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Even if you're a seasoned professional with years of job application experience under your belt, interviews can be beyond nerve-wracking. No matter how much you practice, stay up to date on what's going on in the industry, and remember to print out extra copies of your resume, everyone has that moment in an interview where they freeze.
Whether it's a question you already knew was going to be asked – but you just don't have the right response – or a random question that stumps you, there are ways to answer difficult interview questions.
Why Do Interviewers Ask Difficult Questions?
Before you learn the tips and tricks on how to answer difficult interview questions, it's important to know why these questions are asked in the first place. It may feel like the interviewer is asking difficult questions with the sole purpose if stumping you, but rest assured they are not intentionally trying to mess you up. They are asking these questions to get a sense of who you are, and whether or not you will fit in with the company.
If you are presented with a difficult question, remember there isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer. The interviewer is trying to see how you react in stressful situations, which will show how you respond on the job. Instead of getting flustered, or bumbling through the question, you can take a second to assess what is being asked. Even though there isn't a right response, there are ways to navigate these situations without breaking a sweat.
'What Are Your Weaknesses?'
This is probably one of the most dreaded questions you face in an interview. On the one hand, you don't want to respond earnestly because the interviewer might not like what they hear. On the other hand, you can't say you don't have any weaknesses, because everyone does, and it may make you seem narcissistic or egotistical. The best way to answer this question is like a step and repeat. Be open and honest about a weakness, follow it up with a positive statement, and relay how you want to improve upon this weakness in your future job. Think and prepare for this question before the interview, because it's always asked. For example, if you are not keen on public speaking or voicing your thoughts in meetings, use that as a weakness, but state what you have done to improve on this. Again, it's a step and repeat. State the weakness, follow it up with a positive statement, and discuss how you have developed/are working on improving.
Common Interview Questions
Two questions that often stump candidates are "why did you leave your last job" and "where do you see yourself in five years." These two questions are equally brutal in their own right.
Any questions regarding your old boss or experience should be answered positively, even if the situation was not favorable. It's best to not give a completely honest response on why you left your last job if things did not end well. Badmouthing a previous boss is a red flag.
Instead of talking negatively, or giving a list of reasons why you left your last job, use this time to talk about skills you learned in your last position and how you want to use these skills in your new position. This is another step and repeat situation. The interviewer knows the adage of not badmouthing former bosses, but they still want to see how you skirt around this question.
The same goes for "where do you see yourself in five years." Even if you have dreams of owning your own business or retiring early, you don't want to seem like you have one foot in the company and the other one out before you even get the role. You also don't want to sound like you have no future goals. Discuss where you see yourself within the company, how you would like to grow, and what you would like to learn through the job you're interviewing for.
Tricky Interview Questions
Sometimes no matter how much you prepare, a question can just downright stump you. The most important thing is never to panic. If you are confused about a question, you can ask for clarification. You also don't have to respond immediately. If you can't answer the question, sometimes it boils down to taking a deep breath and thinking of what is being asked. The interviewer might just want to see how you react under pressure and how you think. The answer itself might not matter at all.
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Allanah Dykes has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Politics from Fairfield University. She started her freelance career in 2016 and has written about how to land a job post-college, internships, and the interviewing process. She has pieces featured on Elite Daily, Levo League, and Popsugar.