How to Answer the Tough Interview Questions

Let’s face it – most of us don’t LIKE interviews; they’re often very stressful! Also, some people just aren’t confident or comfortable “selling” themselves (except extroverts, we know you love that part!). However, the job market is competitive. To outshine the other applicants, you need to do your homework; be prepared, and you’ll be sure to stand out as the organized, efficient, accomplished professional that you are!

You never know what you’ll be asked for sure, but here are a few of the tough interview questions that we often stumble on – with examples of appropriate answers:

  1. “Tell me a bit about yourself.”
  1. Give no more than a 3-minute synopsis of your career to date: “I am a ______ with _____ years of experience. My most recent position _____, with _____. Mention (relevant) education. My areas of expertise are: 1., 2., 3. and here are some examples of my mastery of those areas of expertise.”

    Interviewers do not actually want to hear anything personal here, nor your entire life story. Sum up your education, current or most recent title, years of experience, position, skills – and, most importantly, give examples.
  1. “Where do you want to be in five years from now?”
  1. You can be honest about your educational and career ambitions, but it probably isn’t wise to admit it if you see this job as temporary; you want to convey your commitment to the organization. If this is your dream interview, and you hope to work there until you retire, even better! Regardless of your actual 5-year life plan, it is best to say something such as, “I see myself working here, but with newly acquired skills, and increasing responsibility as I meet and exceed expectations.” If there is a specific position you desire (CFO? CEO?!), go ahead and tell the interviewer about how you’d like to climb that corporate ladder!
  1. “Why do you want to work for this company?”
  1. Don’t say anything like, “Because there is an opening and I need a job.” This is where you talk about what you learned from the research you have conducted on the company, and mention a common shared value; you want to show that you are a fit for the organization’s mission and culture. Show enthusiasm in your voice and tone, for example: “I love your organization’s mission and core values of _____ and _____! Also, as a client, I have to say that I like the customer service here, and I’d love to be a part of your team.”
  1. “Why should we hire you?”
  1. This is a freeze-up question. Be aware that this is not a time to rehash your skills, but to describe the benefits you bring to the position (and your passion for the organization). You could say, “This job posting very closely matched my qualifications, and I knew it was an excellent fit for my skills and expertise.” You can then expand on that by giving examples, perhaps touting your ability to help cut costs, state your thoughts on increasing productivity, or mention some of your specific skills.
  1. “What is your greatest accomplishment to date?”
  1. Try to use a recent example that is relevant to the position and the company that you are interviewing with, but it is not mandatory to do so; choose the accomplishment you think best suits the interview. Be sure to use the SAR technique – the Situation, Action, Result format. Tell the interviewer(s) about the accomplishment with pride, hitting on the major points, and smile. You can fill in all of the little details if the interviewer asks you to expand.
  1. “What skill do you believe needs development?”
  1. No one likes being asked the “weakness” question, but when you prepare, it’s easier to address. There are a few approaches, but this is one you want to respond to positively. For example, you could choose to name a skill that you would like to learn or one you want to master (you can do it now, but you would like to excel at it). OR your weakness could be something that was a weakness but is now a strength. Whatever you say, make sure it’s positive!
  1. “Why did you leave your last job?”

This question is to determine if you’re a fit for the organization. There are several possible answers, depending on your “why” –

  • If you were fired from your last position, you have to craft your explanation to be short and sweet, but not disclosing any more than is necessary. Stick to a one- to two-sentence answers, such as, “After fifteen years of service and some recent workflow changes, I was let go when my performance didn’t improve quickly enough – much to my dismay. However, this position is truly a good fit for me; I’m so excited about this opportunity!”
  • If you’re still at your current job, tell the interviewer why you want to move on, and if you plan to give a two-week (or longer) notice. It’s okay to be honest, but try not to sound too negative or bitter toward your current employer; try to frame your reason for leaving in a more positive light, such as pursuing personal growth. Perhaps there is a lack of advancement opportunities within the organization, or maybe you feel you need a new challenge.
  • If you weren’t fired, and quit, then tell the interviewer why you left the job. This can be a short answer.

    • If you quit due to conflict with a manager or colleagues, tell them that your values were not congruent with those of the new manager. Everyone can relate to this truthful response.
    • If there’s another, more personal reason, you can lightly touch on the details, but keep your response brief, such as:  “my mother had cancer, and I left my job to care for her. That was a challenging time; however, now I’m back in the field, and ready to move forward in my career.”
  1. “Is there any skill or knowledge area required in this job that you would
    not be able to perform?”
  1. This is not the time blurt out that you had surgery eight years ago; relax. As long as the answer is ‘no’ you are not obliged to share any personal or health issue with the interviewer. If you have a condition that needs special attention or accommodation – as long as it doesn’t prevent you from carrying out the responsibilities as required in the job description – you do not have to mention it until you have signed off on an offer.

Remember, you don’t have to over-explain yourself when answering these questions. Expand on your answers when asked, and try to figure out the corporate culture. Is it a casual, laid-back, dogs-in-the-office type environment? Or more formal, 9-5, suit & tie? You should make sure you ask some questions, too; you need to know if the position is right for you.

We hope going over some of these tough interview questions helps you land that dream job! When you’re preparing for your Big Interview, keep in mind that people remember stories, not buzz words – so give heartfelt examples. And, of course, practice, practice, practice!