Sometimes, the difficult questions to manage in an interview are not questions at all. Here are three common interview scenarios that a candidate may be asked to resolve.
1. Tell me how you resolved an incident where you were asked to do the impossible.
This exercise has a number of possible directions to examine. First, the statement presumes the candidate has met with impossible tasks, and in so doing, has had to come to some kind of resolution. If you are willing to take the bait, it would be good to relate some kind of situation which seemed impossible for others, but was resolved through personal efforts. In my own experience, the “impossible” merely needs to be redefined to become an attainable goal. For example, in one consulting situation, the supervisor asked me to gather information on an issue they had been unable to resolve or even identify. The task seemed clear enough, as the person wanted me to find out the procedural differences between two different business units, in order to pinpoint why one unit seemed to be producing more lucrative results than the other. As I probed into the situation for a number of days, I discovered there seemed to be no clear difference in the way each unit handled the work, yet both had the impression that the other unit’s procedures were different. After focusing my effort on trying to find out what specific procedure variations these supervisors were referring to, I found out they were not referring to work procedures at all.
Though both units processed the same kind of work in the same general way, the policies associated with each unit were the significant difference between them. They had significantly different commission structures and incentives for success, and it was primarily the differences in policies that distinguished them. Thus, the impossible task of finding procedural differences between two business units that process work in the same way, was altered to reveal the real policy differences that contributed to creating significantly different results.
2. Tell me how you resolved a conflict you encountered on a job.
This is another non-question that is worded in a way to prompt the candidate to air some dirty laundry. There are two ways one could approach such a challenge. The candidate can defer the exercise by saying that there is nothing significant by way of conflicts that comes to mind, and ask the interviewer to present a specific hypothetical scenario to resolve. By forcing the interviewer to address their own scenario, the candidate does not admit to past “problems,” while at the same time, it is possible to resolve the hypothetical issue in the comfort of an imaginary environment. To further press the issue, the candidate can put the interviewer on the defensive by asking if such issues can be expected in the job.
A second approach is to relate an instance of conflict which was initiated by someone else, but resolved in a positive fashion by the candidate. The idea here is to give the interviewer a good look at the problem solving skills which have been mastered. Do not select a scenario where you needed to ask someone else for assistance. Choose a challenge that you personally resolved to the benefit of everyone involved. If you have an instance ready, it will provide a good showcase for your leadership skills. If the interviewer refuses to provide a scenario, or you cannot think of a situation where your efforts produced a positive outcome, this kind is question is a prime candidate for developing amnesia. You can move the conversation forward by politely requesting time to think about the situation, and let the interviewer come back to it later on if they want.
3. The interviewer asks you about experience you do not have in an obtainable skill set.
When an interview takes you into uncharted territory, chances are good that other candidates will not have one or more skills requested by the potential employer. A candidate is chosen for an interview because of the skills they appear to possess, and in some cases, all the requirements will not be met. If an interviewer asks about a particular method, software title, or experience that is not in your background, the last thing to do is show signs of panic. A good approach is to comfortably admit you have not yet gained experience with that skill, but have no problem with picking it up along the way. If possible, try to present some alternative to the skill or software requirement, and demonstrate your ability to successfully acquire the necessary proficiency in stride.
Whether the company is willing to train, or you will be expected to pick up the skill on your own, the worst that happen is the company will not retain your services after they hire you for the job. No matter what the unknown task, someone else has either failed or succeeded in learning the task, so there is no reason to act as if it would be impossible for you to gain the same level of proficiency. You do not need to make up a lie to get the job; just showcase what you already can do. With this kind of challenge, confidence in yourself is almost as good as demonstrated ability. You would not have been called for an interview if the company did not see enough in your existing talents and experience to consider you for the job. Subdue your weaknesses and promote your strengths. Choose which questions to hit hard, which ones to defer, and which ones to move away from. If you do not get the job, there will be another one down the road. Try to find something more difficult than the missing experience that you have already tackled successfully.