Difficult interview questions

Skill: Speaking Theme: Job Interviews
Level: Upper Intermediate/Advanced (B2-C2)

There are three golden rules for succeeding at a job interview:

1. prepare, 2. prepare, and 3. prepare.

But there are some « out of the box » questions that you may never have thought of.

In a typical year, slightly more than 2,000 highly driven people are interviewed for admission to the prestigious MBA program at Harvard Business School.

There are often questions that can take a person by surprise.  The following list of the ten most unpredictable questions was submitted by current Harvard Business School Students who have successfully gained admission.   Thanks to John Byrne who first published this list at Poets and Quants.

  • Explain to me something you’re working on as if I were an eight-year old
  • Describe something that you should start doing, do more of, and do less of.
  • What’s the one thing you’ll never be as good at as others?
  • What are the two best pieces of advice you have been given, and why?
  • What do you want to be remembered as?
  • What is your definition of a leader?  How do you fit that definition?
  • How do you make big decisions?
  • How would your parents describe you when you were twelve?
  • What is one thing I’d never have guessed about you, even after reading your application?
  • What is the one thing you would like me to remember about you?


Read the questions.  Consider how you would answer each of them and make some notes in your own language.

Choose questions at random and practise answering them in English.

Remember that as much as possible your answers to interview questions should be structured.  Certain questions lead easily to structured answers as they contain several elements to respond to, e.g. « something you should start doing (1st point), do more of (2nd point) and do less of (3rd point).  Other questions tend to lead to waffly answers if you don’t manage to keep a clear structure in mind.  For example, for the question « What do you want to be remembered as? », one efficient way of answering the question would be to think of two or at the most three qualities that you believe you demonstrate.  Speak about each quality in turn, making sure that you give clear examples:

Firstly I would like to be remembered as an innovative person.  In my previous job I created a completely new system for organising tools in the workshop, which increased efficiency by 20%, and I look forward to bringing the same kind of innovation to this new position.  I’d also like to be remembered as someone who is generous with knowledge and expertise.  I’m a great believer in the fact that an effective organisation is a learning organisation, and passing on what I have learnt to others is one of the things I enjoy most, as demonstrated most recently in my role as team leader in the logistics department.


Learning the art of public speaking with Obama

Never have the words of an American president been so analysed as those of Obama – notably in the field of EFL / ESOL.  A book of his speeches for English learners with accompanying CD has become a national bestseller in Japan, and his speeches have been subtitled and are popping up on many English-learning sites.

This might be an interesting exercise for advanced students working on public speaking skills.  Garth Risk Hallberg writing for The Millions diagrammed an excerpt from one of last week’s press releases, with the idea that it might provide an insight into the way Obama thinks.  The speech was in the context of a proposed investigation into the conduct of the Bush administration.

This is what Halberg came up with:
He notes how a more « hard line » statements in the speech, such as

My view is also that nobody’s above the law, and, if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen.

is turned into a platform for vague but inspirational phrases:

But that, generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.

which leaves the hearer with the impression of a forward-looking, progressive Obama, rather than a hardliner.  The full transcript of the speech can be found here, and The Millions has Halberg’s full analysis, which gives some good insights into speech writing.

How to improve your language outside the classroom

I learned Japanese in school.  You would never know it today because I can hardly speak a word of Japanese.  The classes were interesting, but one of the big problems was that I never had the opportunity to practise what I had learnt outside of class time.  Japanese was just an academic subject with no connection to the real world for me.

logo_online1But that was in the 80s – we had never heard of the Internet.  EVERYTHING has changed!  The role of the teacher has changed – we are now motivators and facilitators, we help learners to help themselves learn.

If you would like help to achieve your English or French learning goals, talk to us at englishonthe.net. Contact us here for a free lesson.

The role of the learner has also changed.  Learners no longer sit passively and listen to information, they go out and find it themselves.

There are so many possibilities for live online language practice with native speakers.  Here are a few links to help you start :

Claims to be the world’s largest EFL/TEFL social network with 50,000 visits a day.   It’s main strength is the forums where learners ask all their questions concerning grammar, vocabulary, idioms, puzzles and games, distance learning, pronunciation, learning software etc.  There is a large number of faithful teachers who give their time freely for advice and support, and generally questions are answered very quickly.  There are also other social networking functions, such as photos & videos, live chat, and special interest forums.  This site is HUGE – you need to go and explore for yourself.

A completely free network for language exchange.  Connect with native speakers of the language you are learning who have similar interests to you.

Ning hosts a large number of social networks related to language learning.  These are just a few:


EFL Classroom 2.0 Definitely the most active Ning network that I use.  Although it seems more directed to teachers, there are also good resources for students (try the « English for Fun and Friendship » group).  4,900+ members
View my page on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

EFL University

Teachers and students have FUN (Frivolous, Unanticipated, Nonsense) to learn together in English and Spanish (500 members)


L’école hors les murs Teachers and students (from middle school up) from several (mostly European) countries join for educational projects through social networking (900+ members)
Voir ma page au L’Ecole Hors les Murs – School Beyond The Walls

Campus FLE Education
Educational social network for teachers and learners based in the University of Leon Spain – some excellent learning materials on their front page.

Foreigners in Lille also looks very good for French, but unfortunately it seems to be limited to people who live in Lille, France, and although it is based in Lille, France, they are open to members from anywhere.