Difficult Questions

Tell me about yourself.

  • This is your chance to "sell" yourself to the interviewer. Remember that every answer you give should be another reason for the company to hire you. Stick to relevant topics. Mention your relevant education and experience, and perhaps state why you want to work for this employer.
  • Sample response: 'I will be graduating in May with a major in English. During my college years, I was very active with The Reporter, the school's newspaper, and found a love for journalism. Last summer I interned with the Washington Post as a staff writer. I have experience in researching news-worthy subjects, interviewing people, and producing 1-3 page articles. I love to be challenged and am extremely dedicated to my work. I am self-motivated and constantly try to learn as much as I can. For some time now, I've been watching your newspaper grow, and have been impressed with your innovative storylines.'

Tell me about a time when you failed.

  • Demonstrate the ability to be humble and learn from your mistakes. In hindsight, what could you have done differently? How have you changed or grown as a result of your experience?
  • Sample Response: 'I've always had the tendency to be a workaholic, and have the attitude that I can tackle anything and achieve good results. During my sophomore year in college, in addition to handling a full course load, a part-time job, and volunteering twice per week, my sorority nominated me for the position of secretary. Part of my responsibility was to plan two major functions, attend 3 meetings per week, take good notes, and post them onto our organization's website. Although I could have declined the position, I decided to jump in with both feet and tackle it head-on. I quickly realized though, that I had taken on too much, and had to learn the beauty of delegation! I found that the only way I could complete my tasks were to delegate some of them to the other members. This experience taught me to prioritize and also taught me the importance of saying 'no' when I don't have time to do something.'

Why weren't your grades better?

  • If you made it to the interview stage, it's likely that you fulfill the basic criteria for the position, including the educational requirements. The recruiter may be trying to judge how you handle stressful situations, or if you're able to handle the demands of the job.
  • This is your chance to explain your lower grade point average and focus the interviewer's attention on your experiences (class projects, internships, volunteer work, and leadership positions within campus organizations). Try to put a positive spin on the question. For example, tell them about how your first semester was spent adjusting the new world of college, but your grades have improved every semester since.
  • Sample response: 'I have always believed that education was a combination of academic pursuits and real-life experiences. Although I studied, went to class consistently, and participated in many discussions, there were times when my focus was on gaining experience in marketing. For example, if you look at my transcript, you'll notice that the semester I was a promotions intern for the LPGA, my GPA dipped slightly. I was also very active in campus organizations and volunteer work throughout my four years at Stetson. My combined experiences during college both inside and outside the classroom taught me a lot about the professional skills needed to succeed in the world of marketing, such as time management, teamwork, and communication.'

Why did you decide to major in History?

  • Show that you had solid, logical reasons for choosing your major. If you can't defend your choice of major, the interviewer may wonder how much thought you've put into choosing a career. You should also be sure that the reasons for choosing your major are compatible with your career choice.
  • For example, if you're applying for a position as a banker, saying you chose an English major because of your literature and writing probably won't score you any points.
  • Sample Response: It was a difficult choice because I was also attracted to government, international relations, and economics. I talked with several students in each of those majors and realized that the study of history allowed me to combine all three, especially by focusing on economic history. After reading the website about the major and speaking with two professors in the department, I knew I had found the right major.

What is your biggest weakness?

  • The key to answering questions like this is to admit a weakness that may not be perceived by the interviewer as being a hindrance to your doing the job, or one that may even have a slightly positive twist on it. Emphasize the action you're taking to correct the "problem."
  • Whatever you say, don't answer this question with "I can't think of any" or even worse, "I don't have any weaknesses." This kind of response is likely to eliminate you from consideration because the interviewer may wonder what else you're trying to hide, everyone has something they could improve on!
  • Sample response: I admit to being a bit of a perfectionist. I take a great deal of pride in my work and am committed to producing the highest quality work I can. Sometimes, if I'm not careful, I can go a bit overboard though. I've learned that it's not always practical to perfect your work. Sometimes you have to decide what's important. It's a question of trade-offs. I also pay a lot of attention to pacing my work, so that I don't get too caught up in perfecting every last detail.

Where do you want to be in 5 years?

  • The interviewer wants to know if you are ambitious, plan ahead and set goals for yourself. The interviewer may also want to know what kind of expectations you have of the company. Often, this question concerns students who are considering graduate study in the future, because they don't know how much to reveal.
  • Usually, an employer does not expect you to know exactly where you hope to go in the future, but your answer should communicate an awareness of where the position for which you are interviewing might lead. If you choose to mention graduate study plans, keep the time frame and your plans open-ended.
  • Even if you believe you definitely will go back to school in one year, that plan could change if you have a job you don't want to leave, so don't jeopardize your opportunity to get that job by alerting the employer to your interest in such a short-term work experience.
  • Sample response: 'I know that generally it is possible to move from this sales position to a sales management position in about a year, and I would look forward to having the responsibility for training and supervising a sales team. From there, I know I could move into sales for a larger territory or sales of a more expensive product line. I also have an interest in marketing. And I would consider graduate study in business in the future. My goals will become more clear as I gain experience and have the opportunity to learn more about what it takes to be successful in sales and marketing. I know your company has a tuition reimbursement program; could you tell me about it?'

Why do you want to work for our company?

  • This is a very common question, sometimes rephrased as "Why did you choose this industry to work?" To answer these questions, it is imperative that you've done your research (see the first page). Reply with the company's attributes as you see them. Somehow tie in the fact that you share the company's vision, making it a great match.
  • Sample response: 'I'm not just looking for another paycheck. I'm looking for a company with which I can learn and grow, and one that has a good reputation in the field. After speaking with Becky Torres and Jim Sharder about the firm, and after checking your website, I realized that this company is dedicated to?. (customer service, quality products, etc..). I also value these things, and know that I can make a significant contribution to the team with my ____ and ____ skills.'

Have you ever had to work with a manager or professor who was unfair to you or who was just plain hard to get along with?

  • Answering this question is a little like walking into a loaded mine field, so beware! Keep in mind that the interviewer doesn't want to learn about your former supervisors; he or she wants to learn about the way you speak about them. Even if you mention something that is completely true and justified, the recruiter may conclude either that you don't get along well with people, that you bad-mouth them, or that you shift blame to others.
  • The best way to get around this dilemma is to:
    1. Mention that you've been extremely lucky with your managers/professors
      and that you usually get along well with everyone or
    2. Choose an example that is not too negative, touch upon in briefly, then
      focus your answer on what you've learned from the difficult experience.
  • Sample Response: 'I've been pretty fortunate as far as managers go, and I didn't have any problems with my professors. Although last year, I worked with a manager who was pretty inaccessible. If you walked into his office to ask a question, you got the sense you were bothering him, so we learned to get help from each other instead. It probably taught me to solve more problems on my own? which maybe was his reason behind his actions. I think he was a good manager in many other ways. I think I would have preferred if he was slightly more available to us to give direction.'