Tough Interview Questions

August 29, 2011
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How to Knock Hardball Questions Out of the Park
Tim Tolan

When the tough and uncomfortable questions come up during a job interview, healthcare CIOs need to be ready to answer them with absolute conviction. Most candidates are accustomed to answering “softball” questions during the course of a job interview, and most can do so without batting an eyelash. Such questions help validate a candidate's success metrics (i.e. great leadership attributes, qualities, career progress, etc.), and they are usually easy questions to answer. Most of us are proud of our accomplishments and it's important to get them out there, as previous success can often give us a preview of upcoming attractions.

Here's the challenge: like a baseball player, you must be able to respond flawlessly to each question-regardless of how difficult they may be. And you must do so with speed, accuracy, and without hesitation. What I find really interesting is why some candidates never prepare for the fast balls, curve balls, or the occasional slider.

A REALLY GOOD INTERVIEWER WILL ASK YOU THE TOUGH QUESTIONS, AND IN MANY CASES, THE WAY YOU RESPOND CAN HAVE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON YOUR FUTURE CANDIDACY-JUST BE SURE YOU PAUSE BRIEFLY TO GATHER AND FORMULATE YOUR THOUGHTS.

Here are a few questions that you should be ready for the next time you are up at bat:

  • Why are you here today?

  • Tell me about a time you had to make a tough decision and the outcome was not good. Why did you make that decision, and if you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

  • Describe a time you had to compromise your ethics.

  • What is your biggest weakness as a leader?

  • What is your greatest career accomplishment?

  • What is it like to work for you and what would your people say about your leadership?

  • If you could improve in one area of leadership, what would that be?

  • Please describe a recent situation when your work was criticized.

  • What do you think of your current boss?

  • How would you describe your personality?

  • How long will you stay with our organization?

  • What would your boss say is your greatest strength and weakness?

  • Why are you the best candidate for this role?

A really good interviewer will ask you the tough questions, and in many cases, the way you respond can have a significant impact on your future candidacy-just be sure you pause briefly to gather and formulate your thoughts. Spouting off a quick answer just to prove you're quick on your feet rarely scores a home run. The interview is looking for depth and honesty in your answer, and yes, it may expose the human side of a mistake you've made, but that's ok! We all slip-up now and then, and it's important to be able to articulate and explain the lessons you have learned, and how previous experiences helped you later in your career.

Of course, in order to respond properly to a question in an interview, you have to answer! Failing to answer or glossing over a question posed by an interviewer is a huge mistake. Attempting to demonstrate that you've never made a bad decision by ignoring a question is very risky and will most likely result in another bad decision on your part.

Organizations are looking for excellent leaders, and leaders become great through experience. Overcoming and learning from previous failures make us better at what we do. Being human and admitting mistakes and what we learn from them can have a positive outcome during an interview. It demonstrates personal growth and experience.

So the next time you get a chance to swing the bat, be prepared for every question that's thrown your way, positive or negative. Pause for a moment to think about your response and then answer each question honestly and with conviction.

Swing hard!

Tim Tolan is a senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at tjtolan@sanfordrose.com or at (843) 579-3077 ext. 301. His blog can be found at www.healthcare-informatics.com/tim_tolan. Healthcare Informatics 2011 September;28(9):48

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