Sweat is forming on your brow, brain going into overdrive.
Don’t panic; you can figure this one out.
They’ve started the interview with a real tough question…
“What’s your name?”
You regain your composure and figure out the answer. Phew.
One down, but many more to go.
In reality, there are many difficult job interview questions. And your answers could have a significant impact on whether or not you get the job.
I’ve collected 12 of the most challenging and common interview questions and provided you with the answers you need to rock your next interview.
Find What You’re Looking For
Can you tell me a little bit about your yourself?
You hear this question, and you blanch, because how could you possibly fit your entire life history into 30-60 seconds?
While this request might seem vague, there are specific things you should keep in mind that will help you narrow down what you’re going to tell your interviewer.
First, remember that this is an opportunity to showcase yourself and tell your interviewer how you fit into the role at hand.
It’s an opportunity for you to directly say, “I am this kind of person and I have these skills that will make me successful at this job.”
Granted, you won’t be that direct. But you get the idea.
You likely have a lot of skills and assets, but remember, you should choose the ones you think will be most useful and relevant to the position you’re seeking when answering this particular job interview question.
However, you should keep in mind your interviewer does already have a copy of your resume, so it’s best to not repeat information that you’ve already provided verbatim.
Video: Harvard career services advisor Linda Spencer explains how you should research and prepare before your interview.
In less than one minute, you will want to cover several things related to the job at hand:
- A bit about your past, specifically something that paved the way for you to arrive for the day’s interview (e.g., “I worked for ten years in the telecommunication industry”)
- A bit about what you’re doing now (e.g., “I am a social media manager for Mega Corporation where I do this task, the other task, and final task.”)
- A bit about where you’re looking to go (e.g., “I’m seeking a new challenge that will let me use my X, Y, and Z skills to do A, B, and C. These are skills I’ve developed over the past X years”)
What do you know about our company?
Before you set foot onsite for your interview, you need to research the company.
During your research process, consider what stands out to you about the company? What makes an impression on you? What made you say, “I want to be a part of that?”
The question provides two opportunities:
- Show off what you know about the organization by reciting the company’s history.
- Convey that there are aspects of the company with which you identify and that you are a good fit.
You’re also getting a chance to show that you’ve done your due diligence by looking into the company. This signals that you care about the position for which you are interviewing.
For example, you might say something like:
I understand that Mega Corporation is a market leader in producing widgets, but I also noticed the company’s efforts toward eliminating diseases in third-world countries. I see spending increases in research and development with regards to low-cost, energy efficient water purifiers, and as a research scientist, this project piqued my interest and spurred my interest in your company.
When answering this question, remember the goal is quality of thought, not quantity of words.
Watching mock interviews online is a good way to practice for an interview. You can also try stopping the video after each question and providing your own answers. This mock interview, for a position at R.E.I., was produced by Katherine Johnson.
What is your biggest weakness?
This classic question is asked in almost every interview. It is hard because there is no easy answer.
Interviewers want to see if you can be honest, have a degree of self-awareness, and are compatible with the job.
To answer this, let’s first go over a few bad answers:
- Cop outs: Answers like “I care too much” or “I work too hard” sound ingenuine and aren’t real weaknesses.
- Inappropriate answers: “I tend to steal things” is never a good answer. But if the job is sales-related, you also don’t want to say “I hate talking to people.”
- No plan for improvement: It’s also a bad sign to say you have a weakness without also explaining how you’re working on it.
In short, it’s a game. You need to find a real weakness that isn’t critical to the job, and explain how you are interested in self-improvement.
The best answer will vary between jobs and be dependent on the skills required for the job you are applying for.
Here’s a good potential answer:
I’m not the best at multitasking. Most of my previous work consisted of focusing on single tasks for long periods. I’ve begun making a more detailed schedule and actively looking for additional things to take on, whether in my own life or at work.
Why do you want to work here?
There are a few variations of this question. Whatever you do, don’t mention money.
Of course, you want a job to make money, but no company wants an employee motivated solely by money.
Interviewers want to know what about the company and role appeal to you, the candidate.
When it comes to the company, you could mention:
- A good experience you had with one of their products
- Values or a company culture that you appreciate (find these on their website)
- A product they make (or will be making) that you find interesting
For role-related reasons, the best responses are:
- To broaden your skill set (if there’s work involved different from your previous job)
- To face new challenges
- To work with industry leaders you’ve admired (if appropriate)
I recently saw an article that Company ABC is investing in free online courses, in addition to it’s paid curriculum. It resonated with me, as I have a keen interest, and background, in using technology to expand access to education, and your commitment to this cause aligns with my professional values.
What would you want to do if you didn’t have to work?
There are two things an interviewer is trying to determine with this question.
First, they are trying to determine if you enjoy what you do, and aren’t just in it for the money. An excellent answer to this question should include tasks at least somewhat related to your job.
Second, they are looking to learn more about your passions.
Your answer doesn’t have to be all about job-related activities (work, education, etc.), but it should be a big part of it. Feel free to include other passions that the interviewer might find interesting.
You might want to build a training program for at-risk youth to learn the skills you have. (This could apply to nearly any job.)
For example, if you’re a web developer, a good answer could be something like:
I’d love to spend my time building web tools or making sites for charities I care about.
Why did you leave your last job? (Or why do you want to leave it?)
The difficulty of this question will vary widely.
If your job was seasonal or part-time, this is easy to answer. But what if you were fired, or if you still have a job?
Let’s look at these separately.
First, what if you are currently employed? This is a good situation to be in; it means that another employer values you enough to hire. However, you need a good reason to be looking for a new job, or your new potential employer might get scared that you won’t stay in the position long.
Here are some good reasons:
- You’re looking for a new challenge
- You’re moving for personal reasons
- You’re looking for a career change or pivot
Conversely, here are some bad reasons:
- I hate my boss or co-workers
- I don’t think our company is going to survive long
- I’m bored
Notice a trend between the two types of answers. Good answers focus on why the new company would be a better opportunity, while bad answers make it sound like you’re running away to any place that will take you.
The question is different, what if you’re not currently employed, specifically what if you were fired?
Saying that you just needed a break, took time off for personal reasons, or were laid off (unrelated to performance) are usually fine. But if you were fired, most interviewers will be wary that you might not be a good employee, and you need to change their mind here.
There are two good ways to handle this:
- Acknowledge a skill deficit, and explain how you fixed it, or why it’s not as crucial for this job.
- Explain how your former company changed that made you not fit in.
An example of the first may be:
It turned out I wasn’t well suited to the job because I’m not amazing at being creative. But it made me realize that logic was something that I was good at and enjoyed, which is why I’m pursuing a job in quality assurance.
An example of the second may be:
A new manager was hired, who changed the direction of our department, and brought in someone from a former workplace with more experience with their goals.
How would you handle it if your boss was wrong (and action was needed)?
Unless you’ve never had a job before, there have been times where you’ve disagreed with your boss. So don’t answer this question by saying it never happened.
Conversely, you don’t want to say, “I have tons of examples of this happening,” as that makes you seem difficult to work with. You want to emphasize that this doesn’t happen often.
The specific problem rarely matters when answering this question, but the approach you took.
Here’s are the most important things to keep in mind:
- Explain the problem clearly.
- Focus on the problem and your action, don’t speak negatively about your former boss.
- Explain how your actions were thoughtful and tactful. For example, speaking to them privately and politely explaining your viewpoint would be ideal in most cases.
An example of this might be:
In a previous role, I was a social media manager for a web building company. Our manager implemented a policy that all posts should be scheduled at specific times. I had a few accounts where I thought this would be detrimental to engagement and voiced my concerns when asked during a team meeting. She agreed to meet with me one-on-one, and I shared a few examples of accounts I was concerned for and data to back up my claim. My boss ended up amending the policy to allow for exceptions.
You’ll also want to back up your claims with actual examples since what you’ve done in the past is of utmost importance.
This question doesn’t follow the typical behavioral interview format (e.g., “Tell us about a time you did X, Y, and Z.”) but that doesn’t mean you can’t convey the same information when presented with a different prompt. You might want to follow the STAR method, where you talk about the situation, the tasks you completed, the actions you took to complete the tasks, and the result or outcome.
Here’s an explanation each of the elements of the STAR method:
- Situation: Describe the situation
- Task: Detail the task you needed to accomplish
- Action: Describe the action you took to complete the task
- Result: Finish up by explaining the results of your action
When you use the STAR method you’re showing the hiring manager how you helped to solve a business challenge. It doesn’t have to be limited to business, depending on the type of job, you could share experience from volunteer work or a problem you helped to resolve in class.
Video: Example STAR answers
How much do you expect to get paid?
It’s a basic rule in negotiation that those who name the first price lose.
If you name an amount that’s too low, most companies will gleefully accept and you’ll cost yourself a lot of future income.
If you name an amount that’s too high, it can prevent you from getting the job offer, although many companies will counter it if they really want you.
So there are two good approaches to this question.
Research it before you arrive. Glassdoor is your best friend.
First, look up the company you’re interviewing at and click the salaries tab near the top. It will show you how much different positions are being paid.
Next, look at any close competitors, and see what they pay for the same position.
When you name your price, it should be a bit higher than the minimum that you’ll take. It should also be in line with the salaries you just looked up.
Make sure you can justify your salary request with your experience and the research you just did.
Video: Get tips on handling that mid-interview question on your salary expectations.
Based on your research, you could try the following approaches.
Approach #1 – Ask them to name a price: This is one scenario where answering with your own question is okay.
Saying something like:
I’m focused on the entire compensation package more than just the salary. Benefits, insurance, and other fringe benefits are important to me. What are you able to offer?
Approach #2 – Make sure your number is correct: If you’re uncomfortable with the first approach, it’s crucial to research salaries before the interview.
Why should we hire you?
This question seems so simple that it can quickly catch you off-guard if you aren’t prepared.
The mistake that most candidates make is merely listing the same skills and experiences that they’ve been talking about for most of the interview. On the off chance that it’s asked early on, it’s fine to sum up your experience and any unique skills at a high level.
This question is really asking for reassurance. The interviewers want to know they can rely on you.
So how do you do that?
You emphasize qualities that are important, but not necessarily related to the job, like:
- Problem-solving skills
- Communication ability
- Work ethic
Here’s an example of a good answer:
I’ve worked in this field doing [skill 1] and [skill 2] for five years now. When I saw your job posting, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for, a place and a job that I would be excited to come to every day and be able to learn and grow. I’m qualified, and want nothing more than to give my all in this role.
Where do you see yourself in X years from now?
Here are some things you shouldn’t say:
- “Doing your job.”
- “Retired and on the beach in Hawaii.”
- “Working for myself and building a company I started.”
While some (or all) of these might be true, they’re not answers that will get you through the door. Rather, there are things you can say without compromising your honesty.
To prepare for this question, imagine that you land the role for which you are interviewing. What does the job progression look like? How have you grown, both personally and professionally, as a result of doing this job?
Once you’ve completed this thought exercise, you’ll have a great starter for your answer. You might come up with something like:
I see myself having developed experience in an industry that complements my education in this field.
I see myself learning and growing into an Accounts Executive position so that I have increased responsibility for my clients.
Still not sure? It’s okay to be honest and say that you aren’t sure what the future holds.
How much you disclose depends on the position. While most hiring managers are looking for candidates that will stay on for some time, that may not always be the case. If you are interviewing for a training program, the manager may be aware that you’ll be leaving in two years. It’s okay, in that situation, to mention that you see yourself elsewhere.
Do you have any questions for me?
Nothing feels worse than ending an interview with this question and sheepishly answering “No, I don’t think so.”
It’s a challenging question because you’ve spent most of the interview focused solely on your own experiences and the role itself. At that point, it can seem like there’s nothing left to ask about.
But it’s a final chance to connect with the interviewer and leave on a good note. It’s also a good time to show that you care about more than just the role or the money.
Here are some good questions that are suitable for most interviews:
- What are the good and bad parts of working for this company?
- How is the work-life balance?
- Can you summarize your experience at the company?
- What are the best or worst experiences you’ve had so far?
- What is your management style?
What to do if you don’t have an answer to an interview question
Everyone has been asked a question in an interview where they don’t have an immediate answer.
Here’s a basic template to address these questions on the fly.
- Slow down and don’t rush: It’s perfectly fine to reiterate a question or say “That’s a great question, I’ll need to think for a second to answer it.” It shows you don’t panic in situations where you don’t have all the answers.
- Demonstrate your thought process: One of the objectives of an interview is to figure out how you think, so think out loud. That doesn’t mean you have to say everything that flits through your mind. Instead, share the broad contours of your thought.
- Connect with a similar question: Sometimes you can rephrase the question a bit to answer a similar problem. For example, if you were asked about a conflict with a boss but didn’t have one, you could talk about a conflict with a co-worker.
- Accept temporary defeat: If you genuinely don’t know something, you’ll have to admit it. But other than saying “I don’t know,” express your curiosity and desire to find the answer later. “That is a really interesting question, and to be honest, I am not sure of the exact numbers off hand. I would probably start by looking at <industry journal or similar>.”
The most important thing to remember when you run into a question that you can’t answer is not to panic.
Not knowing an answer will rarely prevent you from getting a job offer, but showing you can’t handle uncertain situations under pressure could.
Wait! Before You Go Ace Your Next Interview
I encourage you to go over these questions several times until you’re comfortable answering them.
Once you are, you will be much more confident going into your next interview.
But before you go, you have a chance to help others in your situation. Leave a comment below with the most interesting interview questions you’ve had that’s not on the list.