As you prepare for your next job interview, make sure you're ready to answer these hard interview questions

Good job interviewers do more than just ask questions that invite you to talk freely about your qualifications; they also know how to ask hard questions that may challenge your ability to sell yourself as the best candidate for the job. It's important to know how to answer these types of questions, of course, but that requires preparing for them well in advance of your interview. But how can you do that if you're not familiar with the most common hard interview questions?

In this post, we'll consider 20 of the hardest interview questions that you're most likely to encounter at some point. We'll also help you learn how to answer difficult interview questions by providing some sample answers you can modify, to create your own responses. Finally, we'll offer some helpful tips that you can use to navigate tricky interview questions as you search for your perfect job.

Why do employers ask challenging interview questions?

Before we examine some of the toughest interview questions, it may help to understand why employers use them in interviews. At first glance, these may seem like the types of questions interviewers would only ask if they wanted to see you do poorly in your interview. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Competent interviewers use these questions to help them assess everything from your core personality and self-awareness to your ability to deal with challenges and think on your feet.

By learning how to answer difficult interview questions, you can more effectively display a host of critical soft skills that employers prize. These skills, and your ability to demonstrate them during an interview, can often be the thing that separates you from other candidates for the job. By preparing for these types of questions, you'll be able to highlight the skills employers are looking for during their hiring efforts.

20 common hard interview questions and answers

Below, we've included twenty potentially tough interview questions and answers. You can use these responses as templates, as you create your own answers to these challenging questions.

1.     Describe yourself to me

“I'm currently the advertising director with ABCXYZ, where I lead a 20-person team responsible for managing the brands of the company's 20 largest clients. My eight years in that role have helped me to develop leadership skills that I believe can be of even greater value in a higher-level role such as this one.”

2.     Tell me about your biggest failure

“Great question. The one that immediately comes to mind is early on in my career when I didn't take client onboarding documentation as seriously as I do now. Instead of carefully documenting the client's stated needs, I foolishly trusted my memory – which resulted in some major chaos in the initial stages of their project. Thankfully, I was able to resolve that mess, retained the client, and learned a valuable lesson in the process.”

3.     What is it about you that makes you the right person for this job?

“This company's mission statement emphasizes your focus on making people's lives better, and that's been a primary motivation throughout my career. My entire skill set, and career path have been focused on helping to solve people's problems, and I'm confident that my experience and abilities will make me a great fit for this role.”

4.     If you could start your career over, what would you do differently?

“I can honestly say that I probably wouldn't change a thing. While some of those early years were a struggle, they were also exciting, stimulating, and extremely educational.”

5.     I see that there's an eight-month gap in your employment history. What were you doing during that period?

“That was a tough period, right in the middle of the last economic slowdown. Unfortunately, my entire department was downsized as the whole industry ended up being sluggish for nearly a year. I took that opportunity to continue my education with some digital marketing courses, which ultimately led me to a career change and this job.”

6.     How connected to your job are you during your off hours?

“Like you, I know how easy it is to become overwhelmed by work and have it carry over into your personal life, leading to added stress and burnout. I try to separate my work and personal life as much as possible, avoiding work-related texts and emails during my downtime. I do, however, make sure that I can be reached for real emergencies.”

7.     Tell me about your passion in life

“I have two passions in life: my love for my family and solving real-world problems. That's why I went into engineering in the first place – to find innovative solutions that improve customers' quality of life. If I were hired for this position, I would bring that same level of passion to this job and my new team.”

8.     Have you learned more from your successes or your failures?

“I would say that I've enjoyed my successes more than my failures. However, those successes have only taught me what works, while my failures have taught me what doesn't work. In my view, each of those failures has provided far more insight into my strengths, weaknesses, and decision-making abilities than any ten of my successes.”

9.     Give me your definition of success

“When I was younger, I thought success was all about the destination. As I've gained more experience, I've come to believe that success is also about how you travel that road, the people you meet along the way, the lessons you learn, and the lives you touch throughout your journey.”

10.  Which job duties are your least favorite?

“I've never been a big fan of catching up on email messages when I arrive in the office each morning. I do it, obviously, but it always felt more like a chore than an opportunity to make a difference. I do have to say, though, that I am looking forward to receiving regular update emails from this team.”

11.  Is active listening important to you?

“I've learned that active listening is one of the most important interpersonal skills any of us can possess in a team setting. People want to know that you not only hear them, but understand them as well. Being able to actively listen to others can help you to build better working relationships, improve collaboration, and avoid a host of conflicts in the workplace.”

12.  Describe a time when you helped resolve conflict in the workplace

“In one of my previous roles, our entire team was on the verge of a meltdown after a client changed the parameters of their project two nights before it was due. Several colleagues were quite heated, and things were close to getting out of hand. I was able to talk to each of them separately and get them to see that the change was beyond any of our control, but that we could still get the job done if we focused on sticking together as a team.”

13.  Is there a common theme for the negative feedback that you receive from others?

“Yes, and it has mostly involved my instinct to try to solve every problem that I encounter. In the past, when people would come to me with a problem, I would immediately offer solutions that I thought would help them. All too often, though, they just wanted to vent. I've had to learn to be a better active listener to ensure that I'm really understanding what people want from me. Sometimes, they just want me to listen.”

14.  Tell me about your biggest weakness

“I've been told in the past that my enthusiasm can sometimes be overbearing. I've been working on keeping a calmer demeanor in meetings and other group settings, so that I don't let my passion and excitement get the better of me. I still cheerlead and promote that same positive vision, but I try to remember to be a bit more restrained.”

15.  What's the biggest obstacle you've overcome?

“The biggest challenge I ever faced was trying to secure funding for our local children's charity, when I was heading that operation. It took many months of research and outreach to identify the most likely donors and even longer to convince them to support that cause. With perseverance, we met our target.”

16.  Why did you apply for this job?

“After researching your company and this position, I quickly recognized that the firm's values and goals align almost perfectly with my own. I've always been someone who prizes quality workplace culture over most other priorities and feel like I would be right at home in this environment.”

17.  What techniques do you use to manage stress?

“My overall approach to stress reduction is to focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, nutrition, and relaxation. When it comes to workplace stress, I emphasize communication with colleagues and supervisors to ensure that conflicts are quickly resolved, and unnecessary emotional distractions don't deter us from our common goals.”

18.  Where do you see yourself in five years?

“I picture myself still at this company, with even more developed skills and expanded responsibilities. By then, I would like to think that I would have had an opportunity to take on more of a leadership role and assist with the development of new employees too.”

19.  If we hired you, what type of salary would you think you deserve?

“I know that the average salary for this job is [insert amount, based on research of average salary for the position in your area] for someone with my experience and skills. I'm open to negotiation on that issue, taking into account the full compensation package, since I'm motivated by the chance to pursue this opportunity with your team.”

20.  What type of boss do you prefer?

“I've been fortunate to work with a variety of different types of bosses and I feel like I've learned something from each of them. I pride myself on being able to adapt to any leadership style, but do prefer a supervisor who knows how to challenge me and get me out of my comfort zone. I like constructive criticism that can motivate me to address my weaknesses and push toward my full potential.”

Quick tips you can use to answer the toughest interview questions

No matter how well you prepare for the toughest interview questions, there are always going to be a few questions that you didn't anticipate. The following tips can guide you if you find yourself in a situation where you need to create a response to one of those unexpected questions.

  • Always take a moment to think about the question and formulate a response. The employer will appreciate your pause, if you don't let it drag on for too long.

  • When possible, try to incorporate the STAR method in your response. Describe a Situation, explain the Task that needed to be done, talk about the Action you took, and detail the Results you achieved.

  • Be honest. Before you go to any interview, sit down, look at your resume, and think about each of the jobs listed on that document. Consider what you would say if you were asked about any of those experiences.

  • Know your skills, understand what you've learned throughout your career, and be prepared to put that insight into words – regardless of the questions you're asked.

  • Make sure that you do your research. You should be prepared to discuss common salary expectations, the job's duties, and how your experience and skills align with the company's needs.

Prepare to deal with hard interview questions and ace that interview!

A job interview can provide you with a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your qualifications and fitness for any open position. However, you can only take advantage of that opportunity if you're properly prepared to answer the most common hard interview questions that employers rely on to gain insight into your character and personality. By learning how to answer tough interview questions, you can go to your next interview with the confidence you need to make the best possible first impression.

Are you struggling in your interviews and believe that you could benefit from professional interview coaching assistance? Contact our interview experts today!

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