Ask Dana: How to ace these 3 awkward-yet-basic job interview questions

How to ace these 3 awkward-yet-basic job interview questions
How to ace these 3 awkward-yet-basic job interview questions

How to ace these 3 awkward-yet-basic job interview questions


I’m terrible at interviews! I get hung up on seemingly basic questions. What are the most awkward-yet-basic questions I need to be prepared for? And can you tell me how to answer them?

Answer from Executive Job Coach Dana Manciagli

That’s a hard question because so many people blow it on seemingly simple interview questions. Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll pick three that are common-yet-challenging for most of my clients and readers. To give you more help, I dedicated two full chapters on interviewing in my book, “Cut the Crap, Get a Job! A New Job Process for a New Era.”

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

Nine out of 10 candidates blow this common-but-awkward question. It’s awkward for the candidate because it is SO big and broad. The secret to answering it — make three points then stop talking:

  • First sentence: Summarize your education.
  • Second sentence: Summarize your work history.
  • Third sentence: Summarize why you are here today, interviewing for this position.

Example: I have a Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA in economics from 1995. I have seven years of operations experience in Fortune 500s such as Boeing and five years of finance experience, with a successful track record of execution excellence. I am here today because you are looking for someone with solid performance in ________ and _______ (from their job description).

2. “Why should I hire you over other candidates?”

This is another common-yet-awkward question because it triggers self-doubt and you don’t know the other candidates. The secret to answer it — make three points then stop talking! Pull all three from THEIR job description. This question is not about YOU…it’s about THEM.

  • First sentence: You are looking for someone who can do ___________. I have excelled in that for three years.
  • Second sentence: You need someone who is ______________ and __________ and I can give specific examples where I have proven this is a core competency of mine.
  • Third sentence: You are looking for someone who is passionate about your company, your industry and this particular job. I really want this job, and I know I can deliver superior results for you and work well as a team member.

3. “Give me an example where you have failed.”

This is awkward because they use the word “failed” and you are supposed to tell a story. The secret to answer it: DON’T tell a horrific story that throws yourself under the bus.

A recent client of mine (an ex-CEO) shared a story about how “I took a pilot into a nationwide expansion and missed the numbers, so I underperformed.” The interview was over.

The secret to answering: Give a “middle” example, but one that shows self-awareness AND what you learned:

  • I lead a major cross-team initiative but learned later that two people weren’t fully on board. I should have met with each person individually, and I have done just that ever since.
  • I had to analyze and synthesize tons of data into a report for senior executives. I spent so much time proofing my data and cross checking that I finished it at the last minute. Since then, I have enlisted an extra pair of eyes to review my work, and I complete things earlier.
  • In sales, I called on a major prospective client for six months, continuing to work with the people responsible for making the buying decision. However, I should have also worked the executive suite, including the CFO, with a value proposition that appealed to them. I learned how to do both effectively.


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