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Overcoming Difficult Questions in an Interview

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Overcoming Difficult Questions in An Interview

Every interviewer asks questions with a specific purpose in mind. During much of the job interview, you will be asked straightforward questions about your qualifications, experience and accomplishments. These initial questions are easy to answer. They are designed to help the interviewer determine whether you are capable of doing the job.

Inevitably, you’ll be asked a series of more difficult questions. Probing beyond your basic skills and capabilities, the questions are designed to determine your motivations. If handled poorly, your answers can raise a red flag with interviewers. Take a moment now to read through our list of the top five most difficult questions. Notice how a little preparation can help you overcome even the toughest questions in an interview.

1. Why should we hire you?

To best answer this question, you need to understand why the interviewer in hiring in the first place. What specific skills and experience are they looking for? What are they aiming to accomplish? Are they replacing a lost employee, or opening a new position?

Prepare for this question by researching all of the above. Thoroughly re-read the job advertisement and identify how you can meet the employer’s needs and fill their requirements. Focus on the personal strengths and qualifications you believe make you a perfect match for the position.

Take this question as your opportunity to sell yourself. Mention your qualifications and achievements, highlighting how they will benefit the company. Be brief, but do not give a generic answer, such as saying you're a hard worker. Make the interviewer remember you by talking about their business needs and how you can satisfy them.

2. Why do you want to work for us?

Every interviewer wants to know you understand their company and marketplace. Good pre-interview research will go a long way towards successfully answering this question. Be sure to read the company’s website, peruse industry discussion forums, browse relevant social media sites and read magazines and literature pertinent to your role. Know more than just the name of the business; know what the company is planning for the future and how it fits into the overall industry.

When you answer, mention how you intend to embrace the company’s vision and how you (and your skills) can facilitate their goals. Demonstrate a solid knowledge of the industry and understanding of the company’s background. The interviewer will appreciate you have done your homework. They will also notice you care about the job you’re applying for.

3. What is your biggest weakness?

Despite its intimidating negative connotation, this question is not designed to trap you. Instead, the question is designed to assess your honesty and ability to self-assess.

Answer the question by recognising a weakness that is relevant to your job; but don’t stop there. Continue your answer by discussing how you overcome the weakness on an ongoing basis. What strategies do you use to manage your shortcomings? You can also mention your counter-strengths and how you leverage them to offset your weakness. For example, if you lack focus, you could mention how you keep a strict diary to ensure you stay on track.

Do not mention a weakness for which there is no corresponding improvement. Be as specific as possible and describe the discovery of your weakness, what you did to address it and how fantastic the result was.

Tip – Never claim your weakness is you “work too hard” or you’re “too much of a perfectionist”. Canned responses such as these are not what your interviewer wants to hear. Be truthful and insightful in your response.

4. Why are you changing jobs?

This question will come in many forms depending on your current employment situation. Your interviewer may being trying to uncover whether you are currently employed, if you were fired from your last job, or if you resigned. Recognise that, because leaving any job is always difficult, this question is asked to reveal how you handle difficult situations.

A good answer will focus on the future. Don’t be retrospective, citing bad past experiences. Avoid bad-mouthing your previous/current employer, or forming an answer based on negative circumstances. Focus instead on your current opportunity. Mention how you’re excited to advance your career and how this new position inspires and challenges you.

If you are forced to discuss being recently fired, be completely honest. State that you regret the circumstances, but you’re committed to moving forward. Don’t complain nor dwell on your explanation too long before moving onto more optimistic discussion.

5. What salary do you expect?

This is always a difficult question. On one hand, you don’t want to lock yourself into an underpaid position. On the other hand, you don’t want the interviewer to think you’re demanding or unreasonable.

Although you’ll no doubt want a pay rise (or equal match) compared to your previous position, you can prepare for this question by researching the standard salary range for the job. Visit job websites and speak to recruiters about the salary you can expect.

A good way to answer the question is in two parts. Firstly, state that while compensation is important to you, you are more interested in the overall opportunity. Secondly, indicate that you are open to a fair and competitive offer. Simply reply that you'd expect to paid an industry standard salary, which you happen to know is from $x to $y.

Tip - Be careful when mentioning numbers. Remember that the lower salary number ($x) may be the amount you are offered, so don’t mention an amount you are not comfortable with. Also, never mention a specific salary figure before the job is offered.

Visit Negotiating a Starting Salary article under our Careers Advice for more information.

In Summary

Overcoming difficult questions in an interview is made easier with proper preparation. Prepare short 30-90 second sound bites in response to each question. Write down your answers to the five questions above (and other common interview questions) and practice saying them out loud. By taking time to research and rehearse, you’ll give yourself the best chance of success.

Visit The Job interview section for more articles related to your job preparation.

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