After applying for a position that you really wanted, you’re thrilled when you get the call to come in for a job interview.
But job interviews can be tough, depending on who is interviewing you.
Some hiring managers thrive on asking those tough interview questions that can potentially trip up any candidate—and cost you the job.
Strategies to answering hard interview questions, along with a guideline of what to say—and not to say
1. What is your current salary?
Of all the tough interview questions you might be asked, salary interview questions might be the most cringeworthy.
Of course, every job seeker wants to get the highest possible salary. But should you disclose your current salary (or the last salary you made) to a potential employer? The short answer is no, if you can help it.
Here’s why: “Several states and localities now bar employers from asking this question in an attempt to end pay discrimination, which can happen when employers continuously base a person’s salary on what a previous employer paid them,” said Brie Reynolds, FlexJobs’ senior career specialist and career coach.
Even if you live in a state where this question is legal, here are some ways to answer that don’t force you to disclose your current salary, thereby locking you into a cycle of lower pay than you’re actually worth:
- “Before we discuss pay, I’d like to learn more about the full scope of the role.”
- “I’d be happy to discuss salary and I’m interested to know what you had in mind for the pay range for this role.”
- “I’m looking for a range of $75,000 to $85,000 for this type of role and I’m very open to talking it through further.”
- “Would you be able to tell me more about the budget or range for this role?”
2. Why do you want to leave your current position?
Maybe the thought of going into work makes you want to cry each morning. Or perhaps hearing your fellow colleague incessantly gab away on the phone to their best friend makes you want to rip your hair out.
Either way, you want to keep it professional (and avoid the personal) when stating why you would like to leave your current job. Sure, this can be a difficult interview question, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here.
Consider saying something like, “I’ve been with my current company for X years and I’m ready to find something new. I also really feel that your company culture is a better fit for me because of your commitment to work-life balance and team building.”
3. How did you get along with your former boss?
You may strongly dislike your current boss. But if you say that to a potential employer, you might raise an eyebrow and cut your interview short.
The reason: if you’re so willing to gossip about your current boss, it doesn’t reflect positively on you and the employer may wonder if you’ll talk badly about them in the future.
“If you truly can’t think of anything nice to say about your previous boss, talk about the things you were able to accomplish while working with them. And it’s alright to be honest, gently, and say that there were some areas of your relationship that were better than others, but that you learned a lot about your own management and leadership style through them (even if it’s what not to do!),” suggested Reynolds.
Try this potential way to answer the question: “My boss and I had different working styles, but I learned how to meet her needs and even learned more about how to lead a team effectively.”
4. Why do you want this job?
Can you admit that you really want this job because it will primarily allow you to work from home? Um, not necessarily.
Employers like to hear why you want to work for them—and them only—and mentioning what many might still consider to be a workplace perk won’t earn you many points.
Flatter your boss-to-be by mentioning the company’s solid reputation, its admirable diversity policies, and its excellent mentorship programs instead.
For example, “I’m really impressed with this company’s reputation in the industry and I would love to help contribute to your mission.”
5. What is your desired work location?
Of course, if you’re looking for a flexible job, your desired work location might be your home office. But some flexible jobs might require you to come into the workplace on occasion or even travel.
While you can say that you’re flexible when it comes to your desired work location, you can also add you would be amenable to working remotely, too. Try saying this: “I’m open and flexible to the location of this role, and I’m definitely interested in working remotely if the job allows it.”
6. What was the corporate culture like at your previous job?
This is a tough interview questions because you don’t want to bash your former employer. Yet, if the corporate culture at your previous position was, well, virtually nonexistent, you can be honest so long as you keep it professional.
You can mention that your former job lacked company culture, and then mention all the reasons (company culture specifically) why you would like to work for this company.
A sample answer: “My previous company didn’t have much in the way of company culture and building employee bonds. Your focus on team retreats and rewarding employees is a big reason I’m interested in your company.”
7. What are you hoping to gain from this job?
The wrong answer to this difficult interview question can be costly. Employers want to know that they are more than just a paycheck to you. They want to feel as if there is a genuine partnership between them and their staffers.
So tell the hiring manager how you’d like to grow in this position, the things you hope to learn, and the experiences you’d like to have if you were hired for this job.
Your answer could include, “I’m hoping to grow my knowledge in this industry, and I would particularly look forward to taking on the tasks of [a], [b], and [c].”
8. What makes you the right candidate for this position?
Some job seekers can stumble on a tough interview question like this because it walks a fine line between being proud of your accomplishments and bragging. The way to differentiate the two: in your delivery.
If you make it seem like you saved your former employer from financial ruin because of an initiative that you single-handedly implemented, then you’re bragging. If you back up the specific reasons why your work experiences, education, and skill set align with what they’re looking for (and you can back it up with solid examples), then you’ll have a great chance at getting the position.
Consider an answer like this: “Because of my background with publishing and my certification, I know that I could complete the tasks required of the job with excellence. In my previous role I performed similar tasks that wound up increasing our readership by 40%.”
9. Tell me about yourself.
Among the most confusing and challenging interview questions across the board, this is often used as an icebreaker. But before your job interview goes down like the Titanic as you give your potential employer a 10-minute soliloquy, learn how to perfect this answer concisely and confidently.
Include your early years (i.e., where you hail from), education, work history, and experiences. And make sure to keep it short—a minute or two is more than enough.
Your potential answer could go something like this: “I grew up in the Midwest and I studied at ABC College on the East Coast. I started my career off in sales where I learned a lot about the tech industry. After that, I worked at XYZ Corp where I started to develop my skills in…”
10. What would the person who likes you least in the world say about you?
Imagine that your job interview has been going along swimmingly. You feel a kinship of sorts with your hiring manager—and then they ask you this question. You might feel surprised since they’re basically asking you to pick a trait about yourself that is negative.
But there’s a trick to this question. You’ll still need to pick a quirky characteristic (your impatience, for example). Then, instead of just mentioning that you’re impatient, turn it into something positive. Show how being impatient works in your favor as a remote worker—maybe it means that you’re a stickler for deadlines or that you will always follow up with a coworker who might lack quick communication skills.
For example, “They’d probably point out that I’m impatient. However, I feel that it makes me a better worker as I rarely miss deadlines, I respond to emails quickly, and I regularly get answers to questions I have.”
11. What is your biggest weakness?
This is another tough interview question where it’s wise to try and put a positive spin on your answer. And of course steer clear from anything that could be a dealbreaker for the employer. Saying that you’re quiet and shy when dealing with people wouldn’t work well if you’re trying to get a job in sales or customer service. But talking about your biggest weakness can also present an opportunity to address your strengths or how you’ve overcome obstacles.
Try an answer like this: “I’ve struggled with multitasking, choosing to focus on one project at a time. But I’ve learned that sometimes things need to done simultaneously, and I’ve worked hard at being able to easily switch from one project to another.”
12. How do you handle or manage stress?
Many jobs are stressful or have stressful components to them. Employers want to know how you’ll handle yourself when times get tough. Do you outwardly explode, get quiet and withdraw, or feel motivated to push through?
While you want to be honest, take a more positive approach to your answer: “When I get stressed out, I find it’s best for me to take a step back and make a plan of attack. This helps me get a handle on the situation and figure out what I need to do to alleviate my stress and get things accomplished.”
Getting Past Tough Interview Questions and Acing the Interview
There are always going to be hard interview questions, but your goal should be to always be prepared for them. That way, you’ll know how to answer any interview question easily and deftly—and get the job.
If you’re looking for help with your interview skills, FlexJobs can help! Our team of in-house career coaches help job seekers get answers to questions, build confidence, and find support in their job search. Learn more today!