15 Common Difficult Interview Questions (With Example Answers)
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Hiring managers often ask challenging interview questions to assure that a candidate is a good fit for their company. These questions can range in topics, including questions about technical skills, personality or behaviour. It's beneficial to understand why employers ask these questions and know how to answer them, so you can then practise your own responses. In this article, we explain why employers ask these types of questions, share common examples and provide sample responses to help you learn how to answer difficult interview questions.
Related: How To Prepare for an Interview
Why do employers ask difficult interview questions?
Employers ask difficult interview questions for a variety of reasons. First, these questions allow interviews to learn important information about you and your priorities. For example, an interviewer may ask you to describe yourself in order to gain information about your responsibilities outside of work or your professional aspirations. Employers also may ask questions to learn more about your analytical skills and thought process. This can help them determine if you have the critical thinking skills to succeed in the role or have a like mindset to the company values.
Challenging interview questions can also help employers gauge your experience level and knowledge by asking technical questions. This type of challenging question may include specific requests to explain a process relevant to the job description. Consider asking professionals within your network who have a similar job title to you about what types of technical questions their interviewer asked to help you prepare your responses.
Top 10 difficult interview questions with example answers
Consider this list of 10 common interview questions with sample answers when practising for your own interview:
1. Tell me about a piece of criticism you've received in the past.
An employer may ask you this to gauge how well you handle feedback. It can also inform them of some of your weaknesses. When answering this question, it's important to acknowledge the actual criticism you've received. This can show employers you're humble enough to admit to your faults. It's also beneficial to mention how you made a plan to fix your behaviour. This shows employers you're dedicated to professional growth.
Example: "While I always met my deadlines, colleagues have criticised me for only finishing a project on the same day it was due, which sometimes complicated things for my co-workers. After realising this, I made myself a work schedule that allowed me to finish projects at least one day prior to its deadline, which helped me increase my productivity and strengthened my time management skills."
2. How do you manage stress?
Since most jobs might cause stress occasionally, employers often want to know how you manage it. This allows them to compare your answer with the values and culture of their company. When answering this question, try to explain how you typically respond to stress with an example to support it.
Example: "Communication is key for me in stressful situations, even if over-communicating is necessary to ensure everyone is on the same page. For example, I was working on a project with another team and we found there was duplicate work being done. By scheduling a weekly stand-up and keeping open lines of honest communication with our teams and managers, we pushed the project forward and ended up contributing to a significant company goal in a big way."
3. Have you ever had an issue with management? How did you handle it?
Your response to this question can help employers understand which management style you work under best. You should answer this question honestly and as tactfully as possible. Try to stay professional and explain the situation and your approach fully.
Answer: "One of my past managers, while very talented, tended to manage our team's work closely with little flexibility on how things were to be done. It made me feel like I wasn't trusted and there wasn't much room for process improvement. However, I learned that this manager could accept more flexibility in work if I explained my thought process and ideas before I started incorporating them in my work. Once I initiated more communication with this manager at the beginning of projects, I felt we worked with better collaboration skills."
4. What skill do you often struggle to develop?
Employers may ask this question to determine what your weaknesses are. When answering this, it's important to be humble and admit to a skill you have yet to develop. Try to mention a skill that has little impact on the primary duties of the job for which you're interviewing. It can also be helpful to indicate your efforts to develop this skill, as that shows you're dedicated to professional growth.
Answer: "In the past, I've struggled to develop my negotiation skills. I'd like to use this skill to better serve clients and assert my ideas for group projects. I've been working on improving my communication skills and confidence by taking public speaking courses, which I believe can consequently improve my negotiation skills."
5. Why are you leaving your current position?
This is valuable information for employers to understand. It helps them ensure the opening will be a better fit for you, by ensuring they can provide what your previous employer didn't. It also helps them judge if you might have contributed to a negative experience for both you and the employer. Answer this question honestly, but refrain from providing too much personal or negative detail.
Example: "While I highly valued my time at my previous company, there are no longer any opportunities for growth that align with my career goals. This position aligns perfectly with my skill set and how I'm looking to advance my career."
6. Why do you want to work at this company?
Employers often ask this question to make sure you've put thought and research into your decision to seek employment at their company. It also can help them decide if your values align with their company's culture. This question might be particularly important if you're changing industries or job roles.
Example: "When I began looking for a new position, I purposefully sought out companies that are committed to integrity, philanthropy and innovation. Your company ranks at the top of the list. Your company has always been forward-focused and improves the customer experience, and I'm excited about putting my passion for great UX to work."
7. What makes you the best candidate for this position?
Employers might ask this question to understand what differentiates you from other candidates they might be interviewing. To answer, explain how your experience, skills and attributes make you the best fit for the job. Make sure to carefully review the job description beforehand to understand what qualities they're looking for.
Example: "You should hire me for my passion and proven abilities in organisation for office efficiency. In my previous role as an administrative assistant, I came up with a plan to reorganise the office supply closet by category. Because items were easier to find, we placed fewer orders and saved 30% on office supplies year-over-year. I'm excited to bring my skills to this role to help benefit this company."
8. What's your greatest accomplishment?
Employers might ask this question to understand what you consider to be your most valuable accomplishments. To answer, think about a recent example that is ideally related to your job in some way. Briefly explain the achievement, your role in it and why it's valuable to you.
Example: "Last year, my team won an award for most innovative process improvement. My role was to organise the team to brainstorm ways we could speed up the production process. We tested three proven ways and implemented the one that worked best for us. The change in processes decreased time to production by 20%, allowing us to double our output."
9. What are your salary expectations?
Sometimes employers might ask this question during the interview process to ensure your salary expectations align with their budget. It's helpful to conduct salary research on your position prior to interviews.
Example: "According to my research, $56,000 is the average pay for this position and matches my previous role. I'm also willing to negotiate on salary and other benefits if I am offered this position."
10. How do you respond to failure?
Employers ask this question to confirm that you're able to handle the inevitable circumstance of failure. When answering this question, try to answer honestly and mention how you use failure to learn from your mistakes.
Example: "While, of course, I don't enjoy failure, I try to accept it as soon as possible and move on. In the past, my failures have usually stemmed from taking the wrong approach to a project at first, so now I always make a secondary plan in case my first fails."
5 additional common interview questions
When practising your answers for your interview, consider preparing a response for these challenging questions:
Would you consider yourself to be a lucky person?
What was the best and worst part about your last position?
Tell me about a time in which you overcame an obstacle.
Tell me about a time in which you had a conflict with a colleague.
Do you have any regrets?
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