Tough Interview Questions

4 Tips To Answer Tough Interview Questions Correctly

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From blatant interview questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness, weakest attribute, or most significant failure.” To soft, “What might your previous employer say?” Even softer, “You certainly seem to have a lot of strengths, but we understand no one is perfect.”

The question will come one way or another, everyone knows it, yet still befuddled by it.

There have been many Rules of Thumb (R.O.T.) developed over the years, from making light of the question with an answer like “Pizza!” to true confessions, putting a cloud over everyone, to developing a response that actually demonstrates a strength, “I tend to be a workaholic,” or “perfectionist.” (Yuk!)

In principle, Rules of Thumb are meant to have very broad application such as, “when in doubt, get out.” Great advice if you are in the middle of an intersection and the light changes. Would it apply in the final seconds of a game, you’re down three points and have the ball? What, you’re going to walk off the floor? I don’t think so. I find many R.O.T. (pun intended) to be off the mark and misleading. What may be good for one may not be for another. That is not to say there are no rules that can be applied; there are. Just choose your medicine carefully.

When you have to answer tough interview questions, here’s the first rule…

Interview Rule #1 – Stay Positive… ALWAYS!

The “what’s your greatest weakness” question is your opportunity to shine. One way is to demonstrate you are a positive person by nature. Everyone likes a person with a positive nature, right? Remember you are in the interview to make yourself desirable for hiring, so you might say, “I rarely sit there and think of myself in those terms, nevertheless, I do want to respond to your question,” or something on those lines.

Notice by the way I did not say, “I rarely sit there and think of my weaknesses.” Here’s a rule of thumb that always applies: Do not use or repeat negative terms, even if the interviewer throws it out there.

Here are three other rules I suggest you follow for efficient interview preparation:

Interview Rule #2 – No Superlatives!

Keep it singular. Superlatives such as “weakest” or “worst” or “biggest” indicate the greatest degree of whatever is it describing. “Worst weakness” is the weakness of the highest degree implying there are other weaknesses of varying degrees but weaknesses nonetheless. That begs the question, “What are some others?” Likewise, “need most to improve” implies there are others areas for improvement. In any case, try this as an alternative, “If I had to come up with one…” (No negatives, no multiples.)

Interview Rule #3 – No Absolutes!

The absolute, as in “My weakness is…” states the weakness exists unconditionally: utterly fixed and not likely to change. WOW! Wouldn’t it be better to be a little less restrictive, something more conditional like, “It could be I am…” Conditional responses suggest you yourself are not completely convinced of it. This type of response also accomplishes what the bungling technique of using a “strength” to describe a weakness consistently fails to achieve – your “weakness” may not be a weakness after all.

Interview Rule #4 – Keep It Real!

Your “weakness” should be one (singular) that is subjective – of your person. Humanize it!

“If I had to come up with one (singular) it might be (non-absolute) somewhat (qualifier) of a lack of internal patience (human). I seem (unconvinced) to have strong tendencies to expect the same from others I do from myself (human).

Not just in terms of results – I’m smart enough to realize not everyone has the same level of skill, abilities and education (real). I do however, expect others to give their best effort, and if that’s not there, then yes, that might (conditional) bother me to some degree.”

Ah! “Bother me to some degree,” is human, non-absolute, qualifier, and conditional. Don’t you love it?! Another tact, similarly keeping it real, could be an incident resultant of some area where improvement was needed (potential weakness) that turned out to be a learning experience and later grew into a personal asset, thus giving you, once more, an opportunity to showcase strength.

In Summary…

Proper interview preparation can be completed by simply doing your homework. Think critically and be honest with yourself. Ask friends or colleagues the same: Critically and honestly, what they think may be your one weakness. When you have the answer, internalize it. In other words, take it to heart.

If you don’t, your response may come across like a sound bite, no matter how long and hard you practice sounding unpracticed. When you speak from the heart, you won’t sound “rehearsed,” you will sound “aware” – conscious of yourself, a characteristic we all value.


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Rob Taub

Rob, a veteran career services professional with 25 years in the biz, is Principal of Job Search Corner and creator of the blog “Job Searching with Rob.”

25 comments

  1. Honestly, I have been retired for 22 Years. However, I feel that the advice given here is just as important now and has not changed one whit in those 22 years of my own retirement. I recall a similar response to a similarly worded question such as: What are some of your weaknesses? My response then and now was and would be, “If I had any weaknesses It would be that I expect too much of my staff at times. However, when I recognize that and I do, I also realize that everyone can learn and part of my job is to train those that I supervise continuously so that one day any one of them can take over when the time for me to move on comes”….There are many ways to deal with this kind of question and what I have seen is really good advice. By the way, No brag, just fact, once I learned how to conduct and be the subject of interviews (I have done both) I never failed to make the top three possible candidates from which the selection would be made. One additional word, prepare. prepare, prepare.

  2. A lot of the questions asked in an interview are asked for other reasons than just “shooting the breeze”, often the questions asked tell about the kind of person you are. For example many people ask “What is a mistake you made in your current or past job and what did you learn?” People assume that this question is to see if you mess up things, its not! Your answer to this question is very important. Really think about it, is your answer that it someone else was at fault or that you learned nothing…then you have proved that you are not accountable for your own actions, maybe even unable to learn from your mistakes.This question is a huge one when you think about that fact that we live in a society where nobody seems to be responsible for their own actions, there is always a reason it’s not “your” fault. Use this question to stand out and show them that you can be counted on to be there and to be responsible. Can’t answer this question showing you took responsibility for a mistake that you made it might be time to look in the mirror and do some real thinking.

  3. this is great information. employers will ask trick questions to try to throw a person off. people need to relax, do some research on the company before they even apply for the job and when they are called for the interview they will be better prepared. be prepared to answer questions like why should our company hire you, or why are you a good candidate for this job.  

  4. Impressive post. One should not be over explanatory nor be less about anything in interview. Answers should be precise & be confident. I like your post & satisfied with the info given here.

  5. It will work for the freshers as well as experience person.nice post, I think best cover letter also help to increase the confidence.  

  6. Job search and be sure to look everywhere. Limited to a few major projects can be disastrous. Many of the jobs you are looking for can not be listed in the city and the most popular job search engines. Therefore, try to look to places of lesser-known work, and industry-specific. Check your local newspaper, especially the Sunday editions. Sometimes a job can be printed on a single day in the newspaper.

  7. Rob, this is absolutely great advice. There is nothing worse than an interviewee who is not themselves and cannot handle the questions being thrown at them. There is more research and preparation that goes into an interview than just knowing what the company is all about–you need to know what you, yourself, are all about and how you want to present that personal brand to them!

    -Bridie Rubino

  8. Great blog post!

    No absolutes for sure as well as keeping it real. Weaknessess can be subjective, often more then not they are. We at careerassessmentsite.com also believe in learning about your innate strengths and weaknesses through the use of The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Your Blog post is practical and straightforward. A great resource… thank you for sharing.

    Jonathan Bollag | Founder and Owner

  9. You also have to be careful in keeping it real though. Make it work with what the employers are looking for a candidate. Experience makes it easier to really “keep it real.”

    • True but you dont want to talk to your interviewer like you would talk to your friends like “Dude” or “bro” good advice though

  10. How about the ubiquitous question, “Where do you expect to see yourself in 5 years?”. I was asked that at one interview and the job was a 12 month contract! Also, how does one tackle the problem of ageism? I graduated at the ripe old age of 48 ( I wasnt in the financial position to study for a degree before this) and since graduation in 2007, with a 2:1 BSc with honours, I still can’t find alternative employment. Do you think that the new breed of managers (I have met some managers ranging in age from 25 years and upwards) are afraid of employing someone older than themselves? I have a lifetime of experience of working with different people, which should also count for something along with my numerous qualifications.

  11. It is absolutely hilarious that the HR people changed a simple thing like looking for a job into a sort of religion.

    Now the colour of your tie or whether you put your lef leg on the right one (or the other way around) may decide about you job. I guess the reason is that these people are way too dumb to ask a difficult and highly specialized question. Than to make it up they decide about you faith just based whether you prefer apples or pears.

  12. Be honest and you will almost not certainly get a job!! Fact, remember if people in general lie to get a job, then managers probably lied too when they started at the bottom, will they be attracted to your goody two shoes way?

  13. Great stuff. There is a foundational set of questions most managers [including myself] as in interviews, and if you understand why these are being asked and how to respond, you can generalize very effectively to influencing how you answer all other questions.

    Russell Tuckerton

  14. The absolute, as in “my weakness is…” states the weakness exists unconditionally: Utterly fixed and not likely to change. WOW! Wouldn’t it be better to be a little less restrictive, something more conditional like “it could be I am…” Conditional responses suggest you yourself are not completely convinced of it. This type of response also accomplishes what the bungling technique of using a “strength” to describe a weakness consistently fails to achieve – that your “weakness” may not be a weakness after all.

  15. I'm happy to see that we aren't talking about the interview brain teasers that measure some depth of smart: “How would you calculate how many miles of copper wire are used for the US telephone system”!!!

    And I agree with Rob that the question of your greatest weakness is an opportunity to be personal, real, and highlight an imperfect positive. “Sometimes I get so engaged in a project, that I forget about some of the other activities the team needs to get done”. After making that point, show that you have a broader perspective on how you improve: “I now focus on making sure I take the time to step back and communicate more with the broader teams”.

    But make it yours.

  16. In the prehistoric days , when personnel departments, set up hiring with the people responsible for production, output ., etc, and engineers interviewed engineering hires, bankers interviewed banking hires etc. there were no “human resource” specialists, who knew little about their employer's business, there were no “Trick”questions designed to keep people out. The interviewers wanted to know what the interviewees knew about the business and check their technical comtetence. Now it has degenerated to a smart ass contest to see who can buffalo the others with nonsense. That is one of the reasons American business is losing the edge.

    • Not just American business is suffering; it’s exactly the same with the recruitment process in the UK.

      How can some mid-20year old, with no business experience in that field, ask competent and relevant questions to establish anyone’s suitability for a particular role? Experience and knowledge do not seem to play a part in the decision making process. It’s all down to age, whether ‘the face fits’ and answering correctly quite absurd and subjective questions designed by who knows who, which in most cases have absolutely no bearing on the job requirements in question. Who questions their competence to interview people in the first place? This method of recruitment is beginning now to show how just how damaging it is to the world economy and buisness; too many people in key jobs they are not really competent in due to lack of experience, but they have been taught to cheat the interview procedure (with the help of the interviewer it seems). In the end we all suffer.

      • #JS Coop u said it all for me. Just had an 2 interview ds, same company different branch. First branch interviewee wz late and lookd unprepared. At d section, she asked me to tell her about my self,ur interest & one other things which I 4got as it wz 3 n 1 question. This wz a skilled job post no question n relation to the actual post to display my competncy. Got an emai wz not successful at D assessmnt. She said at d start how she has been interviewing xmas applicants post. I feel like call her to tell me how she has scored d interview and report her to her headqurtr. She has loss her establshmnt a good candidate . 2nd intervier wz far more ready and related to job question, if don’t get it. Am happy it was a better sttyle of intrvw.

        • Sorry for the late response but I could not resist.

          I assume you did not get the job. I assume as much because you could not take the time to write a full word in your response. Unless you are 13 years old, and even then I expect more, you really should learn the English language.

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