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The 7 Most Difficult Interview Questions...And How to Answer Them

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From: Lorraine Russo

Because you will have only about fifteen minutes to sell your yourself to an interviewer (statistically, this is the total amount of real "talk-time" you have in an interview), you must be prepared for the "tough" interview questions and be prepared to answer them succinctly and effortlessly. Through your role-playing exercises, you will have prepared solid and candid answers to questions, which will vastly improve your success in every interview.

Once I learned how to answer the questions that follow AND the manner in which they should be answered, I received job offers after every interview I went on!

As well, you will be able to provide your answers in a comfortable, natural, and relaxed manner. This is because:

  • You have been role-playing until you've reached a firm comfort level.
  • You know the questions.
  • You have the answers.

So let's review the questions and answers. Note that the answers provided here are intended only as a guide, so you need to work on customizing your own answers to these questions.

QUESTION 1: Tell me about yourself.

This is a confusing question for many people. Some have asked themselves, "Why is she asking me this question? It's all in my resume, isn't it?" Actually, it's not all in your resume--it's in you, and the interviewer wants to hear it directly from you. Your response should be a four or five sentence statement that summarizes your professional and/or educational background. Some people have never been able to decide if an interviewer wants to hear about their personal or professional side, so let's solve this mystery right now: This is a skills and abilities question; no more, no less.

Bottom line: the interviewer wants to know what value you will bring to the company. Remember, the purpose of an interview is to determine what you can do for the company, NOT what the company can do for you!

To answer this question, you must know your skills and abilities inside and out. Tell the interviewer what you do best. Think about the skills or abilities the company is looking for and connect those to your own. You'll know what the company is looking for based on the research you conducted beforehand and what you may have been able to glean from the job description. Of course, you will have an answer ready as a result of your interview preparation techniques. Say what you have to say. Do not ramble! Once you've given your answer:

  1. Stop talking
  2. Smile
  3. Keep your hands in your lap
  4. Look to the interviewer for the next question.

The way to answer this question is to tell the interviewer about your professional abilities in a summarized format. For example, you might say:

"I am an accountant with over ten years experience. I graduated from ABC College with a degree in Accounting in 1978. Since then, I have held four jobs, each with increasing levels of responsibility. I have also worked in both manufacturing and service organizations, thus rounding out my experience as an accountant."

Another example of a way to answer this question:

"I am an administrative assistant with seven years of experience in small- to mid-sized firms. I have reported to various levels within these organizations, ranging from the executive vice-president to manager level. My skills include the ability to work with all levels of people in the organization, as well as using personal computers for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation materials. I also enjoy learning new software packages. I feel one of my strong points is the ability to handle multiple priorities in a fast-paced environment."

A recent college graduate might respond this way:

"I recently graduated from ABC College with a degree in Business Administration and a 3.5 grade average. My goal is to obtain a position that will allow me to develop and refine skills that I learned both in college and my various part-time jobs. I've worked in retail and in office settings, and am now ready to begin a full-time career with a company like XXX Company."

Once you've developed a response, be prepared to give examples that support your opening statement.

QUESTION 2: What were your responsibilities?

When answering this question, try to present yourself in a broad, general way. During your interview preparation, you should have identified about six responsibilities from your current or former position, which you should then summarize during the interview. Do not give in to the temptation to go into great detail about what you did. Talk about what you were responsible for.

You might want to begin your answer by saying:

 "I was/am responsible for the management of the accounting department at ABC Company, supervising personnel and processes in order to accomplish corporate objectives, etc."

Keep your answer at a high level--no details are needed at this point. Another way to answer this question:

"I was responsible for providing administrative support to ensure the smooth and efficient operation of the sales department. I ensured the timely preparation of presentation materials, proposals, and all related documents. I was also responsible for maintaining travel schedules for the sales and marketing personnel in the department."

A recent college graduate might answer this question in the following manner:

"I held various jobs during my four years of college. While working at ABC Company as a summer intern, I worked in the marketing department helping the director create new marketing materials for the sales department. This included coordinating the work of the copy writers and the artists to ensure that the marketing materials were done on time."

QUESTION 3: What are you looking for?

This question should receive a fairly general answer. Try to limit your answer to one (but no more than two) sentences. Use a summary of the attributes you identified during your preparation sessions. Be prepared to discuss your short-term (1-3 years) and long-term (3-5 years) goals. You may want to say something that is vague yet satisfying to the interviewer, such as:

"I am looking for a position that will allow me to use my experience in the ______ field, including xxx and xxx. I am also ready to take on increased responsibilities in a management capacity when the opportunity arises. I am eager to work in a company that can provide the opportunity for professional growth."

>> NOTE: Think about what you mean when you say 'professional growth'; a good interviewer will ask what you believe is the next logical level for you to move to. And please, don't say "a management position" unless you can provide specifics...we've asked candidates in the past what they wanted to manage, and they were truly stumped. If you've taken management classes in school, that's great, but do not expect to be hired out of the gate as a manager! OR

"I am looking for the opportunity to take on new and challenging assignments that offer the potential for growth within an organization such as yours. I had been an administrative assistant for seven years and am ready to move to the next level."

>> NOTE: What is 'the next level' for you? Be prepared to articulate this. OR

"I'm looking for a company that will look at my studies and part-time work as the basis for hiring me as an entry-level employee. I'm hoping to further develop my skills in the marketing field with the hopes of moving through the ranks of the organization."

>>A good interviewer will ask follow-up questions. Regardless of your answer, be prepared to state what you're looking for. If you say you're ready to move on to the next level, be prepared to describe that next level.

QUESTION 4: What don't you do very well?

This is a question that makes most people go weak in the knees during an interview. Interviewers commonly employ this question for a number of reasons:

  • To see how well you think on your feet
  • To detect any negativism about yourself or former employers.

This is also a way for the interviewer to obtain your honest appraisal of your abilities. There is a very simple and easy way to handle this question: candidly and honestly. While you should not throw caution to the wind when you give your answer, your interview preparation session will have given you ample opportunity to develop a terrific response. No one is perfect; we all have strengths and weaknesses.

If the interviewer were to ask about your strengths, you wouldn't hesitate to answer, right? On the other hand, if you were asked a question that, on the surface, asks that you "incriminate" yourself, you would hesitate to answer it, and your hesitation will probably be evident during the interview. The trick here is to turn a negative into a positive. Here's how: Let's say you truly despise repetitive and boring work. Obviously, you can't say this during an interview, but you can be honest when you say:

"If I had to do the same or routine thing all day it would be difficult."

Another answer to this question might be:

"I am a people person. I like to work with people. If I couldn't, it would be difficult."

On the surface, these sound negative, but you have turned them into a positive. It is imperative that you develop an honest answer to this question before the interview, as it will come up in one form or another. Do not be tempted to tell the interviewer that there is nothing you do not do well, because no such person exists!

QUESTION 5: What are your accomplishments?

Now is the time for you to brag a little! Tell the interviewer about situations in which you did well and events that relate to the position for which you are applying. In order to brag effectively, do the following during the interview: 1. State the problem 2. Explain how you handled it 3. Describe the results (i.e., cost savings, automation, increased sales, etc.)

We will cover behavioral interviewing in a future article, but the advice here follows the S.A.R. guideline that is taught to hiring managers and other interviewers so that they can understand how you behaved in certain situations.

Some believe that past behavior is predictive of future behavior, so many interviewers will try to extract behavioral examples from you that ask you to describe specific: - Situation(s) - Action(s) - Result(s) You should have at least six examples ready. Use these to back up your skills and abilities statements. Be sure you have sufficiently rehearsed these six examples during your role-playing sessions, as they will come in handy during the interview. Here are some sample responses to this question:

"Our accounting system was antiquated and required updating to reflect new business and customer needs. I researched this problem and recommended the implementation of an enhanced, fully automated accounting system. The result of this was a savings of $250,000 per year, more timely and accurate management reporting, and a reduction in our accounting staff."

"When I accepted the position at ABC Company, there was no centralized filing system. Trying to find important documents was nearly impossible. I identified the problems with the current filing system, and put in place a new, more efficient system so that document retrieval became faster and easier."

"Even though I only worked part time at the video store, I recognized that some videos were being released to customers without their names and telephone numbers being logged. I suggested a change in the rental procedure that was adopted by the store owner. Now, all video rentals are properly logged in and out."

Always bring a bragging folder with you (I've always called mine the "I Am Great" folder!). For example, if you wrote the best-ever press release, bring a copy with you so that you can say, "for example, I wrote THIS press release [as you pass it to the interviewer] in order to handle the crisis with the media....". ALWAYS try to respond to a skills- or abilities-based question with both verbal and hard-copy samples, which can be anything: correspondence, spreadsheets...whatever. You need to prove that you are capable of the work you say you did!!

Be sure to redact any confidential or proprietary information from any company document you submit.

QUESTION 6: What are your salary requirements?

Answering the salary question at this stage of the interviewing process can be dangerous; however, you must answer if asked, and your answer must be an honest one. Most advice you hear or read will tell you to avoid answering this question whenever possible. But, by avoiding it, you may cause your interviewer to think that you are hiding something or not being honest about your earnings. Our suggestion is to answer in one of the following ways:

"I'd like a salary that reflects the responsibilities of the position. My current salary range is low- to mid- $30's."

"At this point, salary is not an issue for me. I'm more concerned with the position and the opportunity to learn".

You may then feel free to inquire if your salary requirements are within the company's range. Do not feel obligated to justify or apologize for your current salary! Do not offer to take a cut in pay unless asked, and only you truly mean it. This could be appropriate if you are changing careers or looking for less responsibility. If you want an increase in pay, simply tell the interviewer and be prepared to explain why you think you deserve it. If you find that your and the company's numbers are far apart, offer to wait on a six month review, or something close to that. Do not let money become an issue on the first interview, because you may not get a second one!

QUESTION 7: What is your reason for leaving your current/former employer?

Be as honest as you can here. If your company has relocated, say so. If you were downsized, right-sized, or outsourced, just say so. But say so in a positive light. Remember, NEVER, EVER say anything negative about your former employer or former co-workers!! If you were terminated, practice your response carefully. You might respond in the following manner:

"Things at ABC Company did not work out well for me. It was not a good match, and I decided to move on/switch gears/etc.".

"ABC Company was experiencing financial difficulties and, as a result, laid off 20% of its workforce. My position was eliminated."

"ABC is a small company with limited opportunities for advancement. While I have thoroughly enjoyed my work there, I decided it was time to move on in order to advance."

Summary You should write down and continue to edit and refine your answers to these questions. As you continue to interview, you will learn what works and what doesn't. As you role play, you may find that that an answer has opened up a series of additional, unexpected questions.

A good role-playing buddy will ask you follow-up questions, such as - What do you mean by that? Why was your last employer not a good match? - How do you define career growth? Would you be happy with a lateral move? - Do you think our company can give you what you're looking for? Why? - Can you give me an example of how you handled that?

In all cases, you may need to either revise your original responses or develop answers to the follow-up questions. Continue to review your answers after each role playing session. And when you find yourself waiting in your car because you've arrived early for your interview, re-read them-and keep smiling!

Article courtesy of the Recruiting Blogswap, a content exchange service sponsored by, a leading site for college students looking for internships and recent graduates searching for entry level jobs and other career opportunities

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Recruiting Animal

I'd like to see a few detailed examples of the pre interview research.

People keep saying that it is going to give job hunters relevant information without once proving it.

Minnesota Headhunter


Maybe I am not understanding your comment. Are you suggesting there is little if any value on doing research on a company?

Great article/content.

There are many sites out there that discuss interview questions and answers, but you really hit the nail on the head- you have to practice!

Be prepared with your story and you will be able to handle any of the questions that are placed in front of you.


Job interview & career guide

Thanks...its helpful! Great summary of how to be ready.
This is great for anybody, experienced or Rookie, to brush up the day before the interview to have a clear mind and it is definitely not one of those typical tips.

I think interview is the time for you to make your CV alive and share the relevant experience with the audience. It has to be brief and clear, say what you really mean and not what they want to hear. People sometimes try too hard to impress, it may end up having the negative impact.

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