During a job interview, even simple-sounding questions can lead to confusion. So, it's no surprise that the questions listed below can make even the most qualified job candidate look bad. However, there's no reason to let these six questions catch you off guard.
Below, I've outlined how to answer them, including scripts to help with your responses. (Naturally, your answers should vary based on your experience and the job.) Don't let the simplicity of these questions fool you—you'd be surprised how many candidates can't answer them correctly.
Also, remember that with any question—not just these tough ones—it's OK to take a moment to compose your thoughts. You can avoid an awkward silence by repeating the question back to the interviewer or saying something like, "That's a great question."
1. What's One Thing You Would Change About Your Last Job?
Many candidates take their answer to this question too far. Try your best to avoid trash talking old employers or former coworkers; this makes you look like a loose cannon. Instead, say something that makes you look like you know how to spot issues—and how to solve them.
For instance, "I would have changed our customer service process. Many emails piled up, and it was disorganized." Then, explain how you would change it: "I would have implemented a filtering system so we'd know which emails needed top priority and which ones could wait."
There may also be a follow-up question, like "Why didn't you comment or try to do something about the problem?" Prepare an answer that doesn't shed an unflattering light on yourself or badmouth your employer.
2. Why Should I Hire You?
Many fumble this question because they worry what other candidates have answered. Or, they think they will sound conceited. Avoid these stumbles by researching the company and the open position. Then, tailor your answer to fit what they are looking for.
This is also a good time to toot your own horn. Own what a good candidate you are! Draw from your work history, apply it to the situation, and be sure to explain what's in it for them if they hire you. Use this formula for a spectacular pitch: "I'm a great candidate because at (previous company) I gained (relevant experience) that will help me in this job by (benefit for potential employer)."
If you're changing careers, do your homework on the position and connect the dots between your experience and the job requirements. Leading a team requires similar skills, whether you've managed a group of fellow volunteers or a corporate department.
If you recently finished school to retrain for your new career, draw attention to relevant coursework—especially if there was a real-world component (for example, any internships or projects for outside organizations you completed for a class).
Make sure that you convey your enthusiasm for your new career direction—employers want to hire people who have passion for their work!
3. Why Is There A Gap In Your Employment History?
Employers understand that people lose jobs and sometimes can't find another one so easily, but that's no excuse for slacking off. Tell employers about freelance projects, volunteering, or any classes that you spend your "free" time on. Medical emergencies and taking care of family members are valid answers as well.
If you are just out of school, that's a valid answer too. However, you'll also want to say something like, "I've been working for (volunteer experience)/(freelance client) to gain some experience doing (relevant skill)." (Of course, only mention this part if it's true.)
If you're a nontraditional student entering or re-entering the job market, be prepared to describe how your education helped position you for success in this new field. Highlight any programs or courses that relate directly to the position. The fact that you're an older worker and recent graduate offers employers the best of two worlds—someone with maturity who has learned about the latest industry advances.
4. What's The Biggest Risk You've Ever Taken?
Skydiving is not a good answer. Neither is bungee jumping.
Instead, ensure your answer applies to the position you are interviewing for. If that role requires tenacity or quick thinking, prepare an example that shows how you excelled in such situations. Show them how you took control. It also helps if your risk turned out to be successful.
For instance, I'd talk about when I started as a recruiter. I was thrown into it because a coworker quit unexpectedly. That day, I ended up doing all the interviews, which was a huge risk because I had no training. However, it paid off, and from that day forward, I conducted job interviews on a daily basis.
5. How Would You Explain [Complex Idea] To An 8 Year Old?
They may not ask the question in these specific words, but an employer will likely try to get you to explain something in very basic terms during your interview. Being able to do this shows the employer that you have a solid understanding of complex materials.
Odds are, the complex idea will be something related the job. Rely on your experience with the concept (whether it's databases, mortgages, financial planning, technology, etc.) and answer confidently. Also, keep your response short. None of your interview answers should be too long, but you especially don't want to ramble here.
For instance, "Accounting is when you do the math for a company's money. You add and subtract all day to make sure everything is right. This is really important because (benefit to the company)."
6. What Is Your Biggest Weakness?
Perhaps the most famous "tough" interview question. Many people have different advice on this topic. For me, the key remains answering with a weakness that won't be a weakness for that particular company or that particular job.
For instance, "I'm just such a hard worker that I'll stay late hours. I sometimes don't know when to stop working!" Or, if the company is looking for a customer service rep, "My last job asked me to do a lot of accounting, and that definitely isn't my strong suit."
Are these honest weaknesses? Technically, yes. However, a company won't fault you for working too hard and may not care if you "disliked managing budgets" if they're asking you to do customer service.
Bonus Question! Salary Requirements
The "what are your salary requirements?" question trips many job applicants up. Your answer may not disqualify you for a job (unless you're way outside the company's projected pay scale), but it can still make for an awkward interaction. Your best bet is to delay the conversation until they're ready to offer you the job. If you can't do that, try to get the employer to share their pay range first and react whether that meets your expectations or not.