If you were asked to pick just one adjective to describe job interviews, I bet this one would appear pretty close to the top of your list — nerve-wracking.
Your palms get sweaty. Your knees get shaky. Your mouth gets dry.
You’re feeling so rattled that when the interviewer asks you a question, you draw a complete blank. Your jaw hangs open and you hear nothing but the taunting sound of crickets rattling around in your brain.
Sound familiar? We all deal with some anxiety about job interviews. In fact, one study reported that a whopping 92 percent of people get nervous ahead of an interview.
Here’s the thing: You probably won’t be able to eliminate those jitters entirely. But, as with anything, some adequate preparation can help you feel a little more confident and at ease.
I know what you’re thinking now — job interviews feel almost impossible to prepare for when there’s no way for you to know exactly what that employer is going to ask you. And, that’s true. You don’t have a crystal ball that spits out every single question you’ll be tasked with answering.
However, there are some tough questions that get asked again and again. So, chances are pretty high that they’ll come up in your own interview.
By having a polished response ready for these common (yet tricky) questions, you’ll not only calm your nerves but also increase your chances of knocking your interview out of the park.
Here are some tough interview questions and answers to help you out.
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8 tough interview questions and answers to ace your next job interview
1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Why They Ask: Many times, this is one of the first questions your interviewer will ask. By giving you the opportunity to talk openly about yourself, the interviewer lays a solid foundation and gets a solid understanding of who you are — before segueing into the rest of the conversation.
How to Answer: At first glance, this seems like it should be simple enough to respond to. How hard is it to talk about yourself, right?
However, this question is actually deceptively difficult to answer. With little direction on what specifically you should be talking about, it’s challenging to pull together a response that gives them the insights they need — while still presenting yourself as a solid, qualified candidate.
|“All told, talk about your experiences, current pursuits, and your intermediate or long-term goals,” explains Jason Patel, founder of Transizion, a college prep company. “This will cover all your bases: why you're qualified, how your current job or project is building your skills, and why your goals and dreams relate to the current job.”
It also doesn’t hurt to share a few personal details — provided you keep it professional and safe for work, of course. Remember, employees hire people, so it’s good for them to know a little bit about who you are outside of the office.
What This Looks Like: “I have over five years of experience as a marketing professional. While I have a broad range of marketing experience, I consider email marketing to be my specialty and my passion. In fact, I was recently tasked with improving the email click-through rate for my previous employer, and I was able to gain a four percent increase in just three months. At this point, I’m looking for an opportunity where I can continue to challenge myself and use my marketing skills to make an impact at an organization. When I’m not at work, I’m an avid runner and am actually training for my third half marathon.”
2. What makes you a better choice than the other candidates who have applied for this job?
Why They Ask: For starters, this is a great way for your interviewer to get a brief refresher on what you bring to the table. But, they also want to challenge you to see if you can confidently portray not just why you want that position, but why you’re deserving of it.
Listen — they don’t really need you to figure out why you’re a more suitable candidate than anyone else (in all honesty, they probably already have that all sorted out). Instead, they just want to see how you promote yourself, as well as which of your own competencies you view as highly valuable.
How to Answer: This isn’t your chance to throw other candidates under the bus. Instead of focusing on what other applicants don’t have, you need to focus on what you do have.
This is your chance to call attention to any unique experiences and sought-after skills that make you a suitable fit for this position. And, when in doubt, even just demonstrating your enthusiasm for that opportunity is a great way to make your response a little more memorable.
What This Looks Like: “I’m sure you have no shortage of quality applicants for this opportunity. However, I know that I have a lot to offer in this position. Particularly with my background working in small agencies, I think my ability to wear multiple hats and solve problems will serve me well in this role. I’m really excited about the prospect of rolling up my sleeves and making an impactful difference here!”
3. What’s your biggest weakness?
Why They Ask: It’s easy to think that this question only exists to trip you up. However, there’s actually a good reason why employers ask it during interviews.
|“It's a good way to break through your ‘interview face’ and get a look at what you're really like,” says Chris Brantner, editor in chief for StreamingObserver. “Are you going to answer the question completely honestly and give up a true weakness? Are you going to get frazzled and have trouble coming up with something? Or are you going to be stubborn and refuse to answer?”
How to Answer: You’ve probably heard the cliché advice that you need to find a weakness that you can easily spin into a positive. But, spoiler alert. That trick is the oldest one in the book, and interviewers easily see right through it.
Employers are interested in gauging your self-awareness and figuring out whether or not you’re open to admitting your own shortcomings and — most importantly — pursuing growth or improvement.
So, go ahead and be honest about something that you’d really like to work on (although, I recommend skipping the fact that you’re repeatedly late or have a nasty habit of falling asleep at your desk).
The icing on the cake? Mention some things that you plan on doing or are already doing to hone that skill or make that change.
What This Looks Like: “I’m somebody who tends to be hyper-focused and keeps my head down in my work. That helps me get a lot done, but it also means that my efforts to forge professional relationships in the office often fall short. I know how important those bonds are, so I’m actively working on becoming better. I’ve even blocked off weekly time on my calendar to make sure I’m dedicating the necessary time to build and maintain relationships with the people I interact with professionally.”
4. Can you answer [seemingly random brain teaser or test]?
Why They Ask: It’s not uncommon for an interviewer to throw some sort of brain teaser, test, or other wacky question your way.
Jeff Lenney, an SEO expert and marketer, recounted a time when he was asked to tell a joke off the cuff in an interview. Stacey Zimmer of True North said that she had to take a 30-question math test during an interview.
While these sorts of requests seem totally out of the blue, they actually exist to catch you off guard and then gauge how you handle unexpected or stressful situations.
|“They replied that the whole purpose of the test was to see how I handle surprises and to screen how dedicated the candidate was — some applicants walk out when they find out there is the test,” adds Zimmer.
How to Answer: Unfortunately, these sorts of brain teasers are almost impossible to prepare for. But, here’s the best advice that you can take to heart. Don’t be afraid to take a little bit of time to think.
When this question throws you off your game and your pulse quickens, it’s tempting to just jump in and say something — anything at all.
But, taking a deep breath and collecting your thoughts for just a moment shows that you aren’t reactive or panicked in the face of stress — that you can keep your wits about you, even when unexpected scenarios arise.
5. How is your previous company different as a result of you working there?
Why They Ask: Yes, employers want to find candidates who have the necessary skills and will work hard. However, above all else, they care about value — they want someone who can translate their skills into something that makes a real, meaningful difference for the company.
That’s exactly why this interview question crops up. You need to call attention to not just what you did in your previous role, but why it mattered and what it accomplished.
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How to Answer: I understand the temptation to use this as an opportunity to highlight all of your personal achievements. Those are important, but it’s more important that you find a way to tie those back to overarching company goals and larger improvements.
|“Even if you hit all of your quarterly goals for the entire year, do you see how this translates into the bottom line and the value this company brings to the world?” says Velina Getova, COO at Enhancv, an online resume building platform. “It’s about the cumulative effect of your contribution and how the company changed as a result of that.”
What This Looks Like: “I did a lot of work that I’m proud of in my last role. But, one project that really made an impact for the company was spearheading the entire redesign of the website. By focusing on making the site cleaner and far more user-friendly, we were actually able to increase conversions by 28 percent. It was great to see that my hard work actually led to a measurable improvement for my employer.”
6. What is a big mistake you’ve made in your career, and what did you learn from it?
Why They Ask: Think this question only exists to make you feel bad about yourself? I promise, there’s more to it than that.
There’s nothing more admirable than someone who can own their slip-ups — even when they’re embarrassing. And, more than that, employers really want to hire people who can not only be accountable for their mistakes, but translate them into constant growth and improvement.
|“We want to know they are someone who can handle challenges, hold themselves accountable, and are able to learn and grow — someone who can develop,” explains Laura Johnson, HR manager at English Blinds.
How to Answer: Similarly to highlighting your own weaknesses, it feels unnatural to share things that make you look like less than a flawless candidate. But, this is another scenario where you want to be honest and forthright — without making yourself look too sloppy, of course.
You’ll need to touch on the mistake you made in order to provide context for the interviewer. However, spend the bulk of your answer focusing on the steps you took after that blunder in order to avoid it in the future and become even better.
What This Looks Like: “Early on in my career, I didn’t set up the appropriate link tracking for this large sales email that we sent out — which made it really difficult for us to measure and monitor the sales that email generated. It definitely taught me the importance of double-checking everything. I even established a set workflow for myself that includes a couple of final checks. I never made that same mistake again.”
7. What excites you most about our company culture?
Why They Ask: The point of this one is pretty simple — they want to see that you’ve done your research about that company. Nobody wants an unprepared interviewee, and this is a great way to not-so-subtly figure out just how much you know about what they’re like.
How to Answer: First and foremost, here’s an important reminder. You have to do adequate research about the company before you ever waltz into that interview.
While you’re digging into what that company is all about, pick out an element or two of the company culture that really resonates with you. Maybe you love their commitment to community service and volunteer days. Or, perhaps you’re somebody who believes that two brains are better than one and you’re excited about their collaborative approach to projects.
Figure out what appeals to you, and then emphasize that in your answer.
What This Looks Like: “I’m passionate about my career, but I’m also really driven to help and serve others. I was thrilled to see that this company places just as much — if not more — value on community service. I can already think of a dozen different organizations I’d like to volunteer with during your quarterly volunteer days!”
8. Why are you looking to leave your current job?
Why They Ask: If you’re in an interview, you’re obviously on the hunt for a new opportunity.
You don’t need to dive into the dirty details of why you’re bidding adieu to your current employer. However, this question gives greater insight into what you’re looking for in your next position — which your interviewer can use to determine whether or not there’s a mutual fit between you and this company.
Additionally, they get a strong grasp on the quality of your character — particularly if you don’t fall into the trap of bad-mouthing your current or previous employer.
How to Answer: Instead of focusing on what you dislike about your current job, turn your attention to what you’re looking for in a new one.
For example, maybe your current company is small and offers limited opportunities for growth, and you’re looking for somewhere that you can stretch and challenge yourself.
Or, maybe you feel as if a number of your skills are underutilized, and you’re eager to land with an employer who wants to leverage all of your expertise.
What This Looks Like: “I’ve learned so much in my current role. But, at this point, I know I’m ready to take a step up in my career and am looking for an employer who has greater opportunities and resources to support me in my career growth and development.”
Get ready to ace your interview
Job interviews will always be nerve-wracking, and it’d be nice if you had a crystal ball that would conveniently tell you everything that employer was going to ask.
Unfortunately, we can’t throw a crystal ball your way. But, these eight tough interview questions and answers should make a difference. Being prepared with polished answers to the common and challenging interview questions we’ve shared here certainly helps to tame those butterflies in your stomach. You’ve got this!
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