Job Interview Tips

How to Answer Tough Interview Questions in 60 Seconds

Written by Peter Jones

We all know it’s good to prepare answers to the standard interview questions, plus the not-so-standard ones that might come up in a particular interview at a particular company. But often we are so prepared that we forget to edit our answers down to their most surgical and concise form. Here are six standard but tough interview questions and the snappy sorts of answers you should start rehearsing right now.

1. Why you left your last job

Maybe the answer is as simple as your company was downsizing, but if you left in order to challenge yourself further or pursue more meaningful work, try saying something that emphasizes some skill or experience you wanted to develop professionally. Talk about how it wasn’t possible to do so at your former job, and so you are committed to mastering it and see the perfect opportunity to do so at this company. Bonus points if you can prove you’re already well on your way to developing this skill, whether by having taken a class or earned a certification.

2. Your greatest weakness

Step one: pick a trait that won’t scare them off, and doesn’t in any way affect your ability to perform this job. Don’t humblebrag. “I’m just too good at work!” But do try and pick something with a positive spin. Maybe you’re too much of a perfectionist or you go flat out until a project’s done without taking a break. Or choose a weakness that you’ve since worked hard to convert into a strength. Formula for the latter: “Well, I was noticing that I was x, so I took , so I took step y in order to improve, and ended up in situation z (which is infinitely better and makes you a stronger candidate for the job).

3. Why you seem overqualified

Rather than agree with them and say how much this job is beneath you, emphasize why (and pick three or so specifics) this job is perfect for you right now, and how it fits into your career growth plan. Your resume probably shows that you can do this job, use this answer to prove that you want it.

4. Why you’ve changed jobs a lot

Can be a red flag to some employers who haven’t gotten the memo that job-shifting isn’t necessarily a red flag anymore. Try telling the truth. Either it’s as simple as: “For reason x, we moved around a lot and so I was forced to…” or you have a unique opportunity to document your drivenness and your desire to learn new things and acquire new skills that make you such a stellar candidate with such passion for what you do. Emphasize how all this hopping has uniquely prepared you to land on their precise lily pad, and why you’d want to stay put for a good long while.

5. Why you’ve been unemployed for ages

If you’ve been out of the workforce for a year or more, you’re going to have to explain yourself. Either go for the “I took some time off to evaluate my career needs and wishes in order to come back refreshed and well-prepared and hungry to do this kind of work,” or the “I’ve just completed x course or accreditation in order to make myself more valuable in my field.” They’ll eat either up.

6. Your age

It’s illegal to discriminate in hiring decisions based on age, but not illegal to ask. If you’re on the older end of the job market spectrum, use your answer to assuage their fears that you’re just in it for the drudgery and the paycheck. Emphasize how much passion you still have and how much invaluable experience you bring to the table. You’re not done yet!

About the author

Peter Jones