OUT OF THE QUESTION
Job interviews are tricky, stress-inducing experiences – and that’s when they go well! Tough interview questions can trip up even the most seasoned interviewee. Still, it is best to adopt a ‘the interviewer is always right,’ attitude: control your facial expressions and act as though you’ve just been asked something reasonable, even if you haven’t (e.g. if you were a plant, which one would you be?). Rather than getting lost down a rabbit hole of unnecessary information (I’d be a sunflower because I love the color yellow!), develop a politician’s ability to use any question to get across a talking point about yourself (I’d be a perennial shrub because I am persistent!). Here are some specific tips for particularly tough interview questions.
- Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
(Pro tip: do not start your answer with “well I was born…”) While this can be perceived as a lazy question, some interviewers use it intentionally to see what you will do with a vague directive, so don’t give a lazy answer. This is your open-ended chance to sell yourself. Give a concise answer about your professional goals and how you can be an asset to the interviewer’s organization. Have an ‘elevator speech’ ready? Now is the time to use it.
- What would you like me to know about you that's not on your resume?
Be careful here. This is more of a tough interview question than it seems. It might be the grasping question of an inexperienced interviewer, or it might be an intentionally thrown curveball to see if you can adapt your swing. All your professional accomplishments should already be on your resume, so this answer should focus on how your attitude and personality contribute to your effectiveness in your job. Give an anecdote about a time when those qualities helped you solve a problem or contributed to a success at work.
- Why do you want to work here?
Remember that the interviewer is not asking you why you want to work (“because I need to pay my rent,” might be an appropriate answer to that question), but why you want to work HERE. What is it about this particular organization that appeals to you? Your answer here should highlight how you can be an asset at that company, and how your long-term professional goals align with the mission and vision of the organization. (You should be well-versed in the company’s mission and vision from your pre-interview preparation and research.)
- What is your age/religion/ethnicity/marital or children status, etc.?
Most interviewers are well aware questions like these are off-limits, as they put the company at risk of a discrimination lawsuit. However, some aren’t aware these questions are problematic, or may innocently ask them in casual chit chat before or after the interview, especially if the interviewer takes you out to lunch. However, these put you in a sticky spot. You don’t want to immediately shut down a nice rapport by saying “you can’t ask me questions like that,” but you may not want to give a straight answer either. You can counter by assuring your interviewer that your career is a priority, and that your age/ethnicity/spouse, etc. will not interfere with your ability to do your job.
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