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Interview tips - How to answer difficult interview questions

By Paula Delos Reyes, Contributor

#Interviewtips #AnswerDifficultQuestions #CandidateGuide #JobHuntingTips

Tell me something about yourself, what was your course in college, what was your last job—answering these interview questions can come naturally to candidates. But what about questions that might bring out a side you're not exactly proud of? You know, when things can get awkward?

Let's go from "why do recruiters even do that?" to "there's a reason for everything!"

Difficult job interview questions and how to answer them

Tough question #1: What are your weaknesses?

Please don’t say chocolate.

On a more serious note, interviewers ask “What are your weaknesses” to bring out your self-awareness and see if you are actively finding ways to improve on it. Having said that, the best way to answer this is honestly.

How to make it work for you: Assure the employer that you recognize your flaws and don’t let it hinder you from performing tasks at work, especially critical ones. After you mention your weakness, share a plan on how you are improving on this particular area. If it’s a skill issue, you may say you are thinking of taking a training. If it’s behavioral, tell them what you’re doing to make yourself better.

Tough question #2: What was your reason for leaving your previous job?

What employers want to find out is if you left the position voluntarily, and if you were able to maintain good relations in your former company. We all know it’s easy to say career growth, but there are other things that motivate us to work or leave a former job. It can be anything from employment factors such as salary, to situations that are rarely talked about, like burnout or not getting along with some people in your office.

How to make it work for you: At all costs, avoid badmouthing your former company and the people you worked with. Keep it professional. Bonus points if you can pivot by highlighting that you are applying to this company because it can give you something you didn’t get from your previous job.

“I’ve heard positive feedback about leadership development in your company. I’m actually looking for a role where I can work with a mentor. I’m always constantly looking for ways to improve and I think having someone to closely guide me will help me build my leadership skills. In turn, when the time is right, I’d want to be a mentor, too.”

“I researched about your company and saw that you value work-life balance. After the uncertainties brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized the importance of giving enough importance to what really matters in life, such as spending time with our families.”

“I wanted to make a difference through my role and working for an ethical company like yours adheres to my values.”

This way, not only are you giving your reasons for leaving your previous job, you’re also mentioning why you want to work with the company you’re applying for.

You can also keep it simple. “I want to accomplish more” and “I want to work closer to my home” are good, self-explanatory answers.

Sometimes, we leave work due to circumstances outside our control. E.g., “Our company closed because of the COVID-19 virus.” Or “the company I used to work for needed to downsize.” There are also times when our reasons are personal, such as taking care of a sick parent or taking a break to raise a baby.

Whatever your reason may be, be truthful, confident and give off positive vibes about what happened. No sob stories - keep it professional.

Tough question #3: Have you ever declined a task at work?

It’s understandable to sometimes say no to additional responsibilities at work. Reasons may include: Your current workload will suffer, or you are covering for a colleague who originally had the responsibility.

How to make it work for you: You don’t want to come off as lazy or whiny. At the same time, you don’t want employers to think that you cannot say no. How to balance?

Start off by painting a picture of the situation, then give a reasonable explanation why you had to decline it. If the situation worked out for you in the end, e.g. you earned the respect of your manager, then you can cap off the story with that. As always, honesty is key.

Tough question #4: What leadership styles do you like and dislike the most?

Honestly answering this question can help both you and the employer gauge if you will thrive in a company. If you like working independently, would you want to work at a company that values collaboration?

How to make it work for you: If you twisted the truth here and there on the other questions, then this is the time NOT to do that. By being completely open about what leadership style works for you (e.g. full supervision versus having the space to do your own thing), you can set more realistic expectations and ensure better relations with your future manager.

Bonus question: What could you have done better?

No one is perfect; we can only embrace our true selves. Be honest and continuously seek to improve.

Answering difficult questions doesn't just test how you handle stressful situations and react under pressure, but it also shows your interviewer your sense of self-awareness. Being self-aware means you know the impact of your actions on other people, and that you are open to feedback - both good and bad. May you exhibit this good trait at your next interview!

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Need more interview tips? Explore our careers blog for more helpful job advice.