Don't let Your Past Limit Your Future



Have you ever been asked a question during an interview that caused you to draw a blank?

Interview questions and scenarios can differ greatly from one employer to another, and you must be prepared to put your best foot forward, especially for executive level opportunities.




During a situational interview you are asked specific questions about scenarios that may

happen on the job. You are asked to assess a situation and show how you would handle it by providing a solution.


Often, situation-based interview questions involve problem solving and show how you would

handle difficult situations in the workplace. The best way to respond is to provide concrete

examples of how you handled a similar situation. You’re providing the interviewer with solid information on how you would handle the situation based on your past experience,

and performance.


The following are examples of situational interview questions:

  1. Describe a difficult work situation and how you handled it?
  2. The CEO is 100% wrong about something, how do you deal with this?
  3. Describe the greatest challenge you’ve faced and the results you achieved?
  4. Describe a time where you either increased sales or decreased expenses.
  5. What has been your most difficult experience dealing with your Board of Directors (If applicable)


Your answers should prove your positive approach to issues and challenges and your ability to provide solutions and results.  The interviewer will take into consideration that your answers reflect the standard operating procedures of your current company and may differ from how their company handles the same situation.



The reasons interviewers ask inappropriate questions varies greatly.  Sometimes it can be due to a lack of Executive interviewing experience, or the interviewer needs information for internal statistics being tracked.  Some interviewers are simply trying to make conversation.


Some Hiring Authorities use questions about family as an icebreaker for an interview,

not realizing that what seemed to them as innocent inquiries about your spouse or children are unlawful. You need to know how to deal with these questions diplomatically vs. appearing

combative which would jeopardize your chances of being hired.


You don’t want to share information that could be used against you in discriminatory situations. One method is to answer the question the hiring authority should have asked. This helps you redirect the inappropriate questions back to the interviewer.


Example:  If you are asked whether you have children, you can respond by saying, “It sounds like family is important to you, tell me about yours.” By redirecting you will not be perceived as adversarial.


Another option: “I’m confused by your question because I can’t determine why my family is critical to performing this job. Would you please shed some light on why you are asking this question?”


If these two options don’t cause the interviewer to catch their mistake you could respond, “I

would prefer not to respond to that question.”



There are questions that are illegal to ask.  In these circumstances, steer the conversation into addressing relevant concerns in the following ways:



It’s illegal to ask you about your nationality, citizen status, or how long you’ve lived in a specific country.  If asked, instead explain that you’re legally able to work.



It’s not permissible to ask what religion job seekers practice, what religious holidays

they observe, or their religious affiliations.  If an interviewer probes these forbidden areas, try to find out what the interviewer is concerned about and to address these concerns, working certain days of the week, for example, could be a legitimate concern.



Age Discrimination Laws protect anyone who is 40+ years old. Interviewers shouldn’t ask how close you are to retirement but can ask about your long term career goals.


Marital and family status

While it’s permissible for interviewers to ask whether you have ever used another name in work or academic situations, it’s not permissible for them to ask questions about your maiden name or marital status. Don’t answer questions about whether you have children or what your child-bearing plans are but do explain whether you’re available to work overtime or whether you can travel, particularly on short notice.



If gender comes up, steer the conversation into what traits and abilities you can bring

to the job.


Health and physical abilities

It’s inappropriate to ask if you smoke, drink, or take drugs.  Your height, weight, use of sick days, presence of disabilities or past operations | sicknesses are similarly off limits. Interviewers do have the right to ask if you’ve violated company policies regarding alcohol or tobacco, whether you use illegal drugs (as opposed to over the counter or prescribed medication), whether you’re able to lift a given weight or reach items on shelves that are at a particular height, how many workdays you missed in the past year, whether you’re physically

capable of executing the position’s specific duties, and whether you can perform the job with or without reasonable accommodations.


Some of these requirements could qualify as a BFOQ – Bona Fide Occupational Qualification which defense requires an employer to show that a particular skill is necessary for the performance of a particular job.




Your mindset going into any interview is a critical ingredient for success. Many executive level candidates assume that they must have a near perfect interview to obtain a job offer.  It helps to recognize that other interviewees will also have difficulty answering all the questions to the complete satisfaction of the interviewer.


Maintaining a calm, confident posture when confronted with a tough question will help convince the hiring authority that your inability to answer a question is an unusual occurrence for you.  It is better to admit that you don’t know the answer to a question than to answer incorrectly which could indicate a lack of knowledge or understanding. Offer to research the answer after the interview process and get back to them.  Implement the ideas shared in this article and you will be able to effectively answer even the most difficult interview questions.


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