No matter how confident, composed, and qualified you are, there's something nerve-racking about a job interview that can rattle even those at the top of their field. It's a bit like high-stakes speed dating. You have a matter of minutes to impress the person you're meeting with, and you know that every gesture and word is being closely scrutinized.
If you're battling nerves, leadership advisor Dana White says there is a way to boost your chance of success: Research, prepare, and practice questions out loud. As a top advisor to CEOs and U.S. senators, and author of Leader Designed: Become the Leader You Were Made to Be, White is a master of speechwriting and reading those around her—two skills that are vital for turning an interview into an offer. Here, she tackles the questions that would make any candidate squirm and explains exactly why her approach could score you the job. Consider this your word-for-word guide to the five toughest interview questions. Go on; you've got this.
Repeat After Us: "I'm here because I'm excited about the idea of growing and evolving into a position I think I could add significant experience and perspective to as the company moves forward."
Here's Why: The key to perfecting this response is focusing on positivity and what you bring to the role, rather than why the job might benefit you. "It's so important to express excitement and positivity at the start of an interview," says White. "People ultimately want to work with those who are interesting or challenging, not someone who just needs to pay the bills." Her top tip? Pepper words like "excited, opportunity, grow, and evolve" in your response.
If this question makes you feel uncomfortable, White also stresses that it's important to question why. "I think this question is quite revealing about the interviewer," she says. "It's antagonistic and [makes you] question Do I really want to be here today?" Remember, this is an opportunity for you to learn about the employer, too, and judge whether the company is a good fit for you.
Repeat After Us: "I would much rather be respected. In any facet of life, to be feared is ultimately detrimental to you. Being a successful manager or even coworker requires you to work together and develop trust and transparency. If someone fears you, they're going to hide things, which is damaging to the overall mission."
Here's Why: This question reveals your true character, so it's extremely important to respond with sincerity and consider what it says about you. "Your character is what sets you apart," explains White. "Lots of people have gone to great schools or have connections—perhaps even better than you. This is a chance to show what kind of colleague or employee you're going to be. That's what interviewers want to invest in."
Repeat After Us: "Where does a sheep get his wool cut? At the bah-bah shop! I know some much better jokes, but I think they're better told once we're working together closely!"
Here's Why: This terrifying interview question tests how you think under pressure and whether you have a sense of humor. White says it's important to try and show that you can laugh at yourself, even if you don't know any great jokes. "This is really difficult, but it's very telling about your personality and ability to handle awkward situations," she says. "It doesn’t matter what joke it is, as long as it's not dirty or too personal, just give it a go. If you don't have a joke, be cheeky and tell them you'll share it once you know each other better."
Repeat After Us: "The worst manager I ever had was one who wasn't able to help me grow. Despite asking for more responsibilities and for ways I could evolve, I was ignored, and it made me feel dejected because I enjoyed the position and company but they seemed unable to channel my energies."
Here's Why: Respond with caution—this question baits you to bad-mouth past employers or reveal your own shortcomings. "It's important to stay above board, but answer truthfully and honestly. After all, you wouldn't be looking for another job if it was wonderful," says White. "[This response] reveals that you're eager and you want to learn. It shows that this manager can give you more responsibility."
Repeat After Us: "I feel I deserve a salary that's in line with the level of responsibility this role requires. I've looked at similar positions and can see that my experience as a manager [insert strengths here] would be an asset and should be reflected in the offer."
Here's Why: The salary question is hard enough, but this rendition is particularly difficult because it elicits an emotionally driven response. White says the best way to respond is to show you're aware of the standard industry salary for the role, then use it as an opportunity to outline the skills that set you above this benchmark. "Deserve is a very loaded term, [but] just because someone asks doesn't mean you have to answer straight," she says. Instead, "focus on building your case and when it comes to talking numbers, come prepared with facts about competitor salaries.
It takes away the awkwardness and is a stronger place to negotiate from."
What's the most challenging question you've ever encountered in a job interview?