woman interviewing man for a job

Answering the Tough Interview Questions

Interviews are a challenge — there is no way around it. Making a case for yourself to people you have never met; competing with people you don't know, who may or may not be more qualified than you, is stressful. Job seekers can spend hours detailing out potential answers, researching the organization, listing out strengths and thinking through examples that prove your capabilities. But what happens when they throw questions at you that you didn't prepare for? Often these questions are out-of-the-box questions, but let's take a moment to tackle the more common difficult questions.

Tell me about yourself?

At first this question can seem easy, but it's one of the most complicated questions to get right. Rarely in an interview do they ask you an open-ended question like this, so what's the best way to respond? Really, this question is asking "why are you here, right now?" "What had led you apply for and consider this job?" In this question, an employer wants to hear important information about your experiences, education and skills that will lead you to succeed in this position. Many interviewees get caught up in personal information, like where they are from, their favorite hobbies, etc., but keep this answer focused. If you are interviewing for a mental health counselor position, then talk about your psychology degree, your internship at a local treatment center and your past experience working with at-risk youth. Relevancy is the key to this question, even though it's asked in a general way.

What is your greatest weakness?

Much of the interview process is you trying to convince the employer that you are a perfect fit. So when this question comes up, it can throw you off. The most common mistakes with this question are: 

  • Claiming you don't have a weakness. Let's face it, nobody will believe you if you try to say you're perfect.
  • Detailing out a weakness that would prevent you from doing the job effectively. If you are interviewing for an office position, don't talk about how you can't stand being behind a computer all day. 
  • Using a cliché like "I'm too much of a perfectionist" or "I care too much about my work." These answers have been so overused that they have little impact on the interviewer.

The best thing to do is to find an honest weakness, however, not one that will limit your effectiveness on the job and talk through that. Talk through that area for improvement, but don't stop there. Make sure the employer knows that you are aware of the weakness, that you are taking steps to improve it and that it won't impact your job performance. 

Why should we hire you?

Often the last question asked, this is the employer giving you an opportunity to make a closing argument. However, many applicants stumble on this answer, since you are rarely
asked to blatantly sell your skills in this fashion. When faced with this question, use it as an opportunity to restate why you are such an ideal match for the position. Aim your skills, education and experience towards the job and use the chance to talk through anything that didn't come up in the interview that you feel is critical for the interviewer to know. At the end, if you can't put together a convincing argument on why they should hire you, they likely won't be able to either.

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Portrait of Dan Gomez-Palacio