Answering Difficult Interview Questions

Answering difficult interview questions simply requires some good practice. Those common questions that frighten most job seekers don't have to trip you up or cause stress if you're well prepared.

For most people, the toughest questions to answer well are the ones that ask for a negative response and the ones that ask for a very specific example of how you handled a situation.

When you go to an interview, you'll need to be prepared to demonstrate to the employer that you have a great work ethic and would fit in well. You'll also need to be able to back up and expand upon everything that is detailed on your resume, discuss your accomplishments and show that you have the skills needed to do an outstanding job.

You accomplish all of that by being prepared with specific stories about times when you did outstanding work and handled challenging situations effectively. You also need to avoid bad mouthing anyone no matter what questions the interviewer asks, and no matter how annoying your former colleagues, boss or customers may have been!

If you understand and prepare for the trickiest questions employers ask, you'll be ready for the task of answering difficult interview questions.

Traditional Interview Questions

There are several questions that are frequently asked during job interviews that are so common, you absolutely must prepare answers to them if you want to be ready for your job interview.

Traditional interview questions are usually open ended and designed to allow you to provide a detailed answer. Some examples of common traditional questions are:

Tell me about yourself.
What are your greatest strengths?
Why did you leave your last job?
What are your greatest weaknesses?

Of these questions, the one that seems to give people the most difficulty is the last one, "What are your greatest weaknesses?" This question gives people trouble because is asks for a negative response (i.e. a weakness).

The biggest mistakes people make when answering a question about their weaknesses are:

  1. Saying they are a perfectionist - It sounds insincere because it is an overused answer.
  2. Saying they have no weaknesses - Also insincere because everyone has weaknesses.

To answer this questions effectively, you need to tell the employer about something that was a weakness in the past and you did something to correct or manage that weakness. That way, you're telling the employer that you do have a good self-awareness of your strengths and weakness, and when you see an area that could use some improvement, you do something about it.

You can find a more detailed explanation about how to answer this question, plus a printable worksheet to help you formulate your own answer to this question here.

Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral questions allow the employer to determine how you have handled certain challenging situations in the past. An example of a common behavioral question is:

Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult client. How did you handle it?

The theory behind behavioral questions is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Employers want to hear examples of times when you effectively handled challenging work situations in order to determine whether you are prepared to handle similar challenging situations at their company.

The biggest mistakes people make with this type of question are:

  1. Telling a story about a situation that they are angry about and was never resolved - It makes you come across as a trouble maker who can't solve problems at work or, in the case of a difficult boss, can't handle authority.
  2. Being extremely vague and not describing a specific situation - A specific example does a much better job of showing employers you can handle tough situations and makes you more memorable compared with others who interview for the same job and provide general answers.

The most common behavioral questions refer to times when you had to deal with a difficult client or customer, a challenging coworker or a challenging supervisor or boss, so you need to at least be ready to answer those three questions.

You can find specific examples and more detailed information about how to answer behavioral interview questions here.

Situational Interview Questions

Situational interview questions are similar to behavioral questions; however, with these questions the employer outlines a challenging hypothetical work related situation and asks how you would handle it. An example of a situational interview question is:

Imagine a client comes in five minutes before the office is about to close; you are the only person in the office. They are quite distraught and need your assistance. How would you handle the situation?

Situational questions typically outline the more challenging or consequential issues that could arise on the job, and employers ask them to try to determine whether you would take appropriate action in a specific difficult situation.

If you've handled a similar problem effectively in the past, say so and describe how you handled it. If not, outline in detail the steps you would take to resolve the issue.

You can prepare yourself for situational questions by thinking through the most challenging things you think you would have to deal with on the job and imagine how you'd handle those situations.

You'll find examples and more detailed information about answering situational questions here and here.

Answering difficult interview questions is a matter of good preparation. Take the time to think through and find answers to tough questions so you'll be ready to make a great impression at your next interview.

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