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5 tough questions your boss will ask - and how to answer them

How to handle the tricky questions your boss may ask

You're prepared to answer difficult questions in an interview situation. Once you're in the job, knowing how to handle potentially loaded queries can be tricky. Here are five tough questions your boss may ask and how to answer them.

1. Are you to blame for the failure?

If you've made a mistake, it's best to own up at the earliest opportunity. Try to cover it up, and you risk making the situation worse.

'Before you take responsibility, think carefully about why things went wrong,' advises Graham Scrivener, Managing Director of The Forum Corporation, a global leader in sales performance and leadership development.

'Were you clear on your responsibilities and how to deliver them or could you avoid another mistake by having clearer instructions? Did the brief match your abilities or did you commit to something that was beyond your experience? Were enough of the right resources and support available? Could you benefit from coaching, mentoring or additional training?

'By analysing the situation and identifying where the errors occurred, you can turn the mistake into an opportunity to work with your boss to develop your skills and garner the support you need to succeed.'

Nearly half (49%) of managers and a quarter (24%) of employees surveyed by The Forum Corporation said that acknowledging personal mistakes is one of the key ways to inspire trust at work.

'People who are accountable for their actions and outcomes, even when things go wrong, inspire trust which improves motivation and performance,' adds Graham.

2. Are you looking for a new job?

This is another question where it pays to be honest. Your boss probably already has a good idea that you are job hunting, or wouldn't ask. In this instance, keep your answer short and to the point. For example, you might say a friend passed on an opportunity which you wanted to look into.

If you're put on the spot, buy yourself some time, suggests Peter Fennah, a Chartered Psychologist and career coach at careersynergy.com. 'For example, you might answer: "It would be good to have a conversation with you about my career development. Would you be free one day next week?"

'This gives you time to explore what immediate and near-term development opportunities might be available at your current company, something that people often overlook.

'You are likely to remain in your current role for your notice period at least, so why not benefit from shadowing key people, attending senior meetings and having informational interviews with people doing roles of interest to you? Make constructive use of your time regardless of whether you stay or go.'

3. Can you write and give this managerial presentation for me?

Some managers are good at stretching people – others are good at dumping on them. If your boss asks you to do something that's part of their job description, make sure you get credit for the work.

'While this might sound as if your boss is asking you to do their job, you could also argue that it's a good opportunity to come to the attention of other managers or key players in your organisation,' says Clare Whitmell who blogs on careers at JobMarketSuccess.com.

'Make sure you understand the context, prepare the presentation thoroughly, and then practise what you're going to say, so you can deliver it with confidence. Anticipate questions and have answers ready.'

4. What do you think of John's performance?

Being asked to give feedback on a colleague can put you in a difficult spot. Do you answer honestly if their ability and performance is below par?

'You don't want to be seen to be gossiping or unfairly criticising another employee, but if the company culture and management style is more informal and open, a request for feedback might be more appropriate,' says Clare.

'Try to make any feedback you give objective. Limit your comments to the impact your colleague has on the team or performance of the department as a whole, rather than airing personal grievances.'

5. How would you rate my performance as a manager?

This question calls for tact, not full disclosure. If your critique is too heavy handed it could damage your relationship with your boss. It may also be your manager's way of creating an opportunity to give you some less than positive feedback.

'A safe response would be to highlight two to three behaviours that you like which generate positive outcomes,' says Peter. 'Then ideally identify an area that you want your manager to do more of.Highlight something good that they did and ask them to do more of it. This way you use positive psychology; reinforcing positive behaviour leads to faster behavioural change.

'Initially you may need to buy yourself time to reflect on the question so you might respond with: "That's a great question, do you have any areas that you are particularly interested in? Let me reflect and come back to you with a considered answer."'

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