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Best Answers to Tough Interview Questions

I have spent 25 years helping people nail their job interviews and answer the trickiest questions.

Preparation is key.

Preparation is key.

No Magic Answers

First off, I don't have a magic wand to help anyone get a job—I really wish I did. Also, I don't claim that my answers are 100% perfect as these types of questions and answers are very subjective, and what might impress one person may completely fail to impress someone else.

Having trained interviewers for 17 years, I have to say I take a fairly dim view of many of these questions because of their subjective nature; however, they are still being asked in interviews around the country. I've spoken with the people asking the questions to try to understand why they are asking them and what constitutes a good answer in their eyes, and this is what I've come up with. I hope it helps!

10 Tough Questions

1. Are you overqualified for this position?

Why: The short answer is they’re worried you’ll cause problems with the line manager or leave as soon as a better job comes along. In the current financial climate, people often apply for jobs way below their usual payscale. If that’s you, or if you’re making a lifestyle change, then be absolutely sure in your mind why you want the job you’re being interviewed for.

Possible Answer: “On paper, yes, I do appear overqualified; however, I’ve made a major lifestyle change over the past 12 months and am no longer looking to work at my previous level. I believe the additional experience and expertise I could bring to the role will be valuable to the organisation.”

2. It would seem that you’ve been out of work for some time now.

Why: They’re worried that since you left your last job, you’ve been sitting on your backside watching daytime TV and will struggle with routines such as getting in on time; they’re also worried you may be a little rusty.

Possible Answer: “Since I finished my last role, I’ve spent time volunteering at the local homeless shelter. I’ve also used the opportunity to improve my IT skills by taking advantage of free courses offered at my local library.”

3. You were in your last job for a long time. How do you think you’ll adjust to something new?

Why: Their concern here is that you’re too stuck in your ways and not open to new challenges; you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re still flexible and adaptable.

Possible Answer: “Although I was in the same role for ten years, the job evolved a lot during that time. I learned new IT systems and was closely involved in the roll-out of two major customer service initiatives.”

4. Do you feel your lack of experience could be a problem?

Why: Pretty straightforward question this - they’re worried you don’t know enough or don’t realise why you’re getting into it. A common question for graduates or those who have more qualifications than front-line experience.

Possible Answer: “I have experience of working within a similar field (mention specifically) and have a strong theoretical knowledge of the subject. Having researched the role and your organisation, I feel confident that I will be able to get up to speed very quickly and welcome the opportunity to learn and develop new skills.”

5. Tell me about yourself.

Why: I’ve often been told that the reason this question is so ambiguous is that they want to hear whether the interviewee talks about work or non-work things, so I’d strongly advocate a mix of both if no further guidance is forthcoming.

Possible Answer: “Well, as you can see from my CV, I’ve worked in the XXX field for 20 years now and have gained many key skills along the way. Outside of work, I enjoy hiking, reading and visiting the theatre.” (They’ll no doubt be looking for more than this, so do expand where appropriate.)

6. What can you do for us that someone else can’t?

Why: Quite common in sales-type roles where the ability to identify a USP (Unique Selling Point) is important. Remember the main thing you can bring that no-one else can is YOU!

Possible Answer: “While I think you’ll find a number of people with some of the skills I’ll bring to the role I believe I have a unique combination of skills and experience coupled with a keen ability to learn and develop further.”

7. What do you think of your boss?

Why: How well do you understand your boss’s role and are you going to trash them? (You’ll be amazed how many people do!) I don’t care if you hate/ hated their guts, now is not the time to go into that!

Possible Answer: “I worked alongside my boss on several projects and have a great deal of professional respect for their ability to get the job done.” (NOTE: You may be pushed regarding your personal feelings, did you “like” them. Bring this back to a professional footing with something like “I believe that whether I liked them personally has little relevance, what’s important is that we worked well together and delivered some excellent results.")

8. Do you check voicemail and email when on vacation?

Why: Hard to tell. Some organisations want people who will do this, an increasing number value the importance of work/ life balance. My best advice is to be honest, if you wouldn’t then don’t say you would else you may be expected to do it.

Possible Answer: “I understand why some people do that, however I wouldn’t. Before taking any annual leave I’d ensure that my work was up to date, an appropriate Out of Office message was set and that the rest of my team and my boss were fully aware of any key activities which may require attention during my absence.”

9. If you could choose anyone (alive or deceased) to have lunch with, who would it be?

Why: Really, why? This question drives me insane and yet I know so many places that ask it. Their reason/ excuse is that it “gives some insight into the candidate’s personality.” Hogwash, a properly trained interviewer can get that without resorting to questions more appropriate to drinks with friends. What they’ve told me they’re looking for is originality so, if you’re in the UK, don’t say Stephen Fry. Also, avoid the Brad Pitt/ Angelina Jolie route. Pick someone who you genuinely admire and who reflects something about you.

Possible Answer: (This is what I’ve said when asked this same question.) “I very much admire Brian Blessed as his passion and energy for life are truly inspirational. Also, when he climbed Everest he set himself the target of doing so without oxygen, near the top of the mountain he was faced with a choice of using oxygen and achieving his goal of the summit or sticking to his principles and heading back down. He chose to stick to his principles and I admire that strength of character.” (NOTE: A) Most Brits who know Brian Blessed are now laughing and B) when I used that answer and got the job I was earmarked as having the potential to be a bit of a handful. I took that as a compliment!)

10. If you were the CEO of this company what would be the top two things that you would do?

Why: They want to see what you know about the organisation. I recently spent a day interviewing five people, of those five, three of them had done no research whatsoever about the organisation. Unbelievable in this day and age when information is so readily available and interviews are like hen’s teeth. Don’t go for specifics, stick to key things that bother any CEO.

Possible Answer: “I think communication is key, I’d need to ensure that my vision and goals for the organisation are clearly understood by everyone within it and, as communication is a two-way process, I’d also want to make sure that I got as much clear and accurate feedback as possible from front line staff about where improvements could be made. Secondly, I’d make sure that I had a clear understanding of the challenges facing us over the next 2–5 years and had an appropriate structure around me to help us deal with whatever the future holds.” (NOTE: A good idea at this point is to throw in any relevant things you’ve identified through your research which may affect the organisation in the future.)

And Finally . . .

As there's a very good chance you'll get asked questions that aren't on this list, here's my suggestion: before you leap in, stop and consider for a moment why they are asking the question—once you've got an idea why they're asking it then you're in a much better position to answer it.

Tough interview questions really aren't so tough once you know why they're asking them. This is why for the questions above, I've tried to identify why they're asking them before I've given a suggested answer to give you some ideas.

Anyway, tons of luck if you're reading this as you prepare for an interview. Please check out my other hub, How to Write a CV or Resume and Ace the Interview, for further inspiration. And remember, you can do it!

You got this!

You got this!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Beth Pipe


neelima on August 26, 2014:

thanku mam....i had an idea of what r the basic things we have to know to attend an interview....if i haven't look this....i think i mayn't at least know these simple things..........thanku soo's really useful....

Johnd651 on May 09, 2014:

Wow, marvelous blog structure! How long have you been running a blog eefeeeebdkdb

Beth Pipe (author) from Cumbria, UK on June 09, 2013:

Thanks Farhan - sorry I was traveling yesterday so I may be a little late with these: in a nutshell read the job description thoroughly and, for each point, think how you can demonstrate that you have, or could do this.

Next research the organisation on the internet, for a supervisors position I'd expect you to know a little about the challenges facing the organisation and what your contribution would be.

Lastly re-read your CV and remind yourself of your skills and how you're the best person for the job. Give yourself a confidence boost then go in there and knock their socks off!

Really hope it all went well.

farhan on June 08, 2013:

I have a job interview this afternoon for a piping supervisor, Im looking for some little tips to help make a good impression. Any help much appreciated!

Beth Pipe (author) from Cumbria, UK on May 27, 2013:

Thank you. :-)

Beth Pipe (author) from Cumbria, UK on January 17, 2012:

Thank you teachertalking1. Whomever is conducting the interview needs to be appropriately trained. And I absolutely agree - the questions above are not the best way to find the right person for the job.

teachertalking1 on January 15, 2012:

Another great post that will hopefully help many out there job hunting! I must agree with anonymous, it's very frustrating having to interview with someone from HR instead of perhaps the actual manager or supervisor. These are the people who will have the best sense for who is the best person for the job! Your insight into these often silly interview questions is much appreciated!

Beth Pipe (author) from Cumbria, UK on December 15, 2011:

Thank you for your comments - I'm glad you found it useful. Interviews are tough but with a little prep they can be a positive experience.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on December 14, 2011:

Thanks for the information. I am not interviewing, but I have family members who are. I will pass this on to them. Good Hub

LadyLyell from George, South Africa on December 08, 2011:

I am retired so thank goodness I don't have to endure the stupid questions one can be asked.

My son is presently going through interview sessions. Luckily he is employed as he is dealing with people who know nothing of his line of work and needless to say has given up. Luckily he has found a company who know what is what in architecture.


Dee aka Nonna on December 08, 2011:

Good information, great advice. Hope it get to the right people who need help. Like you said there are a lot of people out of work and many older workers who may need to accept a position several rungs down but would also make excellent employees because of a great work ethic.

Voted up and useful.

Beth Pipe (author) from Cumbria, UK on December 07, 2011:

Thanks Homesteadbound. If the anonymous person returns to read this then I'd say I agree in part - an interview panel should be a mix of someone who knows about the role and a qualified HR person who can keep things on the straight and narrow. I've trained many a line manager whose proposed line of questioning was weak and highly litigious. None of the 'clever' questions above came from people in HR - they all came from line managers who'd either "got them from a friend" or "seen them on the Internet.". Interview questions should identify whether or not someone can do the job not how 'clever' the interviewer thinks they are, and a question should never be asked unless you know what will constitute a good answer.

f on December 07, 2011:

I would still rather be interviewed by a 'real' worker with experience, who knows what is necessary, than by a bureaucratic HR rep. full of ingenious analysis sheets and verbiage. Interesting hub; sometimes the questions and answers reveal more about whether the interviewer rather than the applicant is out of touch with the actual work of the employer.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on December 07, 2011:

This is a great hub and excellent advice. Jobs are very hard to come by these days, so it is good to have an idea of what is being asked and why. It is better to be prepared. This hub can help lots of people get that job!