5 challenging job interview questions and how to answer them

Could it be new year, new job for you? It certainly might be for a lot of people. While the post-pandemic Great Resignation has eased slightly, there’s still a war for procurement talent, so if you’re looking for a new opportunity, there are plenty.  

But you have to get past the job interview and all its hard-hitting questions first. 

5 challenging job interview questions and how to answer them

Regardless of how much you practice, job  interviews are still really hard. You can work at it, but it can feel impossible to say the right thing – and even when you think you do, you can still mysteriously not get the job. 

For this reason, preparation – regardless if you’re going for your first procurement job or a CPO role – is key. 

Here are five common, yet challenging job interview questions, and how to best answer them: 

Question 1: Tell me about yourself and your background

It’s one of the most common job interview questions, but also one of the hardest. How much personal information do you include? Or do you stick strictly to your professional pursuits? It’s a difficult balance to strike, but there are a couple of formulas that can work. 

Here’s one: 

  • Start with the catalyst for you entering procurement. For example, are you a born negotiator? Did you have exposure to supply chain in a previous role and really enjoyed it? 
  • Touch on any relevant education, for example, did you study procurement or do you have a CIPS or ISM qualification?
  • Then, segue into your work experience, with specific mention of exactly why you’d be perfect for the job. For example, say something like ‘For the last five years, I’ve become a specialist in X category within Y industry.’ 

Question 2: How do you deal with stressful situations? 

Procurement, as fascinating and fulfilling as it can be, is also almost always stressful in some way, shape or form. 

There is always something outside of your control, and, especially with the events of the last few years, it sometimes feels as if not just something, but indeed everything, is outside of your control. 

For this reason, being able to handle stress is key, and describing how you do so is always going to be critical. 

When answering this question, first describe a stressful event, for example, discuss how pandemic-related supply chain issues wreaked havoc on your team. Then, talk about how that personally affected your role and deliverables, and what you put in the place to mitigate both the issue, and the stress. 

If you have a situation in mind that you think you didn’t handle well, be honest about what you’d do better next time. Showing that you’re working on, what you have recognised as, a weakness can be just as impressive as a success story.

Question 3: Do you prefer working autonomously or as part of a team? 

For many procurement professionals, this question feels like a bit of a trick question. 

Every employer wants someone who can work independently and just get on with the job, but equally, procurement is a collaborative function, and dealing with stakeholders always requires collaboration. 

So, how do you answer this question? 

The best answer is that you highlight what you enjoy about doing both, with a focus on the advantages and disadvantages of either preference. 

For example, you might say that you feel comfortable doing either, and that in order to best combine both, you prefer working from home a couple of days of week and attending the office on a couple of other days. 

Provide examples where you have worked on projects both independently and as part of a larger team – include examples of leadership if you have them, but don’t forget that working collaboratively at any level, and sharing both wins as well as learnings, is going to explain a lot about your working style.

Question 4: What type of work environment do you enjoy? 

Unlike most of the other interview questions, the answer to one is a little more obvious: if you are interviewing for a role at an organisation, you should (hopefully) be able to say that you enjoy that particular organisation’s work environment. 

In reality, though, knowing what this environment is can be a little more tricky. 

When you are preparing for your interview, ensure you research the ways the organisation describes their culture. You’ve probably already seen an example of it on the position description, but also check places like LinkedIn, their website, etc. They may include descriptors such as ‘innovative’, a ‘flat organisational structure’ or ‘putting people first.’ 

When responding to the work environment question ensure that you reference what you’ve read and why you thrive in this particular environment.

Question 5: What are your salary expectations? 

Of all of the interview questions that are asked, discussing salary can be the hardest part

Do you take a gamble and ask for more than you know the job is offering in the hope that your expectations can be met? Do you go for middle-of-the-range instead? 

The answer is none of these.

When preparing for this particularly challenging question, ensure you research averages for your particular role, in your particular industry. 

After you do this, discuss your salary in terms of a range, not a specific number. If you’re considering whether you should make this range slightly higher or lower, try for higher: it’s easier to start higher than to negotiate up. At the very least, ensure you put the absolute minimum you’d be willing to negotiate from at the bottom of your range.

When you’re discussing salary, ensure you always frame it in terms of industry averages, not what ‘you’re’ worth. 

For example, say something like ‘I understand the industry average for a category manager in the finance industry is approximately $125,000 to $135,000 per annum, which is in line with my expectations.’ 

What other challenging job questions have you been asked in a procurement job interview? How did you answer them? Let us know in the comments below. 

Find more Career Development news, insights, and best practises at Procurious.com.