In many job interviews, you'll face tough interview questions and they're not necessarily interview questions that have a right or wrong answer (although they may be). Generally tough interview questions are scattered within other interview questions that a more expected and easier to answer. Preparing to answer tough interview questions is key, both in terms of preparing how you'll approach these interview questions as well as preparing for specific tough interview questions.
Why Do Interviewers Ask Tough Questions?
Interviewers often ask tough interview questions to get deeper insight into a candidate beyond their resume qualifications. Tough questions and answers allow a hiring manager to thoroughly assess critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and so-called "soft skills".
One fundamental reason is assessing analytical skills. In particular, testing how methodically and logically a candidate can break down complex issues. Hearing their thought process and rationale indicates their capability for analytical thinking. Asking tough interview questions also helps assess personal values and priorities. How a candidate weighs ethical dilemmas or prioritizes under pressure offers a window into their principles. Hiring managers are equally interested in finding the right candidate for their company culture, not just for their functional skills.
Additionally, hard interview questions show how candidates handle stress. High-pressure interview situations can simulate challenging scenarios on the job. Being put on the spot tests how job seekers think on their feet when required to improvise. It also demonstrates how candidates handle uncertainty or ambiguity. Vague questions with unclear desired responses test how job seekers cope in unfamiliar territory.
Finally, understanding how candidates react in stressful situations is telling. Do they panic or freeze up? Can they manage their anxiety and think clearly? Are they calm under pressure? The ability to maintain poise and confidence, along with a positive attitude despite the difficulty of the question asked, demonstrates resilience and tenacity.
Difficult interview questions provide a more holistic evaluation of skills and qualities beyond technical skills. How a candidate puts their best foot forward when faced with negative experiences, uses critical thinking, prioritizes, solves problems, and handles stress all offer excellent insights into their potential fit for the company. These difficult questions deliver a better sense of who can successfully navigate complex professional situations.
Types of the hardest interview questions
Behavioral interview questions are questions asked at a job interview to provide examples of how they have demonstrated specific behaviours in a previous role. The idea is that behaviour at a previous job is the best predictor of future behaviour in your next company. These questions allow the interviewer to gain insight into the candidate's experience of things such as negative management experiences, critical feedback and colleague conflicts. Understanding things such as your thought processes, your active listening and communication skills and the self-development that you're actively working on, will give Hiring Managers a good sense of it you are the right fit for their company culture.
Some of the most difficult interview questions that use the behavioural model require the interviewee to expose a vulnerability. Such as
1) Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a commitment to a team member.
2) Tell me about a time when you were faced with a problem and you didn't know what to do.
3) Tell me about a time when you dropped the ball on something.
These are considered by candidates as some of the toughest interview questions because the answer risks putting them in a negative light, and they feel they're being asked to talk badly of themselves. The key to great answers for this type of tough interview question is not to downplay the situation and try to put a positive spin on it. Rather it is better to acknowledge the severity of the issue and then answer this question by explaining how you went about recovering in the example. This important thing is the strongest of the interviewers' key takeaways is that you can develop a plan, use creative problem solving skills and demonstrate mature interpersonal capabilities.
A hypothetical interview question presents you with an imaginary example of a situation and asks you how you'd respond. The goal is to assess if the job seeker can deconstruct the nature of the problem, ask clarifying questions, validate assumptions, assess the strength of their options and make a logical decision. Hypothetical questions are best used to test the functional skills needed for this current job.
Here are some examples of such questions. Of course, questions will differ based on the job that the interview is for.
For a software engineer:
- If you were tasked to optimize a web application to manage 10x more traffic, what are some performance optimizations you would implement?
- Imagine you need to build a scheduling system that can handle thousands of concurrent users. How would you build the system to ensure high availability and prevent race conditions?
- If you inherited an existing codebase with no documentation and needed to ramp up quickly, how would seek to understand the structure and flow of the application?
For a social media manager:
- If you noticed engagement dropping on your brand's social posts, how would you route case the issue? What metrics would you analyze?
- If you were tasked to quickly scale up paid advertising across platforms, how would you decide the optimal budget allocation for each platform?
- If you were managing multiple client accounts simultaneously and noticed your team struggling with the workload, how would you look to technology to increase efficiency?
Greatest Weakness Or Failure Questions
The purpose of using this type of interview question at a job interview is for the Hiring Manager to gather insights on your self-awareness, and your ability to be self-critical and take action on personal development. They're assessing your growth potential.
Many candidates answer interview questions about their biggest weakness badly. The classic mistake is to try to put a positive spin on a weakness and try to make it look like a strength. Or to use an example of a failure that isn't significant. This type of answer is the exact opposite of what the Hiring Manager is looking for. If a candidate uses this type of example when answering this type of question, they may be considered not a fit for the position.
It's a good idea to mention both strengths and weaknesses in your answer. When it comes to human behaviour, if we're strong at something then very often that has a natural consequence of making us weak at something else. For example, if you're really good at attention to detail, chances are you probably miss the big picture because you're stuck in the weeds. Or if you're a perfectionist, there's a strong likelihood that you may struggle to complete things, because you always want to make it a little bit better. If you're really strong with big and visionary thinking you may miss the simple solutions to problems.
Start with thinking about your strength and then consider what weakness results from having that strength. Remember, your interviewer is expecting to hear about an honest weakness, so don't shy away from coming up with something concrete.
For more deatiled guideance on how to answer questions on your weakness, check out this blog "Weaknesses For Job Interviews"
There are 2 key things your interviewer is trying to gather insight on. The first is the type of decision-making process that you followed, that led you to a failure. Secondly, and more importantly, what types of decision-making processes do you use to respond to a failure? And, it's critical to note, those are the decision-making process you make, while in "crisis" but also those you make once the crisis is over. The reason they're asking, is they know it's inevitable that if you work for them, at some point, something will go wrong. And they want to get evidence to help them predict, how you might cope if that happened.
There are 2 strategies you can use. The first tends to lead to adequate answers but rarely leads to an interviewer being "wowed" by an interviewee. Use this option and you're unlikely to end up with an interviewer that is so impressed that they're desperate to hire you on the spot, but you'll likely leave a solid positive impression. In this strategy, you use a problematic failure, but not one that would have critical implications for your company or your career. Interviewees often use a missed deadline, a sub-quality output, a slightly misunderstood requirement, that type of thing. You explained how the failure came about and ultimately how you resolved the issue. This is a solid approach to answering this question. It will cover the interviewer's objective of gathering evidence on "the decision-making processes you made that led you to the failure" and evidence of "the decision you use to respond to a failure".
The second requires some bravery and trust from the interviewee. You share an example of a catastrophic failure. That failure could come from bad judgment on your part, or a momentary lapse, or actually, it can even come from tiny, tiny little things that you would never have imagined would have such catastrophic, unintended consequences. But you talk about something that REALLY went wrong. That was a major issue for your business. But then, go on and detail the incredible things you did to either halt the disaster or if the disaster is a rolling boulder that you couldn't stop, what you did post the disaster to recover. This strategy requires the same types of information as the previous one, but what's different in this option, is the stakes and the standards of performance you need to rise to, to respond to it. If this strategy is used well, it can blow your interviewer away. But, it must be used with caution. If the recovery from the failure isn't really impressive, then play it safe and use the first strategy.
Many Hiring Managers will ask questions that are of a more personal nature. These are common difficult interview questions because there isn't an obviously correct way to even answer this question. Candidates don't want to risk missing out on their dream job by unknowingly saying something hiring managers don't want to hear.
Here is a sample of a couple of these difficult interview questions and answers you could consider.
Why are you leaving your current position?
This is a contentious area of advice. In our opinion, it's not the business of a future company to know why you want to leave your current or previous company behind. The only real advantage to them knowing why you want to leave your last job, is to ensure that those reasons wouldn't be issues if you joined their company. Responding to a question about why you're "leaving" something, forces you to speak in terms of the negative. Hearing negative sentiment and speaking negative sentiment, inevitably creates a negative state of mind in the speaker and listener. It may also lead you to mention things such as, "too long working hours" or "not a good fit with your manager" or "colleagues aren't very collaborative", which might lead to creating unconscious bias in your interviewer. So, you need to focus your answer on the things you're looking for in your next role. These need be the things, that if they aren't there, would absolutely mean this role would be a no-go for you. Be honest! If you need your next job to be somewhere that is very focused on employee development, and where you'll be able to see a clearly defined path to advancement, say it! If you need your next job to be somewhere that is very focused on success through team collaboration, shared goals and trust, say it! These things may or may not be the counterpoint to your current role, but that's irrelevant. All they need to know is what are the complete no negotiables, that if their company can't offer, then you're NOT a fit.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This is a tough interview question because many people don't necessarily have specific career goals. Many just want a good work life balance and to earn a decent wage. But they don't want to discuss salary at the interview, as if it were a priority or have to explain that they would still be hard working. But to answer this question to the satisfaction of hiring managers, there are some key areas you should cover.
Show you are ambitious. Paint a picture of wanting professional growth. This displays drive. Talk about areas of growth you're interested in that align with the company's needs; this makes you look like exactly what the hiring manager needs. Demonstrate self-awareness and that you know where your development areas are, self-reflection and personal responsibility are always appealing. Include in this vision the current company; this demonstrates you have a long-term commitment to them, should they hire you. Finally show leadership potential above your current job level.
How to Prepare for Tough Questions
Being ready for tough interview questions requires you to put in the work before the interview. Understanding the most likely hard interview questions, practising your answers, and making sure you deeply understand their requirements is the formula for success at any job interview.
First, research the company and role to identify the skills and qualities they prioritize. Then research lists of common tough interview questions asked for similar positions, Google is your friend here.
Next, practice answering sample tough questions aloud. Record your responses and self-critique rot improve your responses. Also, practice with a buddy acting as your interviewer. Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are great tools for recording and playing back mock interviews. Refine your answers to be concise and engaging. Create stories from your work history that highlight relevant experiences overcoming challenges and achieving success. Have measurable metrics as results when possible.
Also, meticulously review your resume and qualifications. Ensure you can expand on every bullet point with real examples. Remind yourself of key details of major projects and achievements. Preparing clear, crisp stories will make recalling details easier under pressure.
Also, read up on the company's goals, culture and industry trends so you understand their context. Use Google for your research or even reach out to company employees on LinkedIn and ask for insight. This allows you to tailor your answers to align with their values and business objectives.
With diligent preparation, you can approach your interview with confidence. Researching likely questions, rehearsing, developing stories, and thoroughly reviewing your background will empower you to answer smoothly and leave a lasting, positive impression. Showing a deep understanding of the company and job responsibilities will also make you stand out.
Tips for Answering Tough Questions
It's always worth taking a moment to gather your thoughts before answering. It shows thoughtfulness and composure under pressure. Speak concisely and at a measured pace. A great tool to practice your talking speed with is a metronome. Listen to a metronome while you speak and you'll find your pace of speaking aligning with the metronome.
Also, try to present positive body language with good posture and regular eye contact. This projects credibility and confidence even when questions get hard. Finally don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to clarify or expand on their question. Make sure you validate any assumptions or qualify your answer with caveats if you need to.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Don't ramble your interview time is limited and you don't want to waste it. If you can't answer a question, be honest and move on. Don't give vague or generic responses, your interviewer wants to know about you. Also, resist relying on cliches or generalities that come off as rehearsed and inauthentic.
You’ll also want to avoid appearing nervous. There is lots of evidence that our emotions can influence others so by being nervous yourself not only can you affect the quality of your performance, but also the quality of your interviewer's performance. Speak slowly, clearly and deliberately. Maintain confident body language. Avoid overexplaining or making excuses. Own your mistakes or errors or you risk losing the respect of your interviewer.
Finally, no matter how tough an interview question is, never lose composure or get defensive. Keep your tone conversational.
Preparing for difficult interview questions presents a great opportunity to develop self-awareness and hone your communication skills. If you practice and reflect, you can learn how to provide smooth, thoughtful responses even under pressure. Impressive handling of tough questions will set you apart from other candidates.