client who was on the verge of walking away. Or mention some recognition you received, such as a promotion, an award or strong praise in your annual review (perhaps with a brief quote).
  1. Quantities: Specify or estimate the revenue generated or costs reduced, time saved, percentage of improvements, ratings, etc. Some occupations, such as management and sales, lend themselves to this. Others, such as accounting or nursing, are harder to quantify. Look for processes you streamlined (by 20%? 80%?), or an exceptionally large volume of work you completed (how large? how quickly?).

Obviously, you want to express your successes without making your past employers look bad – especially if you’re writing for your LinkedIn profile or a resume you’ll be posting online.

Now the trick is: How can you identify these accomplishments from all the details you remember – or don’t! – from your past work? Read my post, How to Identify Your Accomplishments.