Skills 360 – Job Interviews 4: Answering Difficult Questions

Free Resources: PDF Transcript | Quiz


Hello and welcome. I’m Tim Simmons, your host for Business Skills 360. Glad you could join me. This is the fourth and final part in our 360 series on your first job interview. Today we’re going to tackle a few of those really tough questions that interviewers like to ask. You know they’re coming, so let’s get ready for them.

Getting ready. That’s the key. You need to spend time preparing for your interview and crafting good answers to the questions you’re going to face. Every interviewer will have one or two oddball questions that will catch you off guard, but for the most part you can predict what you will be asked. So prepare, prepare, prepare. I’ll go through five fairly standard ‘difficult questions’ today and you can prepare your answers.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with “Tell me about yourself.” This is not an easy task. Interviewers don’t want a 10-minute summary of your life. You need to be brief, crisp, and relevant, and everything you say should relate to the job or your career objectives. Describe yourself in three to five sentences, mentioning your key strengths, your most recent related experience, and your basic professional goals. This question normally comes right at the start of the interview, and first impressions are important, so you’d be wise to develop a good answer and rehearse it.

Right. Now how about that question “What is your greatest weakness?” There are several stock answers here that actually twist a positive quality, like “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” Avoid those types of answers because employers have heard them all before. You should state a true weakness and then explain how you have tried to overcome it. For example, “Well, I have had some problems with organization, but I have taken a time management course and I’m focused on improving this area.” You might just want to avoid talking about something that is a key skill or attribute of the position.

Okay, so some interviewers will ask you to give them an example of conflict and how you dealt with it. This makes a lot of interviewees uncomfortable, but remember that conflict is normal and natural. The important thing is how you deal with it. Tell the interviewer about a real conflict you experienced, but don’t chalk it up to a personality difference. Show how the conflict was the result of miscommunication or misunderstanding. Show how you tried to understand the root of the conflict and how you dealt with that directly. Then explain how things improved.

Now there’s another common difficult question that relates back to the “tell me about yourself” idea. The question is this: “Why should I hire you?” The worst thing you can do here is to seem confused or have nothing to say. You must be able to sell yourself and explain why you are right for the job. Focus on your strengths and how they relate to the company’s goals. Many products have a one-sentence unique selling proposition that explains very briefly why you should buy it. You should have a unique selling proposition for yourself.

Right. One final tough question is about your long-term objectives or plans. In this case, you should avoid mentioning specific job titles or positions. You should also avoid talking about opening your own business or going back to school. Talk about what you’d like to do for your employer and focus on certain areas of professional improvement. Be ambitious. Talk about your goals. Do not say that you don’t really have any!

Great. Let me reiterate one last time here that there is no substitute for good preparation. None of these questions should leave you scratching your head in confusion.

Head over to the Business English Pod website to get a complete transcript of today’s show and test your understanding with a free quiz.

Thanks for listening, and good luck on that next interview.

Discussion Questions

1. What types of interview questions do you think are very difficult?
2. Is it ever okay to say “I don’t know” in response to an interview question?
3. How would you describe yourself in one sentence?