What to Do If You’re Asked a Difficult Interview Question

You’re in the middle of a crucial interview, and you’re confident that you’re presenting your skills and qualifications for the job perfectly. The next question, which is a tricky one, is posed by the interviewer. You weren’t expecting this question and have no idea how to respond. Words get stuck in your throat. You begin to perspire as your illustrious visions of landing your dream job begin to fade at a breakneck pace. So, what exactly do you do?

To begin with, the best offense is a strong defense. Preparing for an interview ahead of time is the most effective way to ensure that you are at your best when it comes time to answer the question Why should you get this job? Prepare a list of interview questions, both general and job-specific, that you might be asked. Then go over all of the questions again. It may be necessary to rehearse some questions several times before you are confident in your response. It’s a good rule of thumb to practice until you’re no longer uncomfortable with the question or your response.

As tempting as it may be to brush off more straightforward questions like Tell me about yourself, you should practice your responses to all of them. Frequently, job applicants become so focused on preparing for the difficult questions that they overlook the questions they perceive to be easier. As a result, they are unprepared to respond to basic questions and make errors in their responses.

Because it’s impossible to anticipate and prepare for every possible question, you’ll almost certainly be asked questions you hadn’t anticipated during the interview process. The first thing to do in this situation is to take a deep breath. To make sure you’ve heard the question correctly, repeat it to yourself, either in your head or aloud to the interviewer. Then, using your practice sessions, make connections between this issue and the ones you’ve done so far. Is this a repeat of a previous question you’ve answered? Is this a question that has been asked before? If you can draw a parallel to a question you’re already familiar with, the new question won’t seem as intimidating.

Another good strategy is to break the issue down into smaller parts so you can tackle it piece by piece. This is particularly useful for questions with multiple parts. Consider the following scenario: Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a teammate. What were the circumstances of the conflict, and how did you handle it? The first step is to divide this into two parts: (1) provide an example of a team member conflict, and (2) describe how the conflict was resolved. When answering this question, concentrate solely on the first part. The interviewer is more interested in how you deal with conflict and stressful situations than the particulars of the conflict. So don’t skimp on the second part of the process: the resolution. The majority of multi-part questions follow this pattern: one section of the answer serves only to set the stage for the other, more important parts of the question.

If you’re asked a question for which you have no answer, it’s usually best to admit that you’re stumped rather than try to buffalo your way through an answer. Most interviewers are well-versed in spotting BS answers and can easily tell if you’re fabricating information. If this happens, they will either confront you about your false answer or dismiss you as a fraud, neither of which will help you land a job. Admitting that you don’t know the answer to the question but would like to do some research at the end of the interview so that you have this information for future reference is an appropriate response. Such an answer not only demonstrates your honesty, but it also demonstrates that you are open to new ideas and willing to put in the extra effort required to keep your skills sharp.

Here are a few more pointers for answering tricky questions:

If you didn’t hear the question the first time or if it’s a long multi-part question, it’s fine to ask the interviewer to repeat it.

If the question is ambiguous, it is also acceptable to ask the interviewer for clarification.

Never give out personal information that isn’t related to your work.

Always try to turn the negative into a positive. When asked about your flaws, for example, show how this flaw can be used to your advantage in other areas.

Loosen up! Interviewing is a learning process, and each time you interview for a potential position, you will improve. So, rather than dwelling on a bad interview, figure out what went wrong and work on improving those areas so you can perform better in your next interview.

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