5 Tricky Job Interview Questions & How to Answer Them

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: March 10, 2014

Be Prepared

You definitely don’t want to get caught speechless in an interview if you are surprised by a tough question. Prepare yourself by developing possible responses before you are in the interview, and you’ll amaze the hiring manager with your ability to remain poised under pressure.

Sticky topics can range from awkward questions about your career choices and uncomfortable personal issues that approach the limits of legal interview topics to hypothetical questions about challenging office politics.

Review the questions below to see how you might respond and then consider the suggested answers for a few ideas on how to improve those responses.

5. Why didn't you move up in your last job?

"I see you were in your last position for 5 years but you never moved up the ladder. Why not?

ANSWER: "Even though it was a great company, there were hard times when I was there. Our client base shrank as a result of the recession, and we were all working together to maintain market share. I identified opportunities that turned into strong accounts, but there just wasn’t enough profit generated to fund promotions."

4. Is your work experience diverse enough?

"We’re really looking to expand our global market and I’m not sure you can contribute what we need for our diversity initiative."

ANSWER: "Although my personal experience might not seem diverse, I have made a special point to strengthen my skills in that area. I have sought out courses of study on varied cultures to increase my understanding of different markets. In fact, one of my special projects involved a ground-up campaign to introduce our major product line simultaneously in Europe and China. I’m proud to report that those products remain top sellers in the portfolio as a result of my efforts."

3. Are you flighty?

"I see a lot of coming and going from various positions on your resume. How can I be certain that you will be a good investment for our company?"

ANSWER: "Yes, I have held a number of different positions, and I attribute that to making poor choices regarding companies willing to invest in me. Some of my decisions were also based on what was available in the area where I lived at the time. However, through those short-term experiences with companies that weren’t on the same page as me, I have learned the value of researching potential employers to find a good fit with my qualifications. The short- and long-term initiatives described on your website are part of an exciting trajectory to which I can definitely add value."

2. What's with that employment gap?

"I see that you have several lengthy gaps in your employment history. Is that an ongoing pattern that I need to be concerned about?"

ANSWER: "I have taken some time away from the traditional workplace to care for young children and later my aging parents. But during those times I continued to be involved in the industry by being an active member of the leading professional organization as a committee member and officer. Those contacts helped me stay abreast of cutting-edge issues and continue to contribute papers at conferences. I no longer have those obligations and I remain committed to furthering the profession and the initiatives of my employer."

1. Can you handle a little competition?

"How do you manage office politics?"

ANSWER: "I try to avoid getting involved in office politics, but I also realize that this is not always possible. My strategy is to be as honest and authentic as I can when interacting with others, both inside and outside the company. For example, I’ve had some team members who tried to steal the spotlight on shared projects as a way to create an alliance with the boss. Fortunately, because of my straightforward approach, I was able to speak with both my boss and my colleagues about the situation, and we collaborated on future projects by emphasizing our combined strengths."

Dazzle Them with Your Answers, Then Negotiate!

While these are just a few examples of challenging interview questions, the key is to prepare yourself for the unexpected by building on your ability to think on your feet. Challenge your friends and family to come up with the most outrageous and blunt questions they can think of, and then perfect your responses. You will impress the hiring manager with your professionalism, which will keep you moving on to the next set of interviews.

Once you dazzle them with your answers, it'll be time to negotiate salary, and Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do.

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.