How To Answer Tough (But Common) Job Interview Questions
Workin' Girl

How To Answer Tough (But Common) Job Interview Questions

Landing a job interview is already a feat in itself, but actually getting through it feeling like you've won is a whole other issue. Whether it's a dream job that you want in order to take your career to the next level or that promotion at your current job, it's likely you'll be thrown a few curve balls by way of tough questions. They're often common and a tad basic, but they can bring about feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, or confusion.

It's okay, sis. We've got you covered. Here's how to answer tough but common job interview questions confidently and win. (And don't be afraid to practice answering these with a trusted friend, mentor, coach, or even in the mirror with yourself, if that's what will really ensure you stay on ready.)

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1. "Can you tell us more about yourself?"

As someone with almost 20 years of experience in my industry and who has worked for businesses large and small, I've always had to fight the urge to say, "Well, didn't you read my resume?" (And I've felt this way even when I was just starting out. You definitely don't want to say that though! Ha!)

While the person interviewing might have read your resume (or, in my experience being both an interviewee and interviewer for a job, might have just gotten your resume 10 minutes before the interview), this question often serves as your opportunity to put your resume in your own words. Talk about the things you're most passionate about when it comes to your job (working with teams, corresponding with customers, being a problem-solver), mention your educational and training background, and include one or two key roles you're proud of having shined in.

This is actually a great first question in an interview because, for me, it allows me to control the vibe and energy of the conversation. I always find the most confidence in remembering my "why" when answering, and I know that just being myself is key. Also, as my faith denotes, if a job is for me, it's for me. If not, God always has something else that is.

Add a bit of personality and elaborate on not only the key points of who you are professionally, but who you are personally as well. (Just be sure that what you say related to your personal life reflects professionalism and is actually relevant to the job you're interviewing for.)

Don't ramble. Take a breath between sentences and remember to smile. Imagine if you were in an elevator and you only had a minute to tell someone about yourself in a way that lets them know who you are, what you offer, and things you love about your career experience.

A big tip for answering this question: Do a bit of research on the professionals who will be interviewing you. Look up the HR department or the person's email on LinkedIn or Google. Don't focus on befriending them online or making them a Facebook friend. Simply take note of a few things that might be relevant to the position or relate to them on a professional level.

And you don't want to get too personal or thirsty (Think, creepy blind date who tells you what you were last doing based on your IG story or keeps asking you about a mom they never really met but saw in one of your posts). Again, be sure to only talk about things super-relevant to the role you're applying to or the skills required for it.

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2. "What's your biggest weakness?"

Again, it's like "What??? Why?" But, again, don't respond in that way. (I swear these are my immediate reactions to these sorts of "common" interview questions.) The key to answering this one is this: Oftentimes this is asked to see how honest you will be, if you're a leader in self-correction, and if you have skills that include self-awareness and self-reflection.

This is not a time to bash yourself or tell them what you think they want to hear. Think about areas of leadership, communication, or strategic thinking that you either are actively working on or plan to actively work on.

For me, for example, I've always had a weakness for perfection, and I'll often do something at least two different ways just to make sure I have a plan B if plan A doesn't work or isn't enough. I'd also over-edit my work or re-write something several times, trying to make it "perfect," until my previous editors would have to say, "Enough Janell. We've gotta file this. Give us what you've got." This is indeed something I'd been working on (and I've since gotten better at not doing). So I've said in an interview or two: "I've learned from my previous managers that, as a leader, you have to trust your instincts and experience and go with plan A." I'd then add in details on an example of this from a previous project I'd worked on that was successful when I didn't second-guess myself so much and went with my gut.

If you have a self-perceived weakness of, for example, overexplaining things, challenges communicating criticism to those on your team (i.e. being too nice), or find it difficult being an introvert among extroverts, this is the time to mention it. Definitely don't just say, "Well, I'm great. I have no weaknesses," or offer up insights that will totally get your resume thrown in the garbage ("Oh, I'm always late, even if I leave my house on time," or "I just can't seem to get organized, and I often find myself being scatterbrained." Trust me, I've heard these before and the team always wondered, "Did this person intend to waste our time today?")

A big tip for answering this question: You don't have to do too much oversharing here. You'd hate to be that person who was a tad bit too transparent about weaknesses in a job interview but had very little to say when it came to talking about accomplishments or impact. It's a clear red flag, so just be as concise and direct with this one as possible and allow the interviewer to probe for more (or not).

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3. "Why should we hire you?"

Here's another question that should show you did your research on the company and the people you might be working for. It's not something to respond to with vague statements like, "I'm a people person, and I'm a go-getter," especially if you're interviewing for the position of a manager, senior leader, or director.

In almost every situation where I've had a hand in hiring someone, the candidates who showed that they'd done their homework and actually applied what they knew about the company in talking about why they'd be a great fit for the position either made it to the next round of interviews or were hired.

It's good to lean on three key things when answering this question: your personal "why," your actual experience (and being confident in how relevant your credentials, unique talents, and skills are to the role), and how those previous two can be woven together in order to be an asset.

I once applied for a job because I knew I wanted to transition into magazines after having worked for newspapers for much of my early career. I thought it was a long shot. I'd only interned at a magazine one time before, and while it was still journalism, working for a magazine publisher would be totally different from working in a newsroom.

I knew I not only had education, experience, and transferable skills but that I'd be great at the job because I'd wanted it for more than a decade. I told the interviewers, "Along with my degree and my love for storytelling and editing, I've dreamt about working here, at this publication, since childhood. The stories you've done highlighting ________ are something I've wanted to work on since reading your articles in my Granny's den. My great uncle, her brother, was a respected entrepreneur as well, so I know how important it is to highlight those stories. He built his businesses during Jim Crow, the Reagan-era recession, and the recession we're in right now. I've always had a passion for telling stories of the voiceless, of leaders and those who overcome, and I've loved the reach of magazines in doing that. It's what I feel called to do, especially for an audience such as yours."

I made it through three whole rounds and got the job. I was so happy because, at the time, I was pretty burnt out from working in newspapers and wanted a change that would not only revive me but place me on a path I'd always wanted to be on.

A big tip for answering this question: If your why is clear and on the up-and-up, answering this question will be a breeze. If not, you might want to reconsider applying for the job altogether. I don't care if it's a job dipping fries at a burger joint or leading a Fortune 500 marketing team, your why matters. Focus on talking about your skills and allow what motivated you to apply in the first place (your kids, financial goals, lifestyle aspirations, or career fulfillment) to be the silent foundation for informing your approach. (In other words, you don't have to say, "I applied for my kids," or "I need the money," but your actions and prep for answering this question should reflect that you mean business and that you must get the job).

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4. "What's led you to look for new employment?"

There are several variations to this question such as, "Why did you leave your last position?" In this case, you definitely want to be truthful, since, depending on some state laws, your former employer can not only be contacted and asked about you but some might even offer specifics on the circumstances of you leaving.

A good way to approach this one is to put positivity at the forefront. If the previous job simply wasn't a good fit, state that. If you're interested in strengthening certain skills and feel that the new position will offer the opportunity to do that, say that. If you've relocated and are looking for a fresh start, say that. (And you don't even have to volunteer details on why you relocated, especially if it's related to health, marriage, or family. In some states, for example, it's illegal for an interviewer to ask questions that might introduce the chance of discrimination, especially those related to the aforementioned.)

Lead with what was positive about the previous experience and how you'd like to further build upon that, even if it was a job you didn't like or one that ended in a way that wasn't the best.

I once decided to move on from a job simply because I'd outgrown the position and really didn't see any chance of me getting promoted (both via title and financially) in the time I wanted to. At the interview for my next job, I simply told them, "I've led teams that did amazing work on projects I'm proud of, and I'd love to continue being an asset to grow and learn in a different capacity at this company." I kept it short and sweet, and the interviewer moved on.

If you've had an employment gap, you can approach answering this question in the same way. When I first began my grad degree studies, I didn't work in the capacity I had previously. I really wanted to focus on being a student and having schedule flexibility, and I worked jobs that were totally unrelated to my core career in order to do so. Later, when I was getting closer to the end of my program and knew I could give more time to a job more closely aligned with my career passions, I simply stated how much I'd learned about myself, about discipline, and about leadership, in pursuing my degree and that I'm now ready for applying what I've learned in my next chapter.

When it comes to tough interview questions, just remember to come to the table knowing who you are and why you're there. Rely on the boldness and greatness of what you offer the world and why you're even applying in the first place. Be strategic, practice answering these questions with someone, and seek out your destiny without hesitation. God's speed to you!

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