How to tackle the 5 most difficult job interview questions

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Employers ask tough questions for two reasons: To allow them to get a deeper sense of who you are, and to see whether you have good analytical skills. These questions can range from problem-solving items to trick questions.

Here are five tough questions you may encounter in a job interview (and suggested answers):

  1. What is your greatest weakness?

    What they’re trying to find out: The employer wants to know if you’re self-aware and humble enough to admit your faults. More importantly, they want to know how you handle shortcomings and if you’re proactive about self-improvement.

    How to answer: Be modest, but not too modest. You don’t have to put yourself down. Mention a real weakness that you can easily work to overcome, or one that doesn’t prevent you from doing your job. Then explain how you are correcting this weakness.

    Sample answer: “I find it hard to provide feedback at work for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Back in my home country, criticism can be harsh and it is normal. This is not acceptable in the Canadian workplace. That’s why I’m training to learn respectful workplace communication so that I can deliver feedback the right way. I realized that by being empathetic, my feedback becomes more helpful for others.”

  2. Why should we hire you?

    What they’re trying to find out: This question is similar to: “What sets you apart from the other candidates?” The employer is looking for added value that makes you unique compared to the other applicants.

    How to answer: Emphasize what you can do right away to contribute. You can give a short answer that mentions the job’s top requirement and explain how you meet this requirement.

    Sample answer: “Thank you for this question. Based on our discussion today, what you’re looking for is a skilled sales executive who will focus on customer satisfaction to increase sales. At my previous job, I was able to increase sales by 25% by implementing a rewards program that targeted not only our high-end clientele but mid-level customers as well. It was a first in the industry. You can be sure that I will bring the same level of creativity and energy to your company if hired.”

  3. Why do you want to leave your current job? or Why were you let go in your last job?

    What they’re trying to find out: They want to know if the reason you are leaving (or was let go) is related to your attitude, performance or values. They also want to find out what you are looking for in a position or workplace.

    How to answer: Never talk badly about your current or former employer if you’re trying to leave a toxic work environment. Instead, focus on the idea that you’re taking advantage of a better job opportunity. If you were laid off or fired, don’t worry. This is common during the pandemic. Emphasize your past accomplishments and the measures you have taken to upgrade your skills to prepare for the next opportunity.

    Sample answer: “I loved working at XYZ Company. Unfortunately, their biggest client had to close its business last year at the height of the pandemic. This had a major effect on revenues and they had to downsize. I was one of their most recent hires so I was let go. I was proud of the work I did there even if it was a short stint. My former manager is one of my strongest references.”

  4. What is your expected salary?

    What they’re trying to find out: Employers might ask this to see if you know the industry-standard rates for your job and position, or if you know your worth. However, some (bad) employers might be checking if they can get away with a lower salary, or find out if they can afford you before they spend more time and resources convincing you to work for them.

    How to answer: This is a tricky question, especially if the salary range for the position is not mentioned in the job ad (this could be a red flag). You can respectfully refuse to answer the question if it is only the preliminary interview. You can say “I’ll be happy to discuss this when I know more about the responsibilities of this job and your expectations.”

    You can also say that you decide based on the entire compensation package, not only the salary. Hopefully, they will tell you more about the job’s benefits. In any case, it will be to your advantage to know the standard salary range for your position. You can look it up at the Canada Job Bank.

    Sample answers: “I’m more interested about knowing how this job is a good fit for my skills and interests. I’m sure that you’ll be offering a reasonable salary that’s not only competitive in the current market but also commensurate to my skills and experience.” or “While I am flexible, I’ll have to say that $XXX to $XXX is the right range based on the responsibilities of this position. There’s a lot to take on and I’m confident that I can deliver the results you’re looking for.”

  5. If you were a tree, what kind would you be and why? (and other offbeat questions)

    What they’re trying to find out: Employers ask this question either to help you relax or test your reasoning skills. Depending on the question, you have to use creative thinking and logic to answer such problems.

    How to answer: This may catch you off guard but take it seriously. Do your best to provide a good response that shows your analytical as well as creative skills. It may even be a chance to show your humour – just remember to keep it professional.

    Sample answer: “I would be a willow tree because I’m tenacious and strong. And just like the willow tree is able to thrive in a wide range of soil and moisture conditions, I can also easily adapt and grow in various work environments.”
    Article updated July 5, 2023.
    Sources: Tough job interview questions and the best answers, Alison Doyle, the balance careers; 10 unexpected interview questions to get unrehearsed answers, Gregory Lewis, LinkedIn Talent Blog; How to answer: Why did you leave your last job? Pamela Skillings, Big interview; and 15 fun, weird, and unexpected interview questions (with sample answers), Caroline Forsey, Hubspot. Accessed February 11, 2021.

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