How to answer the 10 most difficult job interview questions

So you’ve landed an interview for a job you really want. Now it’s time to start preparing to ace your interview. To help you, here’s how to answer the 10 trickiest job interview questions.

An interview gives your application letter, CV, LinkedIn profile, references (and any evidence an employer may have seen to prove you’re a perfect fit for the role) a face, voice and personality.

During your interview, the recruiter is doing much more than determining whether you have the skills and competencies to get the job done. Their assessing whether you’re the right fit for their organisation.

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How to answer the 10 most difficult job interview questions

And often they use these 10 tricky questions to work that out. Here’s how to answer them successfully.

1) Why should I hire you?

Before your interview, review your qualifications and identify the skills, experiences, strengths and any attributes that would make you the best fit for the job position.

So, if you’re asked this question, you’re ready to cite at least one occasion when a key attribute contributed to the success or productivity of an employer.

For example, if one of your strengths is attention to detail, you could mention an instance where, thanks to your meticulous nature, you saved your company a large sum of money when reviewing funding requirements for a project.

2) Why is there a gap in your employment history?

There are plenty of reasons why people have gaps in their CV or resume. They may have been made redundant, taken time off for travelling, needed to care for a sick relative or have a baby.

The key is not to evade or apologise for your career gap, but instead speak positively about it and any experience or skills you learned or gained during it.

Frame your career break as an empowering period of your life, and list the ways it has enhanced your life. It’s wise to prepare for this question before your interview if you are returning from a career break, and look for examples and opportunities to demonstrate you are just as capable and ambitious (if not more so) than before your time away.

3) If there was one thing you could change about your previous job, what would it be?

Experienced interviewers will throw in this question to trigger a potentially volatile emotional cue. So control all urges to disparage your previous employer, even if your time at that organisation didn’t end amicably.

Instead, phrase your answer so it addresses the concerns of everyone on the team. For example, if at the time you felt the company overlooked the needs of your department in favour of others, you could simply state it as:

“I would have liked my previous employer to increase the budget for marketing, because it is a process that has to evolve over a period of time.

Today’s markets are more dynamic; tastes and preferences change without notice because consumers have greater access to information. Marketing efforts must be allowed to conform to the changes in consumer behaviour.”

The trick is to mention a constructive improvement you would make, without criticising your former employer.

4) Tell me about yourself

This is perhaps the most-asked question and is usually used to launch the interview. Yet, many stumble right off the blocks.

Candidates assume this question is just an ice-breaker. But it’s an opportunity for the recruiter to find out if you are the right fit for the organisation – or not. So make sure you’re prepared to answer this with thought.

Interviewers are not looking for work-related answers. They want to know who you are. So share a few notable interests.

For example, telling the interviewer you make it a point to exercise four days a week shows you are disciplined and care about your health and wellbeing.

5) What would the person who likes you least say about you?

Similar to question three, this question is also intended to trigger emotional cues to take you out of your comfort zone. And again, resist the urge to disparage a specific personality.

The interviewer is anticipating a negative response. So instead, phrase your answer into a positive. For example, if the answer is ‘improve the level of communication’, you could say:

“My perceived lack of communication was considered by my co-worker as indifference. However, I was raised by my parents to lead by action. At the time, I chose to follow protocols and only direct my concerns according to the hierarchy.”

6) What’s the biggest risk you have taken in your life?

Interviewers use this question to gauge how you measure or assess a situation as risky. The mistake most candidates make is to assume the answer has to be related to the job position.

The keyword is “life”. So recall an episode in your life where your back was against the wall, and you had to make a life-changing decision.

A good example is someone who stopped formal education so they could work, send their siblings to school and help out with the family finances.

Interviewers want to see how far you would go to make controversial decisions that would seem ill-advised to the outsider, but nonetheless critical for the greater good.

7) How would you resolve disagreements in your team?

An interviewer may allude to unpleasant episodes in your previous employment. The purpose is to anticipate future behaviour by learning how you dealt with past issues in your organisation, and if you had grown from the experience.

Start out by identifying the point of contention and the positions of the people in your team. Then validate the grounds of your decision and how you were able to arrive at a consensus decision as a team.

The point is not to show the interviewer that you were able to get your way. The interviewer would rather learn how you were able to set aside differences in opinion to come together as a team.

8) How much do you expect to get paid?

This is often the most dreaded question. Ask for too little and you could be undervaluing yourself. Too much and you just quoted yourself out of a job.

But it doesn’t have to be that tricky – all you need to do is prepare for this question before your interview. Here’s how:

  • Research the pay scale range for this specific position in this industry.
  • Assess your true worth by reviewing your pay history from your previous job and adding a modest multiplier for experience, additional trainings and other competencies. (The multiplier should not take you away from the pay scale range.)
  • Try to find out from websites like GlassDoor the salary paid out by the prospective employer.

Then, if you’re asked this question, state a few points to support your number, and declare your perceived worth by stating a salary range. This way, you don’t place yourself in a position that over or undervalues your actual worth.

9) What’s been your most challenging experience at work, and how did you resolve it?

Unlike question six, this time the challenge must be directly related to work, because the interviewer wants to see how you approach problem solving.

Are you a critical thinker or an intuitive? Do you tend to consult with a team or do you take a more measured, articulated approach?

When giving your answer, be as detailed as you can. Give the background to the situation and identify the problem. Explain succinctly the steps you took to address the problem and always present numbers, figures and other facts to quantify the end result.

10) You’re not the most qualified applicant. I don’t think I’ll hire you

Although not strictly a question, interviewers sometimes make statements like this to see how you react to an adverse situation.

It gives them an idea on how you would handle rejections in business dealings, or maintain composure when things don’t go your way.

The worst thing you can do is to stay silent and accept the decision as final. This could be the moment that presents your biggest risk in life. How would you overcome it?

Nor should you storm out of the room, declaring the whole interview a waste of your time! Instead, remain at ease and manage your emotions, even if the statement has left you ruffled and disappointed. You can be magnanimous by simply stating:

“While I respect your opinion, I do believe the assessment at this point is unfounded given that the basis for your decision appears to be one interview. The true test of anyone’s qualification is being on the field.

I hope that you can reconsider your decision and give me the opportunity to show you what I can do.”

Prepare for any interview questions

The most important thing to do before an interview is to prepare as well as you possibly can. As well as preparing answers these 10 questions, it’s important to research the company and your role thoroughly, so you’re ready to answer any questions that come your way.

How well you prepare for your job interview could determine whether your next step is to sign a contract, or go back to your recruitment agent.

Felix Tarcomnicu is passionate about careers and recruiting. He is the founder of ResumeOK where he gives resume writing tips.