How to Answer Tough Interview Questions

By Philip J Reed - November 12th, 2015

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No one likes difficult interview questions, but they’re an inevitable truth in a highly competitive job market. Prospective employers will probably ask you things that will make you squirm in your chair.

Google’s hiring managers are known to ask riddles – and some questions have no right answer. Others are ridiculous. “What kind of fruit would you be?”

The rest seem downright cruel: “What would someone who dislikes you say about you?”

Fortunately, interviewers aren’t trying to be cruel. They use these interview questions to uncover how you think, gauge your personality, and conduct mini behavioral assessments.

If you’re applying for a job that requires problem-solving skills or strategic thinking, you should bank on hearing challenging questions in your interview that will make you think on your feet and under pressure.

Sample Questions

Here are some examples of tough, common interview questions, and tips on how to answer them based on what employers are looking for:

Why should I hire you? Have you done your homework on the position? If you did, the answer is simple. Your experience and passion are linked directly to the job duties. When you’re done explaining, ask if there’s anything you may need to clarify.

Tell me about yourself. This isn’t a first date. The interviewer wants to know about your work experience, demeanor and goals – not what you’re up to on a Friday night. Describe your passions and how they relate to the position at hand. Pepper in what you’ve enjoyed about one of your favorite jobs, or describe where you see yourself in 10 years. Limit your answer to two minutes. You don’t want to blaze out of the gate with your all-star accomplishments – there are other tough interview questions on their way.

How would you wrangle a herd of cats? The interviewer wants to know how you handle stress on the job. Show him or her a glimpse of your leadership strategies and critical thinking skills. How would you apply your knowledge to organize people in a difficult situation? How do you manage challenging situations and people?

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? If the job you want requires tenacity, persistence, and thick skin, this is the time for you to shine. Show how you can pick yourself up after falling down and keep plugging away – that you have a stomach for risk and an eye for what works.

Why are there gaps in your resume? Employers know it can be hard to find a job after you have been laid off. Be honest. You also want to tell them how busy you had been volunteering, teaching yourself a new skill, or taking care of family.

If you didn’t have to work, what would you do? Describe the passions that drive you to be productive outside of work. This isn’t the time to start fantasizing about luxury vacations. Translate what inspires you into a meaningful existence.

What is your biggest weakness? No one likes talking about their weaknesses. Choose a real one, something that is authentic to you, but that is outside of the scope of duties required for the job. You already know what skills fall outside the job because you’ve done thorough research. If you’re interviewing for an accounting job, and one of your weaknesses is writing, mention that. Keep it short. Don’t accidentally tread into territory that is included in the job you want.

The question that you cannot answer. What happens if you don’t know how to answer a job interview question? Don’t panic! Use this strategy to turn a potential embarrassment into a win. Your answer will show how resourceful and creative you are, and will let the interviewer know that you’re a problem solver.

  1. First, ask your interviewer to clarify her question to buy some time. Take a deep breath.
  2. List the things you are familiar with.
  3. Call out what you don’t know.
  4. Explain what you would do and where you would go to fill that gap and get the job done.

Practice Answering Tough Interview Questions

When you answer these questions honestly, you’re going to give your interviewer a better idea of who you are so they can see if you’d fit into the company’s culture. Do yourself a favor and don’t lie. You may be unhappy working a job that you landed based on a fabricated personality.

Always enter an interview prepared to answer at least three tough questions.

Identify problem areas, such as many jobs at short durations, gaps in employment, or unrelated experience. By pushing against the bounds of your comfort levels and practicing how to turn a negative into a positive, you’re going to be more prepared to field real-life, surprising queries.

Find the most difficult interview questions and practice how you’d answer. Ask a friend or relative to play the role of an interviewer. Almost important as honesty is brevity. Nervousness can turn some people into endless ramblers. Don’t let that happen to you. When you practice your interview questions, set a timer to keep the answers under one minute.

Stay Collected

Answering common job interview questions can be nerve wracking enough, so when the difficult ones arise your heart beats double time and your breath quickens. Be aware of your body’s response and take a deep belly breath. If you need a moment to formulate an answer, say so.

Sometimes an employer just wants to see how you can respond in a stressful situation. When you’ve got experience practicing hard questions, staying honest and focusing on the bigger picture, you’re sure to have a much better response than if you hadn’t prepared at all.

At CSU-Global we design each of our undergraduate and graduate programs to prepare you for employment in your field of interest. We also maintain a Career Center for students and alumni as part of our commitment to student success, which offers guidance in terms of resume writing, interview preparation, and more. We can’t be with you at the interview, but we hope this article and our other resources can help you nail it.

Best of luck at the interview!

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