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Interviewing Tips: How to answer difficult interview questions

05.09.2017

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You're armed with your resume, cover letter, and portfolio ready to ace your job interview, so what could go wrong? Preparation is key to a successful interview. Not only should you be prepared to show off your skills, but you should be prepared to answer any of the questions that your interviewer throws your way. Many times these seem like curveballs designed to trick or trap you. But keep in mind that the hiring manager's difficult questions are helping him or her to understand your past experiences and how they have made you a stronger professional. To help you in your interview quest, we have outlined some of the most difficult questions you could face at an interview and how to best answer them.

Tell me about yourself.

While not really even a question, this one can often be the opening statement to your interview, and its difficulty lies in the fact that it is open-ended and unspecific. The purpose of this question is two-fold. First of all, the hiring manager wants to get a quick overview of who you are and if you might be a good fit. Second of all, they are evaluating your soft skills such as your ability to communicate clearly and remain poised.

The best answer to this question is a quick one or two minute synopsis covering your education, work history, and recent professional experience. Relate how these factors contribute to making you the best candidate for the job and back them up with examples. Try to avoid talking about much that does not directly related to the job you are trying to get. 

What is your biggest weakness?

Another common question in interviews, this one can trip up job candidates who are unprepared. With this question a hiring manager is trying to see how self-aware you are and how you handle criticism. While some suggest rephrasing a strength as a weakness, a better avenue to take would be to highlight a true weakness that you are working to correct. For example, if you struggle with overcommitment, highlight examples of specific ways you are working to combat this tendency. But never reveal a weakness that would immediately rule you out as the ideal candidate for the job. Then you have fallen into the trap.

What is one thing you would change about your last job?

There is a delicate balance to strike when talking about your last job. Your interviewer wants to see that you are able to express problems, but do not resort to oversharing or criticizing your manager. A solid answer to this question would be that your responsibilities were not challenging enough. That way your answer does not directly point to any particular mistake on the part of your boss, and shows that you are ready for anything.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

The worst possible response to this question is "I don’t know" - even if that is the honest truth. Prove to your interviewer that you are committed to this company and can see your future playing out there. Think through what your career goals are and how they can align to the goals of the company. Prove to the hiring manager that you want to be at their company for a long time. But in your answer, emphasize your excitement about working for this company in the here and now!

What are your salary requirements?

Negotiating for salary is a tricky process. Name something too low and you may have missed out on a chance for higher income. Name something too high and you may have just priced yourself out of a job. So how do you handle this question? First, you do everything possible to sidestep it to try to get the hiring manager to give you a number first. For example, you can say that you are focused on finding a job that best fits your skill set and you are certain that they are competitive in the market. 

A similar question that can start the money discussion is asking what your current salary is. This should also be sidestepped if possible as naming your current salary  can make you look either underpaid or overpaid. Instead respond by saying that your current responsibilities are not exactly the same and you would like to determine a fair salary after further discussion of your responsibilities.

If push comes to shove and you have to give an answer, arm yourself with research about competitive salaries in your field. There are plenty of free tools and resources online to get you started. Then provide them with a range, but be sure that you would be happy with the low end of that range.

Why should I hire you?

This question gives you the final opportunity to really drive home why you are the perfect candidate for the job. The hiring manager is trying to see if you are capable of differentiating yourself from other candidates without losing a sense of humility. Do your homework. Identify what skills are critical to the position and be armed with specific examples of when you carried them out. But in your excitement to show your excellent track record, be sure to show enthusiasm for the job itself and the company you could potentially be working for.

Conclusion

Each of the questions highlighted here are used by hiring managers for a specific purpose to weed out their field of candidates and find the best option for their company. Take some time to prepare for these questions and really be ready to have strong answers to present to your interviewer.