9 Smart Answers to the Toughest Job Interview Questions

How to Answer the Interview Questions That Trip Most People Up

Be Smart, Be Prepared

Your resume gets you in the door, but your performance in the job interview ultimately gets you the position. That is, if you don’t botch it.

The questions you face at every job interview is different because the companies and people asking the questions vary so widely. However, there are a few questions that seem to have universal appeal to hiring managers doing the asking, and those are the questions for which you can and should prepare. They are questions meant to either throw you off your game, make you think on your feet, and/or determine how you handle yourself under pressure. Sometimes it’s not even your answer that matters, it’s how you compose yourself while answering.

So while you can’t be prepared for every curveball, you should definitely think about how you’re going to answer these nine questions that pop up in most job interviews. Good luck.

9. “Can you tell me about a time you’ve clashed with a supervisor?”

Don’t take the bait on this one. It’s not an opportunity for you to unload on your idiot manager and convince your potentially soon-to-be new manager how right you are. This is a test, so make sure you pass.

Your interviewer wants to see how you handle disagreements with higher-ups. So please don’t call your former boss a huge a-hole and talk about how much of an idiot he was. It doesn’t matter one bit whether or not you were right, what they’re looking for is whether or not you were able to work things out, move forward, and stay productive. So whatever story you tell here, make sure it has a happy ending. Even if you have to admit you were wrong, that’s not such a bad thing because it shows an ability to take responsibility and, better yet, learn from it.

8. “Can you tell me about a time something didn’t go to plan?”

Again, your interviewer wants more assurances that know how to handle yourself when things go south. This is especially important if your job deals with public relations, team environments, or any kind of crisis management situation.

While you have to give an example of the you-know-what hitting the fan, be careful not to sink your own ship. If you have a major league screw-up on your record, now isn’t the best time to disclose it. Instead, pick a minor incident in which something went wrong. But most importantly, pick an example of a problem which you fixed and successfully turned around. Spend a lot more time talking about the solution and how you implemented it than the problem, because that’s really what they want to hear.

7. “Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?”

This is not an invitation to recount your life story and all your hopes and dreams.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. People use ask this question not because they desperately want to learn about your life, but because they want to see how adept you are summarizing a lot of information in a short amount of time. Do your best to keep your answer to a minute, two at the most. This is your elevator pitch you should have memorized to sell yourself, and most of it should be about professional accomplishments instead of personal details. Throw in a few of the latter for good measure, but in the end they care about what you will bring to the company, so focus on results and recent experience.

6. “Can you explain this gap in your work history?”

Having a noticeable gap in your employment history isn’t ideal, and it’s probably going to count against you. But you still have a chance as long as you minimize the damage.

Did you leave the workforce because you were raising kids or taking care of a sick relative? The good news is many employers see value in that. However, that can’t be the end of your explanation. You need to be sure to talk extensively about any volunteer work you did in that time, and spin it so it’s positive and relevant to the position. For instance, if you’re going for an accounting job and you spent a year as the treasurer of your child’s PTA group, hit that hard. It tells the person interviewing you that even though you weren’t employed, you were still keeping your skills fresh and remaining active.

5. “Why do you want to work here?”

Don’t bother with the canned answers about what a wonderful company it is, because it’s uninspired at best and brownnosing at worst.

The reason they’re asking you this question is to see if you’ve done your homework. This is your chance to prove that you’re engaged and proactive because you researched the company before the interview. You should have read the annual report to see how the company is doing financially. You should’ve Googled the company to see if they’re in the news, what they’re in the news for, and to find out if there are any big programs or initiatives either recently launched or on the horizon. Even if the news about the company isn’t overly positive, you should still know about it so you can nod to it and then talk about solutions and how you can help.

Knowing as much information about the company as possible shows them you’re already invested and engaged.

4. “Why should we hire you?”

This is where far too many people who fear self-promotion start to stumble and mumble and blow their chances. Don’t be that person.

The trick here is to go back to the job listing and study the exact attributes they’re looking for. For example, perhaps they’re stressing 10 years experience but you only have 5-7. However, they also want someone with a track record of securing high profile media placements and you just had a client on the TODAY Show. That’s what you need to focus on to make them care less that you’re lacking a few years of experience. Identify what they value most and then talk solely about your qualifications and achievements that directly relate to those attributes.

3. “What are your salary requirements?”

This is a tough one and there are lots of people with lots of different advice on how to handle it. Here’s our take.

Do your best not to throw out a number first. If asked about salary in the interview, say something along the lines of “Well salary is important and hopefully we will get to that later, but I’m a big believer in seeing if we’re a good fit for one another first and getting to the financials a little farther down the road.” Hopefully that shows them 1) you’re a good negotiator, and 2) you’re interested in more than just the paycheck.

Unfortunately that doesn’t always work, and some employers will press you right then and there to give a number of the spot. You need to be prepared in advance for that inevitability, so before the interview you should go to our free Salary Wizard to see what your job pays and determine how much you want to make. When pressed, be sure to give a range instead of one solitary figure. Make the bottom of your range your absolute drop-dead, walk away number for which you won’t go less than.

The first number thrown out there generally serves as the anchor, from which the final salary is negotiated. Do everything possible to make those numbers work in your favor.

2. “Why do you want to leave your current job?”

Again, the temptation here is to trash your current boss/employer and go on a rant about how terrible it is there and how much you want to leave. Avoid that temptation.

This is not a question designed to find out what’s wrong with your workplace, it’s a question asked to see if there’s anything wrong with you. If you go off on a tirade it shows a lack of maturity and a willingness to trash your boss. Your interviewer will likely be thinking you’ll do the same thing to him/her if you’re unhappy. The best course of action is to be respectful and say something along the lines of “I learned a lot and I’m appreciative of my time there, but I’ve reached a point where I’m hitting the ceiling on promotions and I’d really like to find a job that presents new challenges.”

As always, avoid personal attacks and keep it professional.

1. “What is your biggest weakness?”

This is, by far, the most notorious question in the job interview process.

There’s a lot of risk here because you want to be as honest as possible, but you don’t want to say something that will get you eliminated as a candidate. In addition to that, you don’t want to set off your interviewer’s BS detector either. That’s why saying something like “Sometimes I just work too hard and too much,” because you’ll likely be met with an eyeroll. So pick something that’s already obvious to your interviewer and address it, but then be sure to follow it up by talking about your strengths and how they make up for that weakness.

For example, if the job description says graphic design experience is a plus and you don’t have it but you meet all the other requirements, say something like this. “My graphic design experience is minimal, however that is easily taught and I’m a quick learner. The bulk of this job is writing and I have years of experience which can’t be taught. I’d love to have an employer who cares about employee development and invests in them to learn new skills.” This way you’re admitting a weakness but not a glaring one, and you’re also reiterating your strengths in the same sentence.

And then it’s time to negotiate salary

Once you get through the interview process and you’re made an offer, it’ll be time to talk salary. But are you ready to negotiate?

The first thing you should do is research, so you’re able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what’s a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.