How to Answer the 11 Hardest Job Interview Questions

Hiring experts and corporate recruiters tell you how to answer interview questions that leave many candidates tongue-tied.

How to answer job interview questionsPhoto: Shutterstock

You already know that making a good first impression in a job interview is extremely important, but how, exactly, is the question. The answer lies in how to answer job interview questions. Here are three things you want to be prepared to do with your answers in that first interview, per Rafe Gomez, co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing and creator of the audiobook What’s In It For ME? A Powerful New Job Interview Strategy to Get You Hired in Today’s Challenging Economy:

  1. Present yourself as someone who has researched and understands the unique needs, goals, and challenges of the hiring company.
  2. Present yourself as someone whose skills and experience can be the solution the organization needs.
  3. Present yourself as someone who can help the person who’s handling the recruiting to end the interview process, and save significant time and money by doing so.

To accomplish these three things, you need to know how to answer job interview questions that prove that you are not just smart, but that you can think on your feet. Here are some of the tougher questions candidates commonly get asked in interviews, and strategies for answering them.

What’s your biggest weakness?

“Don’t lie, dance around this, or avoid it—be totally honest,” Gomez advises. “However, also point out that this weakness has not gotten in the way of your ability to deliver measurable, valuable, and profitable results for your previous or current employers.” Follow up your answer by sharing anecdotes and data-based evidence of these results. “By taking this approach, you’ve steered the conversation where you want it to be: presenting yourself as someone whose skills and experience can be a solution to help that company (and the head of the department where you’d be working) to meet its needs, achieve its goals, and overcome its challenges.”

Why are you leaving your current job?

“The real reason may be that your soon-to-be ex-manager is emotionally manipulative or you are just tired of doing the work, but a blunt answer you’d share with friends generally isn’t considered appropriate for interviews,” says Tasia Duske, CEO of Museum Hack. Instead, answer in a way that shines the best light on all parties involved. “Saying, ‘I’m looking for a new challenge’ is far better than ‘I’m bored!'” she suggests. “Or in the manager example, you can say, ‘We have different approaches to work and I’m looking to join a team that values transparency and integrity.'”

Tell me about yourself

“This is best answered by a short story about your ‘brand,’ who and what you are, what you’re really great at doing, what you’re known for, what you’re passionate about,” says Rick Fishman, president of The Career Coach. “Do not sound like you’re reading your resume word for word; let your personality show. Companies want to hire people who they like and who they feel will best fit in with their team.” If this question always stumps you, check out this additional advice from execs from Fortune 500 companies on how to answer “tell me about yourself.”

Why should we hire you?

While this a standard question for hiring managers, it’s often extremely hard for applicants, says Jagoda Wieczorek, HR Manager at ResumeLab. “Most people don’t know how to spotlight their strong traits without sounding like a salesman, but what’s important to understand is that a job interview isn’t the place to be shy,” she says.”Bring up real-life wins from previous roles, and explain how your experience can translate into value for the prospective company.”

Tell me about your experience

“Be able to speak about your resume and career history, know your dates of employment and reasons for your job changes, highlight accolades and promotions when you speak,” says Heidi Terzo, talent acquisition specialist at Deborah Heart and Lung Center. “If you were let go from a position or have a gap on your resume, keep your explanation brief, honest and be able to articulate what you learned from that experience or that you have resolved any issues and are now ready to move forward,” she says. Here’s more expert advice on how to explain a resume gap.

What are you looking for in a job?

“More often than not candidates end up describing a job that does not match the job description,” says Sharon Rosen, HR specialist and chief people officer at HeraldPR. “While honesty is important, and I want to know upfront if someone isn’t really interested in the role, it’s important to prepare for each interview by really understanding what the company and role is all about. Do your research and due diligence.”

What are you looking to improve in your skillset?

“Most candidates can answer the general goals, aspirations, and past experience questions but I’ve had some candidates trip up on the more technical details and questions that don’t necessarily have a positive response (such as where could you improve most, etc.),” shares Ciara Hautau, lead digital marketing strategist of Fueled. “If you don’t know the answer to a super technical question, it’s totally OK to say, ‘I haven’t had experience in that yet.’ If it’s a critical thinking question, we’re just trying to evaluate the way you think so take us through your thought process even if you can’t get to the right answer.” Don’t forget that there are some questions you should be asking during your job interview, too.

What do you see yourself doing in five years?

“Aside from the employer wanting to see that you do have some personal short-term and long-term goals, they also want to see if it aligns with their vision,” shares Thalia Toha, brand and business strategist: “Many people fail here by ignoring who they are speaking to. If the person interviewing you is the CEO, what is the likelihood that they’d like you to take their position in five years? The best way to do this is actually to go back to your research, see whether there’s a void in the company that you feel is missing that you can solve.”

Tell me about a challenge at your current job

“The best answer is to be honest but professional in your responses,” says Krishna Powell, founder and CEO of HR 4 Your Small Biz. That means resisting the temptation to play the victim or place blame on your boss. “Simply say, ‘My challenges probably haven’t been much different than most. I have learned a lot about myself and how to work with others who are not like me. For this experience I am grateful.'” Find out more words you should always say in a job interview.

Off-the-wall questions

“I like to ask questions that are non-typical,” says Joseph P Martino LPC, owner of Joe Martino Counseling Network. A few of his favourite unexpected questions include: Why are manhole covers round? What are you passionate about in life that doesn’t involve this job? What board game would you be? “I ask questions that are going to show a person’s ability to think on their feet and process. I have found that people who are can’t discuss passions outside of work tend to be troublesome employees.”

How would you handle this situation?

“There isn’t a right or wrong answer to these questions—the interviewer wants to understand your way of thinking and how you would react in certain scenarios,” says Idalia Dillard, VP of Human Resources and Operations at Uproar PR. “The best way to answer these questions is to give the interviewer a clear picture of the situation as you see, the role you would play, the actions taken, and the outcome you expect.”

Having trouble landing that first interview? Find out the resume power words you should be using.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest