10 Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers

The best way to prepare yourself for the interview is to know the questions in advance. Then practice your potential answers.

Following are some of the toughest questions you will face in the course of your job interviews. Some questions may seem rather simple on the surface, such as "Tell me about yourself." Yet the easy answer is not the right answer. The more open ended the question, the wider the variation in potential interview answers. Once you have become practiced in behavioral interviewing skills, you will find that you can use almost any question as a launching pad for a specific behavioral example or compelling story.

Others interview questions in this list are classic interview fail questions, such as "What is your greatest weakness?" Most candidates answer questions such as this improperly. In this case, the standard textbook answer for the "greatest weakness" question is to provide a veiled positive such as: "I work too much. I just work and work and work." Wrong. Either you are lying or, worse yet, you are telling the truth, in which case you define working too much as a weakness and really do not want to work much at all.

The following example interview answers are provided to give you a new perspective on how to answer tough interview questions. They are not there for you to lift from the page and insert verbatim into your next interview. They are provided for you to use as a guide, giving you the basic structure for formulating your own answers. While the specifics of each reply may not apply to you, construct your personal answer keeping in mind the perspective of the interviewer. Answer the questions behaviorally, with specific examples that show clear evidence of your competencies. Always provide information that shows you have the skills and experience necessary to become the very best _____ for the company and how you have specifically prepared yourself to become exactly that. Interviewers want to be sold. They are waiting to be sold. Don't disappoint them!

Each of the interview question links below gives further details about the question, why the interviewer is asking the question, the best approach to answering and sample answers for both entry level and experienced candidates.

1. Tell me about yourself.

It seems like an easy interview question. It's open ended. You can talk about whatever you want from birth forward. Right?

Wrong. What the hiring manager really wants is a quick, two- to three-minute snapshot of who you are and why you're the best candidate for this position.

So as you answer this question, talk about what you've specifically done to prepare yourself to be the very best candidate for the position. Use a behavioral example or two to back it up. Then ask if they would like more details. If they do, keep giving them example after example of your background and experience. Always point back to a behavioral example when you have the opportunity.

"Tell me about yourself" does not mean tell everything. Just tell what makes you the best. Read more…

2. Why should I hire you?

The easy answer is that you are the best person for the job. And don't be afraid to say so. But then you need to back it up with what specifically differentiates you.

A sample response: "You should hire me because I'm the best person for the job. I realize that there are likely other candidates who also have the ability to do this job. Yet I bring an additional quality that makes me the best person for the job—my passion for excellence. I am passionately committed to producing truly world class results. Here is an example of how many passion for excellence delivered outstanding results…"

Are you the best person for the job? Show it by your passionate examples. Read more…

3. What is your long-range objective?

The key is to focus on your achievable objectives and what you are specifically doing to reach those objectives.

A sample response: "Within five years, I would like to become the very best accountant your company has on staff. I want to work toward becoming the expert that others rely upon. And in doing so, I feel I'll be fully prepared to take on any greater responsibilities which might be presented in the long term. For example, here is what I'm presently doing to prepare myself…"

Then go on to show by your examples what you are doing to reach your goals and objectives. Read more…

4. How has your education prepared you for your career?

This is a broad question and you need to focus on the behavioral examples in your educational background which specifically align to the required competencies for the career.

A sample answer: "My education has focused on not only learning the fundamentals, but also on the practical application of the information learned within those classes. For example, I played a lead role in a class project where we gathered and analyzed best practice data from this industry. Let me tell you more about the results…"

Focus on specific behavioral examples supporting the key competencies for the job. Then ask if they would like to hear more examples. Read more…

5. Are you a team player?

Almost everyone says yes to this question. But it is not just a yes/no question. You need to provide behavioral examples to back up your answer.

A sample answer: "Yes, I'm very much a team player. In fact, I've had opportunities in my work, school and athletics to develop my skills as a team player. For example, on a recent project…"

Emphasize teamwork behavioral examples and focus on your openness to diversity of backgrounds. Talk about the strength of the team above the individual. And note that this question may be used as a lead in to questions around how you handle conflict within a team, so be prepared. Read more…

6. Have you ever had a conflict with a boss or professor? How was it resolved?

Note that if you say no, most interviewers will keep drilling deeper to find a potential area of conflict. The key is how you behaviorally reacted to conflict and what you did to resolve it.

A sample response: "Yes, I have had conflicts in the past. Never major ones, but there have been disagreements that needed to be resolved. I've found that when conflict occurs, it helps to fully understand the other person's perspective, so I take time to listen to their point of view, then I seek to work out a collaborative solution. For example…"

Focus your answer on the behavioral process for resolving the conflict and working collaboratively. Read more…

7. What is your greatest weakness?

Most career books tell you to select a strength and then simply present it as a weakness. Such as: "I work too much. I just work and work and work." Wrong. First of all, using a strength and presenting it as a weakness is deceiving. You're lying. Second, it misses the entire point of the question.

You should select a weakness that you have been actively working to overcome. A sample response: "I have had trouble in the past with planning and prioritization. However, I'm now taking steps to correct this. I'm now using a planning app to better plan and prioritize…" then pull out your mobile to show how you are using the app.

Talk about a true weakness from the past, then show what you are doing to overcome it. Read more…

8. If I were to ask your professors (or your boss) to describe you, what would they say?

This is a threat of reference check (TORC) question. Do not wait for the interview to know the answer. Ask any prior bosses or professors in advance. And if they are willing to provide a positive reference, ask them for a letter of recommendation.

Then you can respond to the question like this:

"I believe she would say I'm a very energetic person, that I'm results oriented and one of the best people with whom she has ever worked. Actually, I know she would say that, because those are her very words. May I show you her letter of recommendation?"

So be prepared in advance with your letters of recommendation. Read more…

9. What qualities do you feel a successful manager should have?

Focus on two words: leadership and vision. Then tell of how that leadership and vision translated into your personal delivered results.

Here is a sample of how to respond: "The key quality in a successful manager should be leadership—the ability to be the visionary for the people who are working under them. The person who can set the course and direction for subordinates, keeping them focused on what is most important for delivering the highest priority results. The highest calling of a true leader is inspiring others to reach the highest of their abilities. I'd like to tell you about a person whom I consider to be a true leader and the results achieved while working with her…"

Then give an example of someone who has touched your life and how their impact has helped in your personal development and results delivered. Read more…

10. If you had to live your life over again, what one thing would you change?

Focus on a key turning point in your life or missed opportunity. Yet also tie it forward to what you are doing to still seek to make that change.

A sample response: "Although I'm very happy overall with where I'm at in my life, the one aspect I likely would have changed would be focusing earlier on my chosen career. I had a great internship this past year and look forward to more experience in the field. I simply wish I would have focused on my professional development earlier. For example, I learned on my recent internship…" then provide examples.

Stay focused on positive direction in your life and back it up with examples. Read more…

It is not enough to have solid answers for only a few interview questions. You need to be prepared for the full spectrum of questions which may be asked. Review our list of 100 common interview questions, with detailed information on why the interviewer is asking the question and samples and examples of awesome interview answers to each question, both for entry level and experienced job seekers. Don't just look at the questions, think through and practice your answers.

In reviewing these sample interview answers, please remember that they are only examples. Do not rehearse them verbatim nor adopt these answers as your own. They are meant to stir your personal creative juices and get you thinking about how to properly answer the broader range of questions that you will face.

Read more:

100 Common Interview Questions