Job Interview Tips

9 Super-Tricky Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Written by Peter Jones

You’ve done a lot of interview prep already and you’re feeling pretty ready. But you’re still dreading the questions you haven’t prepped for—or the really tricky ones that seem perfectly simple, but have multiple strategic layers designed to get at something subtle.

Don’t get tripped up or surprised by the following tricky questions—prepare your answers now so you’re calm, cool, and collected on your interview day.

1. “Why did you leave?”

Mostly tricky if you just got fired or quit soon after starting. Easy enough to answer if you lost your job as a part of a restructuring or layoff; just be honest there. Otherwise, be as transparent as possible and try to give answers about things that were out of your control (lack of growth opportunity or challenge, etc.). And restrain yourself from saying anything negative about the company or your former boss.

2. “What’s your salary requirement?”

Remember: loser speaks first. Try to avoid being the first person to say a hard number in this situation. Pivot if you can and do your best to get them to throw out a number first. If you must give a direct answer, make sure you have a good sense of what sort of salary range would be appropriate for you and start there. Make sure the bottom is no lower than your current salary or the low end of their advertised range.

3. “How did you hear about the position?”

You might be thinking: why do they want to know this? But remember, most hirers like referrals and it’s all about who you know. They’re trying to figure out who you might already know at the organization. They want to know whether you’re a champion networker, up on all the latest industry intel. Try to find an elegant answer to this question that isn’t just “uh… I found it on a web search?”

4. “What is your greatest professional achievement?”

You get a chance to go into one accomplishment in depth here and really sell yourself. Try to load in plenty of quantifiable and verifiable detail into your answer. Back up any claims of your own greatness. But don’t go overboard with the self-praise—humility might also be something they are looking for.

5. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

They want to know first and foremost that you have a career vision for yourself. They also want to know if you’re so obsessed with finding a path up that you’ll be taking the first path out. Strike a balance between assuring them you’re keen to be a loyal contributor to the company for the long haul, and showing your ambition. Enthusiasm for the company itself will go a long way here, particularly if you feel you’re a great fit for their work culture and could see yourself advancing internally.

6. “What’s with the gap in your employment?”

You should be ready for this question if there are gaps in your employment. Be honest and succinct. Make sure to mention any volunteering or education that could earn you extra points. And be passionate about explaining any career changes, taking extra care to mention how your unique skills translate perfectly to this job.

7. “Are you hoping to start a family?”

Questions about your marital status and plans to have children are illegal, but you will occasionally be asked. Pivot from this answer as quickly as you can. Say something like: you’re really more focused on your career at the moment and very interested about this fascinating part of the company’s work… is there more they could tell you about that?

8. “Do you like to work on your own or as part of a team?”

Both. You like both. Explain how great you are at both. Don’t let yourself get pigeonholed here, because you’ll never know when they’re looking for a self-starter they don’t have to worry about, or a true team player for a more collaborative environment.

9. “Do you have any questions for us?”

Interviews are supposed to be more of a two-way street than an interrogation. You will be asked if you have any questions and you will need to have a few. Even if most of your questions have been answered in the course of the interview, have one or two things you could ask. When in doubt, try: “What’s your favorite thing about working here?” And give your interviewer a chance to talk about herself and the company while you regroup.

About the author

Peter Jones