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How to Answer Hard Questions from Job Candidates

Job interviews can be tough on job candidates—anyone who has ever looked for a job can tell you that. But it’s important to also acknowledge that job interviews can also be rough on the hiring manager or the person conducting the job interview, too, especially in today’s highly competitive labor market. If you want to land the best candidate for an important position, it’s critical that you’re ready to answer some tough questions, not just ask them.

That can be tricky, especially if your business has a few obvious weaknesses. Maybe your company is experiencing legal trouble. Maybe your sales are down, or you’re struggling with employee turnover. If a job candidate asks point-blank about these issues, what do you say? Avoiding the question altogether could tell them all they need to know.

With a little preparation, anyone can handle tough questions confidently. No matter what questions are posed to you by your job candidate, these five tips can help you seem more competent and in control.

  1. Make sure you understand the question.

People are not always exact or clear about their language, and it’s easy to assume what you think they’re asking. The first thing to do is clarify the question. You don’t want to dance around an answer and then have the person say, ‘No, that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking something different or simpler.’ Make sure you’re getting the question right first. This also buys you a little time to formulate a great answer. Make sure not to repeat any negative language used in the original question.

  1. Take your time responding.

If you’re asked a difficult question, give yourself a few minutes to determine how you want to respond. Take some thinking time. You’ll notice that when a political candidate doesn’t answer the question, they’ll repeat or rephrase the question as a lead in. If they do it well, the stall gives an opportunity to think of ways to reposition the information.

  1. Just answer part of the question.

If there’s no flattering way to answer the entire question, find a part that you can address. You can say, ‘I appreciate that this is of interest, right now. Let’s focus on this part.’ Briefly answering part of the question may be enough to assuage and satisfy them.

  1. Postpone your answer.

Another technique is to say you don’t have sufficient information to responsibly or intelligently provide an answer. Buy yourself some time by saying, “That is an important question and I want to make sure I give you the best and most complete answer I can. I will need to get back to you in (time frame). By the time you circle back to the questioner, you can pick and choose the aspects of their question that you want to address.

  1. Return the focus to the interviewee.

The difference between giving a good answer and a better answer could simply be your use of pronouns. Focus on other people! You can say, ‘It’s interesting that you think that,’ for example. ‘Why is this question of interest to you?’ Changing ‘I’ to ‘you’ can take the focus off of you and your company’s weaknesses.

If you’re looking for the top candidates available for an open position, KRESS can help. We’re a highly experienced and trusted pre-employment screening services company that helps large and small businesses narrow down a stack of résumés into the very best candidates for the job. Do you have a question about the hiring process that only an expert can answer? Please contact us right away!


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