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Responding to Difficult Interview Questions
By Laura R. Hosid   View more articles by this author
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January 27

By the time you get to the interview stage, you have hopefully rehearsed answers to the typical interview questions.   Why are you interested in our company?  Why did you major in Psychology?  Where do you see yourself in five years?  These are all obvious questions that you should prepare for before any interview. 

However, it is the less common questions that tend to unnerve candidates and cause them to lose composure during an interview.  Thinking about how you will answer difficult questions if they arise will help you walk into your next interview confident and prepared.  Here are some infamous tough interview questions and advice on how to handle them: 

  1. What is your greatest weakness?  One strategy is to pick a weakness from your past, and explain the steps you have taken to overcome it.  For example, “I used to have trouble keeping track of deadlines.  But in my last job, I discovered a great personal organizing system, and now I finish every project well ahead of schedule.”  Another tactic is to choose something that is unrelated to the job.  For example, for a sales job where you will be interacting with customers all day, you might say something like “I get really bored and distracted when I have to sit at a desk all day.” 
  2. How do you explain your poor performance on X exam or in Y class?  It is important to accept responsibility, and not to sound defensive.  Quickly move on to discussing how you are confident in your knowledge of the subject matter and how you learned from your mistakes.  Always try to end on a positive note. 
  3. Why are you interested in City X?  This question is tricky when you have no obvious ties to the geographic area.  Remember that employers ask this question because they want some assurance that you plan to stay in the area long-term.  Knowing the motivation behind the question will help you tailor an appropriate answer. 
  4. Why is there a time gap on your resume?  The best strategy here is to be honest.  If you were laid off, explain the circumstances and encourage the interviewer to contact your former employer for verification.  In this economy, there is no longer the same stigma to being unemployed. 
  5. If you were a tree, what type of tree would you be and why?  With offbeat questions like this one, the interviewer is probably less interested in your actual answer and more concerned with assessing how you react under pressure.  One easy trick is to slowly repeat the question to buy yourself some time to think before you start talking.  The key is not to let the question fluster you!   

Remember that interviewing is not an innate talent; it’s a skill that you can practice.  Force yourself to rehearse both easy and difficult questions with friends or in front of a mirror, and you will see an improvement at your next job interview. 

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