Tough Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

There are many questions you could be asked in an interview. Some will be common sense or easily answered questions like Why did you choose your major? But there are also more difficult questions you could be asked. Read on so you can be aware of some of the basic tough questions you may be asked, the reason interviewers ask them, and most importantly, how to answer them!

1. Questions about the future: Where do you see yourself in five years?

The reason: Essentially this question is asked to see if you see yourself staying at that company. Employers don’t want to hire someone they know will turn around and leave within a year or two.

To answer: Though the employer wants to see your interest in staying at their company, that doesn’t mean you have to lie and give an oddly specific answer like, “In five years I see myself being the hiring manager here interviewing a potential employee just like me!” Instead, you can answer the question by reframing it in a way that shows you do see a future with the company, while being open to what that future holds: Though it is impossible to say for certain what I will be doing in X number of years, I do see myself developing my skills in this position and am interested in finding out more about possible career paths and opportunities here.


2. The weakness question: What is your greatest weakness?

The reason: This is a question that is very common in interviews and the purpose is two-fold. First, the interviewer is interested in finding out what at least one of your weaknesses is. Second, the interviewer wants to know you are self-aware enough to identify an area(s) you struggle with and that you know how to overcome your weakness(es).

To answer: First, avoid cliché answers like, “I’m a perfectionist.” Use this question as an opportunity to explain a weakness that is relevant to the position but not essential. For example, if you were interviewing for a sales position, you wouldn’t say your greatest weakness is paving roads since that has no relevance to the position. On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to say you have trouble talking to people, as that skill would be essential to the position. In this case you may say something like: I can have a hard time keeping my schedule organized, so I have developed a system of writing everything down in a planner to keep track of my agenda and prioritize what I need to do each day.


3. Behavioral Questions: Give me an example when

The reason: Past behavior indicates future behavior. The reason for this question is that the employer wants to know not what you would do in a particular situation, but how you have actually handled a situation in the past. As we all know, actions speak louder than words.

To answer: First, it is helpful before an interview to think about a few examples of past experiences. Most commonly, interviewers will ask about situations where you had to handle conflict, work in a team, made a mistake and fixed it, or accomplished a major task. Think about relevant experiences you’ve had with these types of situations so when you are asked the question, you are prepared for what example you want to give. This will help you be prepared to effectively use that example to highlight your skills and competence for the position. For example, if an interviewer says: Tell me about a time when you failed, you may respond by giving an example of an experience from an internship where you made a mistake, and fixed that mistake. This shows your employer that you are not perfect, but you know how to rectify mistakes you may make.

**Don’t tell an employer that you have never failed or made a mistake. No one is perfect, so we all have at least one example where we have failed!


4. Questions requiring creativity: If you could meet any person, travel through time, be any object, etc. what would you choose and why?

The reason: Interviewers want to see your line of thinking, how creative you are, and sometimes to see if your answer gives hints about how well you would fit in with the company culture.

To answer: Know that no matter how weird or irrelevant the question seems, the question is not random, so don’t give a random answer. Think about the qualifications of the position and frame your answer in a way that makes a connection between the answer you give and the position you’re interviewing for. Often it doesn’t really matter what your answer to this kind of question is, but how you answer.

For example, if the interviewer for an engineering position asks what kitchen appliance you would be and why, you may say: I would be a blender because I’m great with putting seemingly different things together to make something cohesive and new.


5. Questions about the job: What appeals most to you about this position? What do you know about our company?

The reason: Questions about the position or company itself can help an employer weed out applicants who have not done their homework and only applied for the position because it’s a job, not because they are actually interested in the company. Employers want to know you are interested in this specific position and know at least a little bit about their company.

To answer: A good answer lies in how well you have prepared for this interview. Look through the company’s website and at the very least, be aware of what the company does. Whether it’s producing a product, providing a service, or working toward a specific goal, you should be able to tell your employer why the company and position appeals to you.

For example, if an interviewer asks this, you may say: I am so interested because I really identify with your company’s values of X, Y, Z. It is clear from your most recent annual report (or news article, website, etc.) that you uphold these values. This position would be great for me to develop my skills at a company that I believe is doing really meaningful things.


6. Getting to know you: Tell me about yourself

The reason: This question always comes at the beginning of the interview and is used to start the interview off in a friendly way. However, the interviewer is not looking to find out how many pets you have or what your favorite color is. He/she wants to know about your professional self, not just random facts about you.

To answer: This question can throw you off because as simple as it is, it is a question that many interviewees do not prepare for. One way to go about answering this is by telling the interviewer how you became interested in the field of the position you are interviewing for. For example, if you are applying for a position in the social work field, you may tell your interviewer: During my freshman year of college I accidentally got scheduled for a sociology class even though I was a biology major. Unexpectedly, I loved it and after that one class, I changed my major to social work. Since then I’ve loved social work, and my internship experience at XYZ organizing outreach events led me to realize my passion for helping youth and families get the services they need.


7. And the big one – salary questions: What salary are you looking for?

The reason: This question is as equally dreaded as it is important to accepting a job offer. There are whole books on how to negotiate salary, like Knock ‘Em Dead by Martin Yate, but for now here’s a starting point to answer this question.

To answer: First, do your research! Using our resources or other salary survey resources, find out what the average entry-level salary range is for the position you are applying for. Then, make sure you do not ask the interviewer about salary during the first interview. This will often come up in a second or third interview, or when you are offered the position. If possible, it is best to let them bring it up.

If they ask you what salary you are looking for, it is okay to ask: What is your typical entry-level salary range? You may also respond with: I am aware that the typical entry-level salary range for this kind of position is between X and Y. How does that compare with your typical entry-level range? Or even more simply: I am willing to negotiate. No matter how you choose to respond, it’s important that you research what the typical salary is so you will not be caught off guard during this conversation and are prepared to ask, accept or negotiate for the salary you are looking for.

Talking with faculty, professionals and our Career Development directors, researching online and reading materials on salary information can all help give you insight on the first steps of understanding salary negotiating. Again, there are whole books written on this, so it is important to do at least a little bit of preparing before you have this conversation!


Now that you’ve been given these tips, make sure to check out our How to Interview guide on our website for more helpful information.


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