You know those interview questions that start off with “give me an example of…?” Give me an example of a problem you faced and how the situation was resolved. Give me an example of a situation where you didn’t get along with someone and how you handled it.

When I conduct practice interviews questions like the above tend to get people into trouble. The questions are used to measure three things. Being aware of what those three things are will help you tackle them effectively.

One, can the candidate identify a meaningful example on the spot. It’s easy to draw a blank on these types of questions. Not being prepared is a sure fire way to struggle here. Another reason is often that the person I’m interviewing is trying to come up with an example in the extreme. There is a need to share a huge problem or big personality clash. The truth is, not everyone has something extreme to share. In addition, sharing something controversial and dramatic could also add negative vibes to the interview. Examples don’t need to be outrageous. Picking something that is relevant, yet simple, works. If your a sales pro, speak of a time when what was promised to a customer couldn’t be delivered and how you made things better. If your an IT pro, share a situation when the network crashed during a key time and how you saved the day. For the examples of personality clashes, share an incident, not an ongoing saga, where there was a clash that you were able to work around. There is no need to invite the backstabbing jerk who is sleeping with the boss into your interview. Got it!

Two, can the candidate speak of less than ideal situations in a succinct way, without getting weighed down in the minutia of the negative, and move to solution mode quickly. Though these types of questions have two parts, it’s been my experience candidates tend to dedicate most of their time to discussing the problem, the person they didn’t get along with, etc., and then spend a fraction of a time on sharing the solution, if they even remember the question had two parts. Individuals who show an affinity to focus on the negative and who are more detailed when sharing obstacles than solutions don’t have “hire me” stamped on their foreheads.

Three, can the candidate demonstrate an aptitude to work through obstacles. At the end of the day, employers want to know the candidate can recognize things that aren’t working and figure out how to get a better outcome. That doesn’t mean you have to show you can go it alone. There is a time to handle things yourself and times to invite the appropriate level of management into the equation. Do you know when those times are? Are you one to act or to sit by and wait for someone else to solve something? Can you even tell when something is amiss?

In a nutshell, these questions don’t have to stress you out and don’t require you to weigh your interview down with stories of toxic situations.


Lisa joined the Michigan State University Alumni Association as Director of Alumni Career & Business Services on May 1, 2012. Her primary focus is to develop effective networking and resource channels for experienced alumni interested in professional development and job search strategy assistance. Additionally, Lisa works directly with corporate, education, foundation and government partners seeking to attract qualified talent, retain and develop good employees, and establish collaborative relationships in line with their established goals and objectives.

With 15+ years’ experience in third party recruiting, Lisa offers a balanced understanding of both employee and employer perspectives.

Lisa is a firm advocate of the networking process and considers it a vital element in a successful job search. In addition to helping job seekers develop and best utilize networking contacts, Lisa shares her knowledge and insight-gained aiding corporate recruiting efforts-to give Spartan job seekers an edge in terms of lead sourcing, resume presentation and interview strategy.

Among Lisa’s notable accomplishments: Prima Civitas Foundation Scholar; Michigan Works Association Volunteer of the Year; Pink Slip Mid Michigan Planning Committee; career content blogger.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Michigan State University.


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