How to Tackle Interview Questions That Make You Nervous
2nd January, 2023
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[00:34] - Interviewing has changed a lot over time.
[01:10] - The questions that give most people anxiety are ones that deal with figuring out who you are, how you think, what your plans are, and what your strengths and weaknesses are.
[02:17] - People probably struggle with interview questions because they get scared of making a mistake, getting rejected, not coming across as confident, or misrepresenting their strengths and weaknesses in a negative way.
[03:10] - The American education system conditions people to think for concrete answers, not to think about process or abstraction. So don’t be upset with yourself if you feel unprepared to think more theoretically, as is necessary for solid interviewing.
[04:10] - The first step to good interview preparation is asking yourself whether something is concrete or theory.
[04:50] - Be transparent. Your brain goes through the mental processes needed to reach your answer anyway, so just practice verbalizing your thoughts. Considering the interviewer as someone who needs help or your guidance can reduce your stress through this step.
[05:56] - As you try to be transparent about your thinking process, consider Jesus as a teacher and try to model your interactions with the interviewer after Him. Remember that in His kingdom, the greatest are the least and the least are the greatest — you have something of value to offer the company and shouldn’t be intimidated!
[07:14] - Self-reflecting on your life can help you nail self-awareness questions. You can consider personality and habits here, but consider what you do in unexpected moments, as well, as those times reveal what is truly in your core, too.
[08:32] - It’s OK to admit that you’re still figuring yourself out as long as you can pull it back toward the job in some way.
[10:05] - Prayer can be a powerful tool in interview prep.
Interviewing has changed over time and is something you might need to do throughout your entire life.
The most difficult interview questions tend to be those designed to see who you are or what you think.
These tough interview questions might cause anxiety because they connect to our natural fear of rejection or making mistakes, as well as uncertainty about our sense of self.
Modern education teaches people to give concrete answers, but these questions require out-of-the-box thinking. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s hard to think more abstractly or in terms of process. Asking yourself whether something is concrete or theory can help you overcome this obstacle.
Transparency connects to answering tough interview questions well in that you just have to show the processes in your head that already are happening. Thinking of yourself as a teacher and using Jesus as a model can be helpful in giving you the right attitude through the interview.
Looking back on your habits AND the unexpected moments of your life can help you become more aware of who you are so that it’s not scary to connect and reveal that in an interview.
If you’re not sure of elements like your strengths and weaknesses, it’s OK to admit it, so long as you present your journey in a positive way.
Prayer can be a powerful way to prepare for tough interview questions and prepare for new work God might have for you.
Go through some mock interviews with friends or colleagues using the strategies outlined in today’s episode. Write down what went well, what needs work, and what was unexpected during the experience.
What’s coming up next:
The New Year is a time for setting new resolutions. In Episode 65 of Faithful on the Clock, you’ll get a handful of resolutions to try that could give your career and leadership a serious boost.
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Happy day, everybody! This is Faithful on the Clock, the podcast where 100 percent of my energy goes to getting your faith and work aligned. I’m your host, Wanda Thibodeaux, and today’s episode is all about the interview. More specifically, we’re gonna take a look at the interview questions that tend to stress people out the most and why they create such anxiety. We’ll cover that and how to prepare for those questions in just a few seconds.
To get us off and running today, I want to just acknowledge that interviewing, you know, it’s like most things in business in that we’ve really changed how we approach it. And there are lots of factors that go into that. For example, people interview remotely now more than in the past. And you can interview really at any stage of your career, too. It used to be that people didn’t have quite so many interviews over their lifetime because they were more loyal to a company, but now businesses, they’re used to people shifting around based on their own needs. So this episode is one I hope that will help you out in a long-term way.
So my big area to cover today is about a survey that Resume.io did about the worst questions job candidates are asked. That’s of course in the show notes for you. And basically, what they found is, it’s the questions that are designed to figure out who you are and how you think that are the biggest source of anxiety for most people. So that might be asking you something that requires problem-solving or critical thinking skills on the spot. There was a Fast Company article that covered the survey. And one example they gave was of Elon Musk. He asks candidates where they are on Earth if they walk one mile south, west, and then north. The answer there is the North Pole, in case you were scratching your head a little bit. But it might be, like, selling something to the interviewer, too. Then you might struggle with questions about your plans. Interviewers want to understand why you want to go in a given direction and what your rationale is for sticking with the company over time. And then kinda the last area is questions where you can show self-awareness, such as identifying what your strengths or weaknesses are.
And so I thought about this survey quite a bit, and I just kept thinking to myself, OK, well, what is it that makes these types of questions so awful? And I think what it boils down to in all those areas I just covered is that they all kind of put us on the spot and force us to run the risk of making a mistake. And I think you feel better if you kind of have your plan or script that you can press play on. But when you can’t preconstruct anything, that’s scary for most people, I think, because you get scared of the rejection that might happen if you make a mistake or seem to have flaws. And especially the self-awareness questions, it can be like this sudden realization that throws you off where you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t, I don’t really know who I am.” Or maybe you just worry that you’re not really coming across with confidence about it, or that you’ll name something in those strengths and weaknesses that’s a turnoff.
And so what I want to do is, because you know, I can’t walk you through every question somebody might ask you. But what I’d like to do is just point out that I think a lot of this connects to the way that we program people within education, at least within the United States. I mean, yeah, we say we emphasize critical thinking. But here, a lot of school is still about getting the quote-unquote correct answer. There’s actually research that shows that students don’t know how to really think outside the box because of this. So when you go into an interview with that kind of background, it might not even occur to you that the interviewer isn’t looking for a specific answer or that they’re looking for your thinking process. You’re so focused on giving them the finish line that you don’t even think that the path to that finish line matters. And so I don’t want you to beat yourself up about that, because in essence, you’ve been conditioned to give the finish line rather than the path.
So how do you answer these types of questions? The first step is–and you can practice this as you listen in meetings and things like that–just ask yourself, “Is this concrete or is it theory?” A concrete question might be something like, “How many presents did you get at Christmas?” Maybe you can say, “I got 29”. But a theory question might be something like, “How many presents does Santa deliver on Christmas?” Because for that, you have to show kind of how you construct a formula to get the final answer. Maybe you take the number of kids in the world and then say great kids get three presents each, average kids get two, and almost on the naughty list get one. Or whatever.
Then you just have to be transparent. And what I mean by that is, we do a ton of thinking in our heads every day, right? And we’re really not used to having that process be visible to the outside world or walking people through it. But what I want you to see is that the process is happening anyway. All you have to do is verbalize it in a considerate way. And something I think that’s really helpful here is that, instead of seeing the interviewer as the interviewer, see them as someone in need of help. Like, imagine them as a coworker who’s just a little stuck on something, and they’re asking for your input. They trust you. Now you’re actually–at least mentally, anyway–in the position of being kind of a leader or a teacher or mentor. So now it’s not about giving the right answer, it’s about walking through a process with someone and showing them how to come along with you. And that, I think is going to put way less pressure on you than if you feel you have to be quote unquote right or impress somebody.
Now one thing that might help you with this is if you think about Jesus as a teacher. Just think about His attitude and approach to it. Part of what made Him great was that, even though He knew who He was, He was always more than willing to meet people where they were. He never made them feel less than. He just spoke truth, and He did it in a way that they’d relate to really well. So as you’re sitting there with that interviewer, ask yourself, how would Jesus walk them through the process? Maybe that process is pretty simple, but you can really focus on checking in with that person or asking a question for understanding, or maybe you just focus on being clear about your sequence or why a specific step has to happen. But that thing Jesus said about the least being the greatest, you can lean on that, too. Like, you’re not the little guy in that interview room, right? You’re someone with real skills and abilities who has something of value to offer that company, and that gives you a certain level of power that you shouldn’t automatically give up just because the interviewer has their name on a plaque on their desk, OK? So don’t get intimidated, because Jesus certainly wasn’t. He’d help with real confidence any time it was appropriate.
Now for the more self-awareness kind of questions, I think it’s helpful before an interview to look back on your life a little bit. And I think when we think about who we are, we think about kind of our personality or maybe even our habits. But what I’ve personally learned is that the real self-awareness comes in those moments that might throw you off a bit, you know, more of the unexpected stuff. So like, yeah, you can recognize that, if your household runs like a well-oiled machine, you’re probably pretty good at managing or organizing things. You can see that from day to day or week to week. But what happened when you got rear-ended last week or when your kid suddenly told you they had a crush on somebody or coffee went down the front of your shirt? Or maybe you finally took a vacation you thought you’d love and were miserable. Those kinds of situations have a way of revealing your blind spots really fast, or conversely, giving you really pleasant surprises. But either way, they offer some clues about where there’s still room for some development or what’s really down in your core. And if you get in a habit of connecting to that, then sharing glimpses of yourself with an interviewer is a lot less scary, because you’re already thinking about who you are or have acknowledged what could change.
And one thing I want to mention really quickly here is that I think it is 100 percent OK to admit to an interviewer where you are on your journey of self-awareness, as long as you can connect it back to the job in a positive way. I mean, my goodness, I still feel clueless on this a lot. I mean, I’m a writer, OK? But I get rejected all the time, so am I really good at it? I don’t know. I once had someone tell me I’m really good at giving advice, and yet it still caught me totally off guard. So in an interview, for instance, I might say, “You know, I’m not really sure about all of my strengths, although others have told me I’m good at x, y, and z. But I’m really experimenting with different activities in the community, I’m reading great books, and I’m getting a better sense of who I am as I do that. I’m really looking forward to what I can learn about myself if I have the opportunity to join your team.” Now, you can be open as you do that. I mean, maybe you can tell a quick anecdote about how your perception of yourself changed. But the main takeaways here for you are that you’re always going to be figuring yourself out, and that skills and knowledge both are actually really flexible. So if you feel a little confused or like you should answer differently now than you did a year ago, don’t sweat it at all. Because really, all the interviewer wants to understand is what your self-perception is and how that might influence your work.
One final thought I can leave you with around this idea of self-awareness and interviews is that prayer absolutely can be a tool for mastering your interviews. The obvious point here is to pray before you go in that God will let the interview go well for you. But you can pray a little more specifically, too, like asking that He’ll give you the right words, like He did for Moses and Aaron in front of Pharoah. And you can spend time at any time to tell God what your dreams are. You can go to Him and be honest about what you like or where you’re still confused about yourself. And as you do that, I think you’ll find that it gets easier and easier to walk into those interviews willing to use your real voice without being intimidated or stressed out.
So speaking of prayer, let’s have a little heart-to-heart with God for a few seconds.
Lord, interviewing for a job can be so stressful. It can make us afraid to be honest and anxious that we’re not good enough. So God, I just ask that you work on everybody out there who’s listening and just remind them that you made them exactly how they’re supposed to be. Help us just nail those funky questions. Help us see the interview as a doorway to service that we can be genuinely excited about. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
All right, everybody. You’ve got some tips on how to master all that interview weirdness, so let me know where you’re applying and how that all goes. Next episode, I’m gonna be talking about those resolutions we’re probably all working on in the New Year. Last year I talked about how to get our new plans to stick, but this time, I’m gonna offer you what I think would be some fantastic resolutions for you to improve your career and leadership. Until then, everybody, be blessed.
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.
Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.