4 Tough Job Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

                                             By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC


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Congratulations on landing an interview for your dream job! It’s time to show your potential employer that you are an outstanding candidate by finessing some tough, but typical, interview questions.


Describing Your Setbacks or Weaknesses


While you’re trying to impress the interviewer with your strengths, they’ll naturally want to know about the areas where you still need to grow. The feedback that I’ve gotten from hiring managers is 1. They want to see if you are open to feedback and 2. They want to see which areas you may need some extra support. If you aren’t prepared from this question, it can definitely feel like a “gotcha” question and many candidates practically write their own rejection letter as a result of their responses.


Learn how to turn your weakness into something that you are working on. Pick something that isn’t vital to the job and please, please don’t say, “I’m a perfectionist.” That is one of the most typical answers candidates use and they don’t usually have an example to prove it. If the candidate shows up late or has a lot of mistakes on his/her resume and he/she says, “I’m a perfectionist” well, you know what I said about practically writing your own rejection letter.


Ok. Enough tough love. Let’s talk about some solutions!


1.      Be moderate. Steer clear of any deal breakers that would sink your chances of getting a job offer. Choose a flaw that’s is sincere, but not a deal breaker. Think about the “pro” in having this type of weakness. There is usually and pro and a con to every weakness.

2.      Focus on learning. Prove that you’ve learned from your past mistakes. For example, maybe you like to get things done quickly but one time, you made an embarrassing typo in a business proposal. You realized that taking a couple of extra minutes would make a world of difference and you now slow down and proofread everything at least once before you submit it to a client. In addition, if it is a large document, you finish it in advance so that you can ask a trusted colleague to review it as well. You realized that having an extra pair of eyes on an important proposal is vital to, not only your reputation, but the company’s reputation.  

3.      Practice accountability. Take responsibility for your performance. Your employer is eager to know that you’ll stand behind your work and resolve issues as quickly as possible.

4.      Refer to tasks that will play a small role in your work responsibilities. For example, an accountant who struggles with public speaking raises less concern than one who has trouble with decimals.

Discussing Your Greatest Achievements and Strengths


Listing your assets in an interview can be a delicate situation because you want to seem extraordinary, without sounding arrogant.


1.      Chose relevant examples. Select qualities that are mission critical. If your new boss is looking for someone to reduce the company’s travel costs, describe how you cut the travel budget in half at your last job.

2.      Tell vivid stories. Create a personal connection by letting your enthusiasm shine through. Provide details that show exactly how you tackle a project. Use the STAR interview method as a template for your examples, S=Situation; T=Task; A=Action; R=Result and make the listeners feel like they were right there with you one day when…. . A great story will give the hiring committee a lot of insight into the kind of person that you are, showcase your skills and make you memorable. When I coach my clients on interviewing skills, a short, specific example yields at least 5-10 transferable skills.

3.      Distinguish yourself. You’ll be a more attractive candidate for the position you’re seeking if you can offer a unique benefit. Maybe you’re the only candidate who speaks three different languages or possesses all the desired professional certifications.

Negotiating Salary


Money matters can be tricky. A wise strategy will help you maintain your status as a viable candidate without reducing your future earnings.


1.      Postpone negotiations. Let your interviewer know if your requirements are flexible. Salary may be just one factor in your decision making. Consider the other benefits that matter to you. One thing you can say is, “I am willing to negotiate for the right opportunity.”

2.      Speak in ranges. Politely ask the interviewer if they can provide their salary range first. If you have to give a salary, give them a range, for example, say, “Low 50’s, mid 50’s or high 50’s” as appropriate. This gives you some wiggle room and doesn’t lock you down to a specific number.

3.      Research your market. Find out the going rate is for the opening you’re targeting. Knowledge will strengthen your bargaining position. You may want to check Payscale Salary.com and Glassdoor


Now It’s Your Turn to Ask Questions


Many interviews conclude with an invitation for you to ask your own questions. Posing thoughtful questions will make you more memorable and strengthen your case for being a good fit for the job.


1.      Repeat your strengths. Use your questions to summarize and recap your qualifications. For example, asking about the company’s social media strategy could help you call attention to your experience with Facebook campaigns.

2.      Be courteous.  Watch for signs that the interviewer is looking to complete the session. Similarly, be tactful in approaching subjects that could be helpful, but controversial, to talk about. Your interviewer may be open to commenting on negative news stories about the company or may want to avoid the topic altogether.


3.      Ask Questions That Show You are Interested in the Job. Stay away from asking about salary, benefits, flex time and vacation until you have a job offer. Ask questions that demonstrate your interest in the job as well as information that is important to you in a job.


For example, if you love team work, you could ask what percentage of time is spent on group vs. individual projects. If you don’t love being stuck behind the same desk day in and day out (I have a lot of clients who tell me they don’t feel productive just staying in the office. They want to get out and DO things.) ask around that topic. For example, if you are in sales, you could ask how often you are on the road connecting with prospective clients vs. in the office making cold calls. People can be energizing to some and draining to others, so you may want to ask the percentage of time you will spend face to face with people vs. doing admin.


Think about the tasks you’ve enjoyed in your previous jobs. Are they related to the type of work that you are currently seeking? What are the tasks you didn’t enjoy? You may want to gently ask around them as well. Many of the details and day to day tasks in a job can vary depending on the company.

4.      Assess your prospects. Determine if you truly want the position. While it’s flattering to get a job offer, it’s a better use of everyone’s time to discern whether or not this is actually a good fit for you. How will this help your career? How will this set you up for your next step? What skills will you be gaining? Is your manager someone you can learn from? Definitely ask about the organizational culture, training opportunities, and plans for growth.

You will be able to respond to difficult interview questions ease by rehearsing your answers in advance. You’ll impress your potential new employer with your confidence, qualifications, accomplishments, and enthusiasm. 

Additional Resources

Interviewing: Are You Making These Mistakes?

5 Vital Qualities Every Employer Seeks in Applicants

Want the Interview? Increase Your Odds in 4 Steps

How to Ace That Last Minute Interview

Ace Your Next Job Interview by Listening Better

10 Things That Require Zero Talent