49 Tough Interview Questions
(and suggestions for how to answer them)

1. Tell me a little about yourself.

-Don’t run off at the mouth

-Keep it at 1-2 minutes

-Emphasize recent career experience

-It’s just a warm-up question!

2. What do you know about our organization?

-Be able to discuss various areas such as image, goals, management style, revenues, etc.

-Don’t act like you know everything about the organization, but do show that you have done your research.

-Make it clear that you would like to learn more.

-Be positive!

3. Why do you want to work for us?

-Never say “Because I like people”.

-Relate your answer to the company’s needs-this shows you’ve done your homework.

-If you feel you have to make up an answer, you probably shouldn’t be at the interview.

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

-Be a BIT egotistical.

-Talk about your great track record.

5. What do you find most attractive about this position? What seems least attractive about it?

-List 3-4 attractive features; mention 1 minor, unattractive feature.

6. Why should we hire you?

-Formulate your answer by thinking in terms of your ability, your experience, and your energy.

7. What do you look for in a job?

-Keep your answer directed towards the opportunities at the organization. Orient your answer toward opportunities, not personal security.

8. Please give me your definition of (the position for which you are being interviewed).

-Be brief and task-oriented.

-Mention responsibilities and accountability.

-Make sure you fully understand the position, if you don’t ask the interviewer.

9. How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to our firm?

-Be realistic, say that while you may pull your weight and meet demands from the first day, it may take you anywhere from six months to a year to fully understand the organization’s needs enough to make a major contribution.

10.How long would you stay with us?

-Say that you are interested in a career with the organization, but admit that you would have to continue to feel challenged to remain with an organization. Think in terms of, “As long as we both feel achievement-oriented.”

11.Your resume suggests that you may be overqualified or too experienced for this position. What do you think?

-Stress that you are interested in establishing a long term association with the organization, and that you assume that if you perform well in this job, new opportunities will open up for you. A strong company needs a strong staff. Suggest that because you are so well qualified, the company will get a fast return on its investment.

12.What is your management style?

-Know enough about the company’s style to know that your management style will compliment it. You could be task-oriented (“I enjoy problem-solving, identifying what’s wrong, choosing a solution, and implementing it”). The participative style is also popular: an open-door method of managing in which you get things done by motivating people and delegating responsibility. As you consider this question, think about whether your style will let you work happily and effectively within the organization.

13.Are you a good manager? Can you give me some examples? Do you feel that you have top management potential?

-Keep your answer achievement and task-oriented. Rely on examples from your career to support your statements. Stress your experience and your energy.

14.What do you look for when you hire people?

-Think in terms of skills, initiative, and the adaptability to be able to work comfortably and productively with others. Mention that you like to hire people who appear capable of moving up in an organization.

15.Have you ever had to fire people? What were the reasons, and how did you handle the situation?

-Admit that the situation wasn’t easy, but say that it worked out well, both for the company and, you think, for the individual or individuals involved. Show that, like anyone else, you don’t enjoy unpleasant tasks, but that you can resolve them efficiently and, in the case of firing someone, humanely.

16.What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a manager or an executive?

-Mention planning, execution, and cost control. The most difficult task may be to motivate and manage employees to get tasks routinely planned and completed on time and within budget.

17.What important trends do you see in our industry?

-Be prepared with two or three trends that illustrate how well you understand your industry. You might consider technological challenges or opportunities, economic conditions, the current competitive situation, or even regulatory demands related to the direction in which your business is heading.

18.What are the frontier or cutting-edge issues in our industry?

-Be prepared with two or three key issues.

19.Why are you leaving (did leave) your present (last) position?

-Be brief, to the point, and as honest as you can without hurting yourself. Refer back to the planning phase of your job search, where you considered this topic as you thought about reference statements. If you were laid off in a staff reduction, say so; otherwise, indicate that the move was your decision, the result of your desire to advance your career. Don’t mention personality conflicts.

The interviewer may spend some time probing you on this issue, particularly if it’s clear that you were terminated. Be as positive and honest as you can. The “We agreed to disagree” approach suggested earlier may be useful. Don’t fabricate a story for an interviewer: evening today’s reference-shy climate, your story might be checked.

20.In your current (last) position, what features do (did) you like the most? The least?

-Be careful and positive. Describe more features that you liked than disliked. Don’t cite personality problems. If you make your last job sound terrible, an interviewer may wonder why you’ve remained there until now, or whether you have an attitude problem that would likely to show up on a new job, too.

21.In your current (last) position, what have been (were) your five most significant accomplishments?

-Have specific examples ready. If you’re asked five examples, don’t cite ten. If you want to show that you were responsible for more than five major achievements, you can say, “I’ve given you the five that seem the most important to me. There are others, if you’d like to hear about some other area of my work.” Then, if the interviewer asks for additional accomplishments, you can give them without appearing to boast.

22.Why haven’t you found a job before now?

-Say that finding a job isn’t difficult, but that finding the right job deserves time and demands careful planning.

23.Did you think of leaving your present position before? If so, what do you think held you there?

-You might say that the challenge of the job held you in the past but, as that seemed to diminish, you reached the decision to investigate new opportunities.

24.What do you think of your (former) boss?

-Be as positive as you can. A potential boss will anticipate that you might talk about him or her in similar terms at some point in the future.

25.Would you describe a few situations in which your work was criticized?

-Be specific. Don’t be emotional. Think in terms of constructive criticism. Show that you responded positively and benefited from that criticism.

26.If I spoke with your (former) boss, what would he or she say are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

-Name three or four strengths and only one weakness. Be honest but not negative.

27.Can you work under pressure and deal with deadlines?

-Observe that both are facts of business life. Take examples from your list of accomplishments to show how you have dealt successfully with pressure and deadlines in the past.

28.Did you change the nature of your job?

-Tell how you improved it.

29.Do you prefer staff or line work?

-Say that it depends on the job and its challenges.

30.In your present (last) position, what problems did you identify that had previously been overlooked?

-Be brief and don’t brag. Indicate the positive changes your suggestions or leadership resulted in.

31.Don’t you think you might be better suited for a different size company? To a different type of company?

-Tailor your answer to the job being discussed. Say that your preferences for the size or type of company generally depend on the job in question. Note that your research has shown you that this organization and this job meet your criteria.

32.If you could choose any company, where would you go?

-Talk about the job and the company for which you are being interviewed.

33.Why aren’t you earning more at your age?

-Say that this is one reason you are conducting this job search. Don’t be defensive.

34.What do you feel this position should pay?

-Salary is a delicate topic. Try not to tie yourself to a precise figure for as long as you can do it politely. You might say, “I understand that the range for this job is between $X and $Y, that seems appropriate for the job as I understand it.” You might answer the question with a question: “Perhaps you can help me on this one. Can you tell me if there is a range for similar jobs in the organization?”

If you’re asked the question during an initial screening interview, you might say that you feel you need to know more about the responsibilities involved before you can give a meaningful answer. Here too, either by asking the interviewer or doing research during your investigation of the company, you can try to find out whether there is a salary grade attached to the job. If there is, and if you can live with it, say that the range seems right to you.

If the interviewer continues to probe you, you might say, “You know I am making $X now. Like everyone else, I’d like to improve on that figure, but my major interest is in the job itself.” Remember that the act of taking a new job does not, in and of itself, make you worth more money.

If a search firm is involved, your contact there may be able to help with the salary question. A search firm representative may even be able to run interference for you. If, for instance, this person tells you what the position pays, and you respond that you are earning that amount now and would like to do a bit better, he or she might go back to the employer and propose that you be offered an additional ten percent.

If no price range is attached to the job, and the interviewer continues to press the subject, then you will have to respond with a number. You can’t leave the impression that it doesn’t really matter, that you’ll accept what ever is offered. If you’ve been making $96 000 annually, you can’t say that a $42 000 figure would be fine without sounding like you are giving up on yourself. (If you’re making a radical career change, however, a substantial disparity may be more reasonable and understandable.)

Don’t sell yourself short, but continue to stress the fact that the job itself is the most important thing in your mind. The interviewer may be trying to determine just how much you want the job. Don’t leave the impression that money is the only thing important to you. Link questions of salary to the work itself.

But, whenever possible, say as little as you can about salary until you reach the final stage of the interviewing process. At that point, you know the company is genuinely interested in you and that it is more likely to be flexible in salary negotiations.

35.Do you have any objections to psychological tests?

-Say you would feel comfortable taking them.

36.What other jobs or companies are you considering?

-Restrict your answer to fields similar to the one in which this company operates.

37.Do you speak to people before they speak to you?

-The interviewer is probably trying to determine your ability to deal with unstable or unanticipated situations. Say that your actions depend on specific circumstances. While you wouldn’t normally start a conversation with a stranger on the street, for example, you feel comfortable initiating discussions with people you don’t know in normal business or social settings.

38.What was the last book you read? Movie you saw? Sporting event you attended?

-Try to show hat you lead a balanced life when answering questions about outside activities.

39.Will you be out to take your boss’s job?

-Say that while you certainly hope to win additional responsibility in the organization, you’ve always focused on getting the current job done.

40.Are you creative?

-Be prepared with work related examples of creativity.

41.How would you describe your own personality?

-It may be wise to say you are the proud owner of a balanced personality.

42.Do you consider yourself a leader?

Take examples from your work experience

43.What are your long range goals?

Refer back to the self-assessment phase of your career continuation efforts. Don’t answer, “I want the job you’ve advertised.” Relate your goals to the company you’re interviewing for: “In a firm like yours, I would like to…”

44.What are your strong points?

Present at least three. Use concrete, work-related examples to illustrate them. Try to relate your answer to the interviewing organization and the specific job opening.

45.What are your weak points?

Don’t say that you have none. But try to make a negative sound like a strength carried a bit to far; “I sometimes get impatient and become too deeply involved when a project is running late.”

Don’t offer a list of weaknesses. A good interviewer is likely to press you a bit saying, “Is there anything else? “ You might answer, “No, I don’t think so on that topic.” If the interviewer persists, come up with a second weakness, but only if you are asked for it. Don’t offer negative information unnecessarily.. If the interviewer continues and asks for third weaknesses, say politely that you really can’t think of anything else.

Finally, show that you are working to correct your weaknesses.

46.If you could start your career again what would you do differently?

The best answer is “Not a thing.” You should try to present yourself as an individual who is happy with his or her life. You’ve enjoyed its ups and learned from its downs. You would not, as a result, want to change things that brought you to where you are today. Mention that it is the past, after all, that has prepared you for this position.

47.What career options do you have at this moment?

-You should try to identify three areas of interest, one of which includes this company and job. The other two should be in related fields.

48.How would you define success?

Think in terms of a sense of well-being. Consider opportunity and responsibility as components of success.

49.How successful do you think you’ve been so far?

Say that, all in all, you’re happy with the way your career has progressed. Given the normal ups and downs of life, you feel that you’ve done quite well and expect to continue to succeed in the future.

***Present a positive and confident picture of yourself, but don’t overstate your case. An answer like, “Everything’s wonderful; I’m overjoyed!” is likely to make an interviewer wonder whether you’re trying to fool him or yourself. The most convincing confidence is usually quiet confidence.