Answering Tough/Unusual Questions: A General Strategy

You can adapt the following approach to most questions recruiters can dream up. Moreover, you’ll be armed with responses interviewers won’t have heard before. You’ll be able to answer with enthusiasm and passion that can’t be duplicated in a textbook response.

Success Stories

The first step is to prepare three or more career success stories and two or more that had less than favorable outcomes but were learning experiences.

Success stories are “Kodak moments” from your career, and the more recent the better. They should appear on your resume and can include promotions, raises, awards, evaluations and successful projects. Also consider new business successes and any other noteworthy efforts for which you received special recognition.

Learning experiences are humbling events from earlier in your career that molded you into the experienced professional you are today.

Write these stories as if you were creating a 30-second radio spot. Use numbers whenever possible. For example, include details on increased revenue, profit, market share and savings. Memorize your stories and perfect their delivery in front of a mirror or video camera. Your enthusiasm and emotional involvement with your employer should come through loud and clear.

These stories become advertising messages delivered during the interview. As with any good ad, don’t be overly modest or wordy. Each story should be brief. If the interviewer wants to know more, they’ll ask.


The next step is to connect the interviewer’s questions with your message. These links aren’t always needed, but when done well, they provide a seamless transition between the question and its answer.

Successful politicians have perfected this technique of linking the questions they’re asked with the messages they want to deliver. They can be observed plying their skills at news conferences and on Sunday morning talk shows. You’d do well to study their techniques.

Consider these useful links:

  • “That’s difficult to say, but let me tell you about a similar experience at…
  • “That reminds me of the time when…
  • “That resonates with the time that…
  • “They would probably tell you about…
  • “For example…

A Good Story Goes a Long Way

Some interview questions are like Rorschach tests. There are no right, wrong or even preferred answers. What matters is how the ink blot is interpreted—how the question is answered.

Many typical interview questions are opportunities to showcase your stories. Consider the question, “What can you do for us that someone else can’t?” Some candidates might struggle to envision the skill set of the universe of potential candidates and the innermost workings of the company.

But this question can be parried with, “That’s difficult to say from outside your company, but let me tell you what I did at…” and fill in the blank with a success story.

Similarly, to answer the question, “What would your subordinates say about you?” candidates might find their heads spinning with a random survey of present and former employees.

Instead, you can answer, “They would probably tell you about the time I…” and highlight another accomplishment.

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