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My college career center has provided me a sheet with the most common interview questions. So far (in past interviews) I have never been asked a question that was not on the sheet. I have an interview this Friday for a technician job and I want to be prepared for any curveball questions.

What are the important points I should consider when formulating an answer to the following questions:

  • Tell about a time you have been in conflict with a coworker.

  • Tell about a time you disagreed with your supervisor.

  • What was the biggest failure in your last job position?

  • What are you looking for in your next job?

  • 6
    these are all easy if you are truthful! – Jarrod Roberson Aug 4 '12 at 14:57
  • 12
    Why are these "curveball" questions? These are very relevant to almost every job description. – Kent A. Oct 28 '15 at 2:46
45
+50

These are "behavioral" interview questions and they are best answered with something that is known as the "STAR" technique.

  • Situation: The interviewer wants you to present a recent challenge and situation in which you found yourself.
  • Task: What did you have to achieve? The interviewer will be looking to see what you were trying to achieve from the situation.
  • Action: What did you do? The interviewer will be looking for information on what you did, why you did it and what were the alternatives.
  • Results: What was the outcome of your actions? What did you achieve through your actions and did you meet your objectives. What did you learn from this experience and have you used this learning since?

The point of these questions is to gauge whether or not you will be someone that can get along with others. What the interviewer is looking for are authentic answers that illustrate you are a reasonable and diligent person with integrity. The theory behind behavioral interviews is that your past behavior is an indicator of what you will do in the new position. That's why they want real and specific instances from past experiences.

The hard part (and it really is HARD) is being able to recall past experiences that answer the question. There is no short-cut for that. The good news is that you can prepare by looking at a bunch of behavior interview example questions. There aren't an infinite number of possibilities. Just reflect on past jobs and how problems/conflicts were resolved.

  • 1
    +1 We use similar questions, and they tend to produce amongstthe most informative and useful answers – GuyM Dec 4 '12 at 8:41
  • There is, in fact, a matching technique recommended for interviewees, known as SODAR/SAR in the version I've seen, in which you reply to almost any question with an interesting/memorable brief story about a situation you needed to address, how you tackled it, the results achieved and lessons learned, and how that applies to the uestion and the position you're interviewing for. That requires a lot of prep work, but can produce a very impressive interview. – keshlam Oct 28 '15 at 3:56
  • I have to say, unfortunately, sometimes this process is used to gauge whether and how much you can be taken advantage of. – SaltySub2 Sep 11 '18 at 13:54
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I wouldn't call these "curveball" questions. There's a decent chance you won't get asked all of these (or even any) at a particular interview. The reason your career center has provided you with this list isn't so you can pre-write your answers and spit them back out in a real interview; you need to think about these topics beforehand and be able to engage in meaningful discussion about them.

Conflict with a coworker: The interviewer asking about this is trying to understand how you work in a team environment. Are you open to other people's ideas? Are you willing to tell someone else when they are wrong? If so, can you do so in a constructive way?

Disagree with supervisor: Can you follow instructions? Do you blindly follow instructions, or do you question things that don't make sense? How do you resolve differences between what you think is best and what you are told to do?

Biggest failure: The interviewer wants to see that you are capable of learning from your mistakes, and that you can handle problems in a mature manner.

What are you looking for?: Career goals. Are you satisfied to stay in an entry-level position forever? Do you want to move up the ladder? Do you want to move onto a different field? The interviewer is trying to gauge your motivation for the job - not just the individual tasks at hand but your role within the company. Will you be a useful contributor, or lackluster? Are you interested in a career, or will you stick with the company for a few months and then move on?

These are pretty standard (non-curveball) questions that you should always be prepared to discuss in an interview. While they may seem tough, that's just because they require some honest reflection and self-evaluation, which can be difficult.

  • 1
    +! for "Biggest Failure" being about what you learned. I ALWAYS ask this question during interviews and I've gotten answers across the board, but I'm most impressed when candidates are honest about something that didn't go well and they can tell me what they'd do differently now, knowing what they learned. I've gotten a few people who don't have an answer, and if you can't tell me about a time when your judgement wasn't perfect, you're either not paying attention or you're lying, and either pretty much ends the interview in my mind. – SqlRyan Nov 26 '12 at 21:32
  • 2
    The problem with the "Biggest Failure" question in entry-level and/or second job (possibly even third) is that it's quite likely you've never made a mistake or failure. Either you haven't been assigned to important tasks yet, or you have good instructions. In some cultures, mistakes are even so severely punished that people are unwilling to do risky tasks or do it extremely carefully not to make a mistake. – Juha Untinen Oct 15 '14 at 9:44
4

These are all questions that focus on whether you will be a fit with the company's culture. In some cases, you may not have an answer that meets their expectations. For example, I'm a person who needs to understand "why" alot - so my answer to disagreeing with folks is always to find their point of view, and then work towards a shared solution. Another role might require me to respond more to authority or to fight for my own point of view in a more competitive way --- that's not a good fit for me or the job. But it was the perfect answer for the job I now hold. So there's no universal here.

Also realize that your confidence, professionalism and motivation are as likely to be judged as the answers. Stay unbiased when presenting issues of conflict - avoid name calling, or other derogatory expressions. For all you know, your interviewer could be empathsizing with the other guy in the situation. Be confident in your answers, but open to hearing feedback if it's given.

All of these are cultural questions - they are trying to get a picture of you and how you work. Don't get hung up on a right answer - if you do anything to prep, it's to think about the situations you might talk about, why you did what you did in each, and whether you can think of anything to do better. You don't have to do the right thing everytime - and showing you can learn from mistakes is a big win.

2

You seem to be on the right track with your assertions on how to answer the questions. Obviously, always answer honestly.

  1. Present a conflict between yourselves but make sure it is not a story that shows undesirable traits in yourself or your coworker. You do not want to be seen as uncooperative and stubborn. The story should highlight some critical thinking or a solution that was 'outside of the box' to demonstrate your adaptability in the face of conflict.
  2. Pretty much the same as 1, although I would lean towards an experience that demonstrates a difference in philosophy on tackling a problem rather than an example consisting of "i didn't want to do that work, so we argued about it"
  3. Exactly correct. Describe how a project went awry and the measures taken to ensure the same failure did not happen again. Highlight the positive consequences of the events.
  4. Be honest with this question. If you are looking for a long term, stable atmosphere to foster your skill set, say that. If you are looking for something different, say that as well. Honesty is the best answer.
1

These kinds of questions can be tricky.

On the one hand, if you say that you have never had any conflict with your co-workers and never disagreed with anything your boss said, you are almost certainly lying, and the interviewer will know that.

On the other hand, if you say that your co-workers are all a bunch of jerks, that indicates you're not a team player. If you say that whenever you disagree with your boss you go behind his back and do it your way, or you have screaming arguments with him at staff meetings, that's not so good either.

The trick is to make yourself sound like a reasonable person. If you can think of a time when you had a conflict with a co-worker and managed to resolve it in some productive way, you certainly want to tell that story. I don't recall ever being asked about disagreeing with my boss, but if I ever am, I'd talk about times when I explained my objections. Sometimes I convinced him and, great, everybody's happy. When I didn't convince him, I said okay and did my best to make his plan work, not sabotaging the company just so I could say, "See, I told you it was bad plan".

You don't want to give the impression that you will do dumb things just to avoid conflict. But at the same time, you don't want to give the impression that you cannot work as part of a team, that you are an obnoxious jerk who has to get his own way all the time or he has a temper tantrum.

As always on an interview, don't lie, don't make things up, but certainly present things in a light favorable to yourself. If the glass is half full, don't lie and say it's full and overflowing, but you don't have to dwell on the half empty part.

-4

When you have to answer psycho questions like that, it is not good. Ideally you want to get to the point in your expertise level where BS like that is not a factor. Unfortunately, when you are just out of school, there is not a lot to differentiate you from a million other similar people, so companies start making decisions based on nonsense trick questions like these, so let's take them one at a time:

Tell about a time you have been in conflict with a coworker.

I have had good relations with my coworkers. (Surely you have had some conflict? No, I haven't yet, thank goodness.)

There is no reason at all to even answer this dumb question in any way other than what I written above, especially when you are young and have little job experience.

Tell about a time you disagreed with your supervisor.

I have only had one/two supervisors so far, and have not had occasion to disagree with them. In general, both were very reasonable people and the job I was doing was very straightforward, so I did not have any problems.

Basically the same as the previous question.

What was the biggest failure in your last job position?

There were no failures. We were writing software to add printing to the report generator [or whatever] and finished on time, a little early actually. The boss was very happy with it.

Once again, no reason to even go there.

What are you looking for in your next job?

I am hoping to work with a good team to write software modules that will help the company be successful with their new products.

Just tie your personal goals to the company goals so they match. Your goal is help the company meet their goals.


I would like to give you some general advice about how to deal with the mind game type questions you are asking about, the type that fits into the pattern of "Tell me why you suck". As I have written above, you basically deny it in all instances. "I do not suck." I have given examples of how to express this in a polite way above.

Let's consider what is behind such questions in greater depth. When high level CIA or KGB agents are being trained, they are taught how to resist interrogation by the enemy, should they be captured. This training is very complex and arduous, but the first thing they are taught, the cardinal rule in all instances is: never confess. The HR rep or whoever is asking questions like those above is essentially acting like a penny ante interrogator; they are soliciting a confession from you. Dealing with such interrogation is simple: never ever confess. It's a simple rule, obey it always.


Just to make this crystal clear for you... Let's imagine you have some nuanced 30-minute conversation about how you handled a conflict with a coworker. Do you really think the HR rep is going to write "Candidate seems to be masterful and diplomatic at dealing with difficult coworkers." No, of course not; the rep is going to write, "Candidate told me he got into a fight with a coworker at his last job." You just got voted off the island. All the delicate subtleties you are describing to the HR rep will get distilled down to one basic fact: you had a fight. When an HR rep has 10 candidates that all have identical credentials for 1 position, what do you think they are going to do? Look for reasons to eliminate people.

  • If I were interviewing someone that claimed they never disagreed with their boss, never had a conflict with a coworker, and never failed in any capacity? Yeah, they're a weasel. Interviewers aren't looking to "crack" you or make you "confess" with these types of questions. They're trying to see whether you've got the self-reflection to be able to identify ways of improving themselves. – Kevin Jun 4 at 17:37
  • @Kevin The OP is a senior in college, not some grizzled veteran of the web wars. What do you think the HR schmoe is going to do? Write an assessment that says "I think this student is a weaselly liar because he said he has never had a conflict with a coworker."? I would laugh that guy out of the room if I was the hiring manager and he wrote something like that on an assessment. – Socrates Jun 4 at 20:23
  • Eh, it's your answer. Person, I think telling a college grad "Never admit you disagreed with your boss at the restaurant you worked at in high school, never admit you ever didn't get along with any classmate in your college class projects, and definitely never admit you've ever failed before; treat the HR interviewer like an interrogator and always act like every facet of your being is 100% perfect at all times," is pretty bad advice. – Kevin Jun 4 at 21:47

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