Job Interview Tips

6 smart answers to the toughest interview questions

Written by Kate Lopaze

You’re in a job interview, and have been rocking all the usual questions that come your way. What’s your five-year plan? Tell me about your last job. What brought you to this industry in the first place? Then there’s a question that stumps you a little, and you pause. Uh oh, they’ve hit a gap in your prep, or touched on an uncomfortable subject.

How do you deal with questions that you didn’t anticipate? Let’s look at some of the toughest interview questions, and some sample responses.

I know everyone has a go-to “weakness” in these job interviews, but what’s your real biggest weakness?

I tend to take on too much myself, because I have high standards and get impatient when others don’t meet them. But I’m working on my delegating skills and learning how to let others do their jobs while I do mine.

Why do you have so many jobs on your resume? Do you consider yourself a “job hopper”?

No, I don’t think of it that way. I have been very faithful to my vision when it comes to my career. I have very specific goals, long-term, and have taken advantage of growth opportunities along the way when certain jobs started to feel stagnant. For example, I left XYZ Corp because there was no room for professional development, no chance to be promoted. That’s why I was so excited to hear about your opening here. This is the kind of place I can see myself growing and evolving for a long time.

Looking at your resume, you’re awfully senior for this junior-level job. How do we know you won’t jump ship as soon as something else comes along?

I’m a big believer that you can’t always take a linear approach to your career, that it’s about the quality of experience rather than the quantity. This job appeals to me because it’s a chance to learn and grow in an area that interests me for the future, so to me that step back in seniority is an investment.

It looks like you have a significant gap on your resume, and your cover letter mentioned that you took time off to start a family. Will you be having more kids in the near future?

Taking time off was a choice that worked best at the time, but now I’m ready to move forward with the next phase, and focus fully on the next steps in my career.

[Note: it’s illegal for interviewers to ask about your family status, so if you get a sneaky question like this one, it’s best to turn it into a general answer without giving specific information about your spouse, your family, your personal plans, etc.]

Do you think you’ve peaked in your career?

Oh jeez, I hope not! But seriously, I don’t think of a career as an uphill/downhill thing. I try to keep learning new things and finding new and better ways to do my job. So it’s less about being on the way up or on the way down, and more about keeping things moving forward, no matter what.

How would you deal with a colleague who threw you under the bus for something that was their fault?

Office politics are always fun, right? Seriously, though, I’d start by taking it up with the person directly. I don’t think there’s anything to gain from publicly humiliating anyone, even if they just tried to do it to me. I’d also make sure that my boss privately understands the reality of what went on—what my role was in the issue, whether I shared any of the blame, or what I did to help resolve the problem.

If you’re facing challenging questions, don’t stress out too much, and don’t let yourself get that “deer in headlights” look. The most important thing is to pivot the question into familiar territory—especially if you can use it to highlight one of your strengths, or emphasize your goals.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.