How to Handle Tough Interview Questions

Picture of Louise GarverBy: Louise Garver
Certified Career Coach & Resume Writer, Career Directions LLC

For many job seekers, the interviewing process ranks right up there with the fear of public speaking. Not only do you have to perform on cue, but you may also feel anxious about the tricky questions, or worse, those you can’t or don’t want to answer. The interviewing process becomes even more challenging because employers aren’t always certain what they’re looking for—however, they always want to play it safe and avoid a costly hiring mistake.

So, how do you ace the interview? Begin by understanding what the employer looks for in a new hire and follow these steps:

• Know what you have to offer—expertise in leading the corporate finance organization, global treasury operations, cash management, mergers and acquisitions, banking optimization, process improvements and so forth.

• Research the employer you will be interviewing with and understand its business needs and challenges.

• Present yourself as the solution to the organization’s challenges—as someone who will add value.

• Minimize the employer’s inherent concerns by showing that you are a professional who is well qualified, enthusiastic about the position, won’t be departing soon, will fit into the culture, is personable and will be dedicated to achieving the organization’s goals.

Next be prepared to answer probing and, yes, stressful questions. Let’s take a look at strategies for tackling some of the zingers that have become a staple in the interview process. Through advance preparation, you will be able to respond with confidence.

Question: Tell me about yourself.

Strategy: Keep your answer to between one and two minutes and focus on your most recent and relevant experience, accomplishments and skill sets in finance or treasury. Weave in context and avoid personal data as it can be a risky detractor. If you begin with a historical account, you are likely to be interrupted and will not have the opportunity to present skills and success stories directly related to the position at hand. Here’s an effective example:

“I have 10 years of progressive experience in global treasury operations and industry background that fits directly with the qualifications your company is seeking. Currently, I direct the treasury operations for one of our company’s divisions. I was selected to build the treasury operations infrastructure for the new office in London and led the systems implementation project to automate reconciliation and cash projection processes. My depth of experience includes daily short-term funding and liquidity management of the central bank account, collateral management, repo financing, cash projections, payment processing and reconciliation. I was also a key contributor on several project teams for 4 branches in Europe. Our results led to the development of consistent treasury processes, documented procedures, strengthened operational controls and improved efficiency. Having accomplished those goals for our company, I am confident that I can achieve similar results for your organization.”

Question: Why are you leaving or why did you leave your position?

Strategy: If you are leaving voluntarily, a good answer is that you are seeking greater opportunity, challenge or responsibility—such as the next step in your finance or treasury career. Don’t use salary as the reason.

If you have been terminated or are leaving due to issues with your boss, tread carefully. “Personality”and “fit” account for the majority of terminations, especially at the executive level. You will remain unscathed in answering this question as long as you demonstrate maturity, never attack your former boss or employer or show even a hint of defensiveness. You have several options in how to respond to this question, depending on the circumstances of your exit:

• If your position was a layoff, simply say that “our company downsized” or “our finance/treasury organization was eliminated following the merger” or “my division or company closed.” That’s it.

• If you were offered and turned down a lower-level finance or treasury position, you technically were not fired. Discuss your many successes as a treasury or finance professional and briefly explain your reason for turning down the offered position.

• If you were fired, be forthright. Present your accomplishments and demonstrate your “fit” with the position and the organization. Don’t gloss over or evade the answer. Instead provide a short, simple explanation, cite a lesson learned and what you would do differently.

Question: What are your greatest strengths?

Strategy: Be specific in your response and select skills and provide examples that relate to the employer’s needs. For instance: “My strongest abilities are to identify business needs and initiate process improvements that reduce costs. Let me tell you about a specific project I managed. I implemented a real-time cash management process that reduced idle bank balances by $150 million daily.”

Question: What is your greatest weakness or what do you need to improve?

Strategy: The wrong answer is that you don’t have any weaknesses. You have several tracks in answering this question—present a weakness that is a hidden strength, a corrected weakness, a lesson learned, a lapsed skill you no longer need or want to use, an unrelated skill or a learning objective. An example could be: “I would really like to get more exposure to international finance operations in a multinational environment such as your company.” Then ask a question about this area. Another possible answer, especially if the Treasury Professional Certification is a desirable requirement: “I realize the importance of professional development and certifications. I am planning on pursuing the CTP designation this year.”

Question: If you could do anything in your career differently, what would it be?

Strategy: The best answer to this question is to state that you are pleased with your career progression. You can also add that your present finance environment lacks growth opportunities and that’s your reason for seeking a new position.

Question: What would your former boss (or peers or subordinates) say about you?

Strategy: Be careful about your body language with this question as it can be a give-away if you’ve had a negative experience with your supervisor. Try to paint the situation in a neutral light and take some ownership for your particular style. Indicate how the differences didn’t interfere with your performance and goal achievement. You could say, “We didn’t always agree, but we were able to work out our differences to accomplish our finance department goals.”

Question: You seem overqualified.

Strategy: If you have more years of experience than the employer requires, the interviewer may be resistant to hiring you. Your first response should be to reiterate your qualifications for the position. You could respond with: “ I’m not sure I understand your statement that I’m overqualified. I thought you wanted someone who could direct your finance/treasury department. My years of experience and accomplishments demonstrate my ability to meet that challenge. For example, while at company ABC, I built and led a finance organization that partnered with the senior leadership team to improve accountability, reduce costs and effectively position the company for growth.”

Question: Do you have any questions?

Strategy: Don’t ever say no or that the interviewer has answered all your questions. Prepare questions in advance about the company and its finance/treasury organization, plans, goals and future opportunities. If you think the interviewer has any doubts or concerns about your candidacy, now is the time to ask questions, get feedback and turn around any misperceptions.

Armed with advanced preparation and knowledge about the prospective employer, your next interview should be smooth sailing.

Louise Garver, has a 20 year background as a Certified Executive Career Coach, Personal Branding & Job Search Strategist providing high level executives with career management tools, strategies & coaching to achieve top results. Louise crafts compelling, branded resumes, and provides customized job search strategies that successfully guide executives and management professionals worldwide to their next career move. Her expertise includes job search coaching, resume development, interview and negotiations training, career-change management and personal branding. She is featured as an expert on career sites online and authors numerous career- and resume-related articles and blogs. Samples of her interview-winning career documents are published in multiple resume and cover letter publications. She is active in several professional career-related associations. Learn more at