How to Answer the 5 TRICKIEST Interview Questions

three women sitting at the table

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who actually enjoys being interviewed for a job. Racked nerves, sweaty palms, the possibility of being completely stumped by a question . . . we’ve pretty much all experienced “interview dread,” a big part of which comes down to a fear of the unknown.

It is quite possible, however, to anticipate many common interview questions. Interviewers are, after all, creatures of habit like the rest of us, and they tend to return to a handful of tried-and-true questions. This fact actually gives you as an interviewee an upper hand: You can expect to receive one or more of the following interview questions and can prepare yourself accordingly. Preparation breeds confidence, and confidence in answering one question will tend to make you more confident with every question. With that in mind, here are five common questions that many people feel are challenging (but you won’t, because you’re prepared!):

1. “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”

The challenge of this question is its vagueness. “A little bit about yourself” could refer to just about anything, so how are you meant to take it? Although the question may on the surface appear to be an invitation to start chatting about personal details of your life, this is not really how most interviewers intend it. Instead, it is safer to keep your answer professional; that is, take the question as an opportunity to tell your interviewer why you believe yourself to be a particularly good fit for this job. Here’s an easy-to-remember formula to guide your answer: W.W.W.

WHAT I am + WHO I am = WHY I am a good candidate for this role.

Begin your answer by providing a brief overview of your professional background (“WHAT” you are). This could include highlights of your educational background and most relevant previous work positions. Then, mention two or three of your strongest, most relevant personal attributes (“WHO” you are, such as a “hard worker,” “problem solver,” etc.). Finally, explain “WHY” you believe this unique combination of experiences and attributes makes you a good fit for the position.

2. “What is your biggest weakness?”

Few of us like to admit our flaws, so this question often catches interviewees off guard. Here’s how to avoid that: Be prepared to candidly admit some weakness you have that is potentially relevant to your job performance; however, spend most of your answer talking about the steps you have taken to overcome this weakness, compensate for it, etc. Keeping your answer focused on the positive in this way allows you to turn a weakness into a strength by showing your interviewer that you are not only aware of your flaws, you are working on moving past them. Another tip: Even though you’ll be discussing a “weakness” of yours, don’t use the word “weakness” any more than you actually have to. Keep the focus on the positive, on growing in this area and become as productive and effective in your work as possible.

3. “Why did you leave your last job?”

This can be an awkward question to face, especially if you left your previous job under less-than-ideal circumstances. It’s best to simply tell the truth (the interviewer is likely to find out the truth anyway if they consult with your previous employer), but avoid trashing your former bosses or other employers.

4. “What is your salary expectation?”

This feels like a Catch 22 question: answer too high and you fear they’ll reject you; answer too low and you may have missed out on getting a better salary. The smartest answer is to give a relatively tight range (for example, $40,000-50,000) based on fair market value (check Glassdoor beforehand for salary averages in your industry). State that you are, however, open to negotiation and also to incentivization based on future growth of the company.

5. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?”

The future is, by definition, uncertain. But the interviewer isn’t expecting you to pull out a crystal ball at this point; they simply want to gauge your level of initiative and optimism about the job. Although you don’t want to be wildly unrealistic in your response, you can answer positively by describing specific expectations for your personal career growth in terms of the goals and ambitions you have with the company you are interviewing for.

Keep in mind that the above answers are only suggestions. All interview questions are best answered truthfully, based on your personal experience. The worst mistake you can make in an interview is to try to “fake” an answer. Don’t do it!

And remember, you have a unique combination of amazing skills, experience, and qualifications that no other interviewee for this position will have. Showcase them and be authentic. Nothing is more appealing to an interviewer than when they sense you are being yourself. After all, employers are looking to hire YOU.

So just BE yourself!