How to Answer Five Tough Interview Questions

Have you ever been really stumped by a job interview question? Have you ever felt like your interview went downhill because you weren’t able to answer a certain question?

You’re not alone. At the TRSM Business Career Hub, we hear it all, but we believe that preparation and practice are key. To help you prepare for your next job interview, let’s talk about five of the toughest interview questions and some strategies for how to answer them effectively.

1) “Tell me a bit about yourself…”

How hard could it be? I mean, they’re asking you about the person you know best: you!

It really shouldn’t be so hard, but it can be tough to say the things employers actually want to hear. When a prospective employer asks this question, what they really mean is, “Why should I hire you?” They’re trying to figure out whether or not you will fit in with the team, which is very important to any workplace. Take this question as an opportunity to let the interviewer know why you are passionate about the role and show your confidence with handling such a question. I always tell my students they should try to touch on four specific areas:

Talk about your degree and feel free to mention which courses and projects have prepared you for this specific role.

Work experience: What jobs have you had in the past? How do these jobs relate to the one you’re interviewing for?

Extracurricular involvement: Many employers are looking for a balance of grades and community involvement. Show off your leadership skills! (Wondering how to get involved on campus? The Ted Rogers Students’ Society is an amazing student organization that can help you get more engaged on campus. Visit their website for more info.)

Something personal: I like knowing a bit more about the person I’m interviewing. But it’s not about your new cat’s name – I want to know your interests and how they make sense for the role.

Bring a copy of your resume with you. Having a copy to refer to can help guide you with structuring your answers in the above areas. The key is to focus on what the job description tells you – this is your cheat sheet. Also, remember that this question is just a snapshot/preview for the interviewer, so keep your answer to around two minutes. Leave the details and stories for the rest of the interview.

Briefcase and Laptop

2) “What is your biggest weakness?”

Don’t tell me you’re a perfectionist! We’re all human and interviewers know people make mistakes. This question gives you a chance to let your interviewer know that your weakness will not harm the organization or the role. Reflect back to an interpersonal skill that isn’t your strong suit (e.g., attention to detail or delegating tasks). Think about past roles and experiences: how have you taken steps to improve?

A personal weakness of mine is public speaking. Even today, I have to psych myself up before a presentation. What did I do to improve? During my undergrad, I joined various student groups such as DECA Ryerson, where I competed at case competitions provincially and internationally. This helped me get out of my shell, and also made “practice makes perfect” my mantra.

Saying you have no weaknesses is not acceptable. Ever. This question is becoming less common, but you may encounter a variation on the theme. The key for this type of question is to identify the problem (self-awareness) and detail what steps you are taking to make yourself better.

3) “Where do you expect to be in five years?”

Honestly? Sitting on a chic balcony with the view of the Eiffel Tower…

Jokes aside, the interviewer is trying to figure out how serious you are about the role, and how long you plan to be at the organization – they want to make sure they won’t be wasting their time and money if your stint at the company will be short-lived. Before you answer this question, take some time to think about what the interviewer is looking for and tailor your response accordingly. Do some research about how you might progress within the organization – what is the next best step? Use that research to show you’re willing to stay at the company. Help them grow by growing with them.

Check out this great LinkedIn post that addresses this tricky question.

Laptop on Desk

4) “What are your salary expectations?”

Salary conversations are always difficult, and this question will usually only be asked once you’ve already received an offer. However, many organizations try to hit two birds with one stone. The interviewers are trying to see if you’re worth investing in, but also if you value your own work/experiences. Sadly, without the appropriate information, many individuals either lowball or highball their salary expectations. Given that salaries vary between industries, companies and positions, there is no standard salary figure. The first step is to speak with your Career Consultant. We can share advice on average salaries for your industry/position.

Secondly, research, research, research! There are tons of online resources like Glassdoor, Payscale and Talentegg that will help you figure out a good median of salaries for the role. Be upfront about the fact that you’ve done your research. That way you can confidently say, for example, “Through the research I’ve done about similar positions and from my knowledge about the role, my salary expectations would be $40-$45K. Does this fit with what you are offering?” We typically recommended providing a salary range of about $5K. (A $10K range would be applicable for more of the senior-level positions, or for those pursuing their MBA.)

Be sure to look at the total compensation package. Your salary may not be what you expect, but evaluate if you’re also receiving benefits like vacations, medical/dental, profit-sharing plans, gym memberships and so on.

5) “Why should I hire you?”

I’ve heard variations of “Because I am awesome!” or “Because I want this job!” Even if you are awesome or really do want the job, make sure you’re not coming across as overly confident or desperate. The key is to maintain a good balance of why you’re a great candidate while showcasing your passion for the role.

Take this opportunity to sell yourself! Use the job description to your advantage and summarize why you are a great fit. Talk about your interpersonal/leadership skills that you have gained through various experiences (in class, work or extra-curricular) and how you can become an asset to the organization.

The TRSM Business Career Hub offers lots of resources for job seekers. Visit their website to learn more.