Five Tough Job Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)

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1. “What is your biggest weakness?”

The answer should show that you are self-aware enough to recognize your own weaknesses, and determined enough to do something about them. A good way to come up with your answer is to take one of your biggest strengths, consider the possible downsides of that strength, and then how you can minimize that downside.

For example, “I’ve always had trouble working on multiple projects at once, because it’s more natural for me to work on one thing until it’s finished and perfect. So when I need to multitask, I keep detailed to-do lists, and now I never miss a deadline.”

Whatever story you prepare, make sure your weakness is not one of the “required skills” in the job ad!

2. “Why do you have this gap in your work history?” or “Why have you been unemployed for X years?”

If you have to explain an employment gap, your answer should show that the gap is not your fault, and that you were doing something during that time to maintain or improve your work-related skills. For example, “I needed to take six months off to care for a sick loved one, but during that time, I did some volunteer work for ABC Charity and consulting for XYZ Company. That medical need has passed, so now I am ready to return to work and show the world what I can do.”

If your gap was due to a disability that do you do not want to disclose during the interview, you might say something like, “I had to temporarily leave the workforce due to medical reasons, but during that time, I kept up my skills by reading industry journals and doing some freelance work. Now I’m ready to return to work full time, and use my skills to help this company grow.”

3. “What are your salary requirements?”

Generally speaking, the best answer is one that gets the interviewer to name a figure first. Be vague while emphasizing your value to the company. For example, “I would expect to earn a fair salary for someone with X years of experience and X degree.”

Your biggest advantage comes from being prepared. A bit of research on Google will show you the average pay for your profession and the average income in your area. You can also get a rough estimate of their annual revenue by looking at things like the number of employees, newspaper or business journal interviews with company leadership, and searching at Hoovers.com.

If the employer is a nonprofit, Google for “Nonprofit Name form 990”. The 990 tax form shows their annual revenue and how much they spend on salaries and benefits. This information will give you a much better idea of how much they might be able (and willing) to pay you.

4. “What is your dream job?”

There are two ways you shouldn’t go here. One is to answer with something completely different than the job you’re applying for. It would make you sound uninterested and likely to leave as soon as you’re given the opportunity. The other is to answer, basically, “This job! Yep, working here would be a dream come true!” Even if you have a tattoo of the company logo, you would sound dishonest or sycophantic.

The answer should be somewhere in between the two extremes. Your answer should discuss similar job tasks to the job at hand, without naming an actual job title. For example, if you were applying to be a server at a restaurant, you might say, “I love meeting new people and I have strong communication skills, so my dream job would be one where I had lots of opportunities to interact with customers. Also, I love staying active, so my dream job would be in a fast-paced environment that keeps me busy and on my feet.”

5. Unrelated, strange-sounding questions like “How many marbles would fit in this room?” or “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?”

Questions like “How many marbles would fit in this room?” don’t have right answers. Instead, they are designed to give you the opportunity to show your problem-solving skills and resourcefulness. Try to make your answer relate in some way to the job skills you would need to do the job.

For example, if it is a general office job, you might say, “I’ve conducted a lot of online research, so it should be pretty simple for me to find the size of the average marble. From there, I would write a simple Excel formula to calculate the volume of the room, minus the volume of your desk, cabinets, and chairs, and how many marbles would fit in the empty space.”

Questions like “What kind of animal would you be?” are intended to find out more about your personality and what you would be like as a coworker. Try not to worry about how silly you feel, and just be creative.

For example, you might say, “I like working with a team, so I think I would enjoy being in a flock of starlings.” Or, “In my design work, I like to create new things that are beautiful, but also useful and practical, qualities I’ve always found in caterpillar cocoons.”