Why Job Interviews Have Become Grueling (And What To Do About It)

difficult job interviews

By Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

Sought-after jobs often come with the most difficult, rigorous and extensive interview processes. Even some of the least-sought roles are weighed down by arduous interview procedures that put the candidate through the intellectual wringer. Methods include phone interviews, group/panel interviews, daylong interviews with multiple people, group discussions with other interviewers, stress interviews, assessment tests, written case studies and more.
Whether applying for a part-time merchandising role at the local convenience store or submitting your resume for a VP-level position at a major software firm, it seems that today's interview processes have ramped up to a whole new level of intensity.

In fact, the publicity surrounding these difficult interview situations prompted a Glassdoor report on the "Top 25 Most Difficult Companies to Interview." One of the pressing questions asked: "How many people would use a drug that prevents baldness?" It was asked of an associate candidate at Boston Consulting Group.

This then, raises the question: Why do companies have such tough interview processes?

1. They're vetting through an enormous amount of resume and interview clutter.

In today's market, there are more jobless folks than ever before, and as such, there is much more "noise" in human resources', recruiters' and hiring decision makers' inboxes. It only makes sense that a more fine-tuned process might ensue in this buyers' market, to include meticulous question-and-answer processes, as well as other interviewing requests. They can then wade through the resume stacks and tease out the best candidates for the role. In their minds, they have the upper hand, so they can use the most creative and hard-hitting techniques available to them in navigating through and narrowing down the throng of candidates.

2. They're economically stressed.

Their companies has been through the economic and marketplace wringer and back. Or, more likely, they're not yet back, and they don't know how they will identify, re-plant and nurture the highest quality seeds that will spring forth new shoots of growth for their flailing companies. They need just the right new engineer, software consultant, sales representative, health care specialist, chief executive, and so forth who can turn the ship that has been blown off course back onto the right one.

3. They're culturally imploding.

Following the tsunami of economic turmoil, the company's remaining team members are still pulling their weight. But many are road-weary with challenged attitudes. The company wonders: Will you be able to step in and perform despite the brokenness strewn about you? Can you add value with your fresh insights and collaborative nature?

Or, maybe the challenges are with a silo-like, disconnected environment wrought with power struggles. As a newly employed supervisor, your job will be to unite disparate teams. Their probing, unusual interview questions may help get to the root of how confident and innovative you are, how you think on your feet, handle stress, think critically and even, whether you have a positive attitude and sense of humor. While some of the difficult questions may have a more technically correct answer, many of the really off-the-wall questions have no perfect answer and are more about your ability to think critically, and roll with the punches with strength and positivity.

More: How To Save A Bad Interview

How to Prepare For Any Interview

Whether being grilled by a group of managers or conversing intimately during a one-on-one, the key to interview success is preparation. Here are three tips to help you:

1. Research the company.

Go online and visit sites like Glassdoor, Hoovers, LinkedIn or Manta; Google the company and read any articles where it was mentioned. Visit its company website. Gather as much market intelligence about it and its pain points as you can. If you know someone in the company or have access to an employee, then seek them out for any tips they can offer about the company, division or leadership in which you are preparing to engage.

2. Practice answering the common interview questions.

Before going with the worst possible scenario -- those onerously difficult questions -- get comfortable with some of the most basic interview questions, such as: "Tell me about yourself," "What is the greatest value you can bring to us?" and "What interests you about the position we have available?" This will propel your confidence, grease your vocal engine and get you on your way.

Then, study the more difficult questions and role-play. Write down the questions and your answers. Practice them out load; record yourself; look in the mirror and speak them. Get a friend, partner or career coach to critique you. Study a handful of the difficult questions on Glassdoor, such as this question asked during a Rackspace interview: "What's the worst thing you ever broke and how did you cover it up?" Try answering the question your own way before peeking at suggested answers on the site.

3. Be prepared to prove your nuances.

The interview is as much about fit as it is about hard-line achievements and skill sets. Be prepared to talk succinctly and concretely about your work ethic and your ability to collaborate across personalities and in variable situations. The wind of the workday requires we reset our sails strategically. As well, know what top three professional values you possess, and connect them with the target companies' values.

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, chief career writer and partner with CareerTrend, and is one of only 28 Master Resume Writers (MRW) globally. Jacqui and her husband, "Sailor Rob," host a lively careers-focused blog. Jacqui is a power Twitter user, listed on several "Best People to Follow" lists for job seekers.

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Interviewing - and getting hired in or shortly after the meeting - is a breeze when you realize a profound truth: this meeting is NOT about you, the candidate. It's not a discussion about your attributes, abilities or accolades; it's about the company and its problem.

The bad news is the company has a very a big problem and no one on their current staff can solve it, which is why they are forced to go outside and bring fresh blood in. The good news is that to a very large degree, they ALREADY believe you can solve that problem for them because if they didn't believe that, they wouldn't have invited you in to meet with them.

So, they want to meet you because from what they know about you already, they believe you are a possible solution. That is why you don't have to and SHOULD NOT talk about yourself in the meeting - you should only talk - and better yet - have them talk - about the company and their situation.

Think of your interview as a blind date - on paper, it seems likely the two of you are a match. So the purpose of the meeting actually to see if the two of you like each other as people because we do business with people we like. And what is the magic secret to get someone you just met to like you? You get them to talk ands keep talking about themselves!

By the way, avoid HR like the plague. They have no authority to hire anyone above the level of secretary and even then, they have no say. You should only meet with your future boss because he or she is the only person in the company who has the authority to hire you.

November 09 2012 at 10:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Interesting piece as we are hearing similar stories from the ranks of our candidates interviewing for positions that include middle manager to senior-level and executive jobs. I think a tougher interview process is a result of some desperation to find the right employee among a sea of resumes that only appears to get higher with less qualified applicants. For the interviewee, stay the course, do your homework, know the company, and stay true to yourself. That will all shine through amid your competition. --Randy Hain, Managing Partner at Bell Oaks Executive Search

October 10 2012 at 11:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Interviewing can be tough, particularly if you have little experience or have been out of the game for a while. These tips are really helpful, Jacqui.

I would suggest also using your network and contacts as a way to prepare for tough interview questions -- ask contacts who have hiring responsibilities what kind of questions they ask in interviews and what they are looking for in candidate responses. Have them challenge you with tough questions that require innovative answers and make sure that your answers match up with the image you want to present. For example, if you want to present yourself as a dedicated go-getter, but choose a sloth as the animal you'd most like to be, you're not presenting a coherent brand. Utilize your resources to really help you prepare and nail your interviews.

September 17 2012 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

While the 3 points the author makes are (reasonably) valid, there's a 4th explanation that's I think is even more prevalent and more troublesome: companies buying into the notion that extensive -- and frequently "gimmicky" -- interviews are going to yield better hires.

They don't.

Even some of the best-known companies around are using everything from so-called logic tests and brain teasers to oddball questions about what kind of tree you would be. Assumptions are being made that these approaches (a) validly assess qualities necessary for success, and (b) that these methods will result in better hires than other established techniques. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence to support either assumption. For example, one close friend and former colleague was recently asked by a CEO in an interview, "On average, at any one time how many golf balls are in the air in the United States?". His answer didn't satisfy the CEO, who then went on to provide an answer of his own that showed, among other things, that this CEO knew absolutely nothing about golf (I've been playing for over 40 years).

September 12 2012 at 6:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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