The Howard Group


Interviewing – Tough Questions

What is a tough question? Simply put, it’s a question you wish the interviewer did not ask or a question you do not have a good answer for. Therefore, before entering the interview, plan your answers to common questions. Look at the questions below and consider how you would answer them.  Consider writing out your answers and practice out loud if needed. This will ensure that your responses will be smooth and logical.

  • Tell me about yourself.  You will be asked this question (or one very similar to it).  It’s a great question that allows you take command of the interview by selling your accomplishments and capabilities.  A neat formula to use when answering this question is to identify a professional quality you possess then tell the hiring authority about an accomplishment or mini-story, which exemplifies the quality. Then move to the next quality, etc.  You should be able to talk about yourself in this format for at least 3 to 5 minutes. 

  • Why are you looking? Briefly describe the circumstances of your employment.  But, by no means should you disparage your current or previous employer.  No one wants to hire a complainer. Be honest, but tactful.

  • What do you know about our organization?  You will be prepared for this one when you do your research ahead of time.

  • Why are you interested in this position?  Relate how you feel your qualifications really match the requirements of the job.  Also, express your desire to work for that company.

  • What are your most significant accomplishments in your career, so far?  Pick recent accomplishments that relate to this position and its requirements.

  • Describe a situation in which your work was criticized.  Focus on how you solved the situation and became a better professional because of the criticism.

  • What would your last/current employer says is your greatest strengths?  Weakness?  Pick a strength which relates to the position requirements.  When talking about a weakness, focus on the steps you have taken to correct this.  You can also disguise a strength by saying it is a weakness.  For example:  "I have often been criticized for being a workaholic.  I need to remind myself to take a break and spend some quality time out of the office."

  • How would you describe your personality?  Focus on the aspects of your personality which allow you to get along well with others, manage effectively, and get a job done efficiently.

  • How do you perform under pressure?  Be positive.  Use an example to back up your answer.

  • What have you done to improve yourself in this past year?  If you have not taken formal training classes, talk about books you have read or cross training you have done at work.  This may even be something as simple as controlling the stress in your life.

  • What did you like least about your last position?  This is not an opportunity to complain!  Focus on something that is not really "bad," but simply a preference of yours.  An example could be:  "In my last position, the work environment was such that each person was their own separate business unit, working independently of others.  Although I succeeded in that environment, I prefer to work in a more team-oriented atmosphere."

  • How long would you stay with our company?  Emphasize that you will stay as long as you are being professionally fulfilled and you are able to add value to the company.

  • Why are you leaving (why did you leave) your present/last job? [This is a variation of the question Why are you looking?]  Focus on the future opportunities, not past problems.  Even if you were laid off from your last position, be positive and emphasize your willingness to embrace the situation as an opportunity to explore new career possibilities. 

  • Describe what would be your ideal working environment.  Use descriptions which match the company and position.

  • How would your co-workers describe you?  Use adjectives which would be helpful in this position.

  • What do you think of your boss?  Be positive.

  • If you had your choice of jobs and companies, where would you go?  Describe something similar to this company and this particular position.

  • What kind of hours are you used to working?  Employers are looking for the answer, "Whatever it takes to get the job done."

  • Are you a good supervisor?  Do you feel you have management potential?  Don't just say, "Yes."  Give a situation that backs this up.

  • Have you ever fired anyone?  What was the situation and how did you handle it?  Explain the problem briefly and the procedures you took.  Emphasize your attention to legal issues and seriousness of the situation.

  • Are you creative?  Give an example of your creativity or out-of-the-box thinking.

  • What are your goals in your career?  Focus on those goals which match what you feel this employer can offer you from the position you are interviewing.

  • What position do you expect to have in two years?  Be realistic and non-threatening to your interviewer.  Don't say, "I want your job!"

  • Why should we hire you?  Match the qualifications you have with the requirements of the position.

  • Why haven't you found a new position yet?  Explain that you are not just settling for a "job," but are looking for a career opportunity.  You just haven't found the right fit yet.

  • What kind of salary are you looking for?  Careful not to give an exact figure.  Say that you are more interested in the opportunity than salary and know that whatever is offered will be fair.  If the employer pins you down, give a fair, wide range.

  • What other types of jobs/companies are you considering?  Don't name specific companies.  Simply explain the positions in general.  Certainly don't say, "This is the only interview I have had."  If this is the truth, explain the types of positions you have applied for.

  • What does a company owe its employees? The interviewer is seeking information about what your true expectations are from the company.

  • What websites do you visit on a regular basis?  The interviewer likely wants to know if you are aware and staying current with industry-related websites and therefore trends and news. A poor answer would be a social networking or some online retail website.

  • If you were to be hired, what do you think would be a reason you would leave this position or the company? The interviewer is searching for red flag areas, such as more money, moving back home, and so on.

  • What risks did you take in your last position? The issue here is whether you will take a calculated risk and think / do something outside-of-the-box.

  • For management candidates: If an employee did a task in such a way that contradicted your instruction, but was highly successful, how would you handle it? Tough question. The interviewer is looking to explore your management style and how you would handle the employee.

  • Things don’t always go the way we’d like. Sometimes we cannot deliver on a deadline. Describe how you deliver negative news to your superior or a customer. An answer to this question should show honesty as well as tactful presentation.

  • What was the most useful criticism you ever received, and who was it from? The answer to this question reveal what someone else thought was a weakness. When answering, inform the interviewer that you have learned from past experiences and criticisms to improve your performance.

  • What sort of trends do you think affect our business?  The interviewer is looking to discover if you understand the bigger picture, business influences, and trends.

As you interview, you will encounter questions that you simply are not going to be able to prepare for. If you encounter one of those questions, after the interview write it down and think through a good answer. That question, or one very similar, could come up again. 

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"The time you spent with me to ensure a solid match is the mark of a pro. I now realize that you wanted to make sure this change was good for all parties concerned."