Congratulations—you’ve snagged the big interview! You know the position is perfect for you, you’ve done your research on the company, and you’re feeling confident. But what will you do if you’re asked a curveball question you’re not expecting?
Ron Fry, author of "101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions," has hired hundreds of employees and interviewed thousands of candidates. Of all the tools in your professional arsenal, your ability to shine in that brief moment in time can make or break your chances of landing the job of your dreams. Interviewing is at least 50% preparation! Here are five of the toughest questions to answer in an interview and strategies for how to answer them.
“How long have you been looking for a job?”
Unless you’ve been fired or laid off, your answer should always be that you’ve just started looking. Rightly or wrongly, many interviewers presume that the longer you’ve been out there, the less desirable you are to hire.
If you have been out of work for a while, be prepared to explain why you haven’t received or accepted any offers yet. You’re just as choosy about finding the right job as the interviewer is about hiring the right candidate and it’s good you’ve been so selective—now you have a shot at landing the position you’re currently interviewing for.
“What is the biggest failure you’ve had in your career? What steps have you taken to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again?”
Before you start spilling your guts, remember that the interviewer is not a priest and you are not in a confessional! The best approach is to admit to one weakness or failure and then talk about the steps you are taking (or have taken) to make sure that you’ll never fail in quite that way again. Choose any deficiency that might be considered a plus in a slightly different light. For example, you have a tendency to take on too much yourself. You are trying to solve this problem by delegating better.
“If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?”
Interviewers use hypothetical questions like this to get candidates to think on their feet. Unless you’re shooting for a complete change of career, you should convince the interviewer that you wouldn’t change a thing. Position your regrets as missed opportunities that you’ve learned from. For instance: “My only regret is that I didn’t go in this direction sooner.”
“You’ve changed jobs quite frequently. How do we know you’ll stick around?”
The hiring process is expensive for companies and time-consuming for managers. In framing your reply, convince the interviewer you have staying power by painting the position on offer as your career’s “promised land.” You can confess that you had some difficulty defining your career goals, but now you’re quite sure of your direction, or let them know that you left previous positions only after you realized that moving on was the only way to increase your responsibilities and broaden your experience.
“Are you a risk-taker or do you prefer to play it safe?”
In most cases, the ideal candidate will be a little of both. Interviewers who ask this question are probing for intimations of innovation and creativity. Are you the shepherd or just one of the flock? But they also want to find out whether you might turn into a loose cannon who will ignore company policies and be all too ready to lead a fatal cavalry charge. Temper your answer to show that you’re always seeking out new strategies and ideas but are not insubordinate.