UPDATED: January 26, 2021. Job interviews are nerve-wracking for just about anyone, whether you are a seasoned professional or a recent college graduate. The key to calming those nerves is preparation and practice. Mock interviews are a great way to practice in advance. But you should also prepare for the interview by researching the company and the position. Then, use your research to anticipate the questions they may ask and to practice your responses. 

Below are five of the toughest questions an interviewer may ask you.

1. Tell me about yourself.
This seemingly innocent request has the potential to make or break an interview. Since it is generally one of the first questions asked, it can really set the tone for the duration of the interview. When preparing your answer, it is important to remember that interviewers do not want to know your whole life story, no matter how interesting it may be. They are more interested in who you are as it relates to the position for which you are applying. For example, a candidate interviewing for a marketing assistant position at a nature conservatory might share that they just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree with a Public Relations emphasis and that their passion for the outdoors motivated them to spend their summers volunteering for the US Forest Service. All of which led them to apply for that position.

2. Why should I hire you?
The answer is obvious because you are the best person for the job! So do not be afraid to say so. Many times candidates do not want to come off too confident for fear of being perceived as arrogant. As a result, they do not give themselves the credit they deserve. It is perfectly acceptable to make sure the interviewer knows you are the best candidate, but be sure to back up your claim with specific, enthusiastic examples. Talk about the specific skills and experience you bring to the position. Tell the interviewer about the qualities you possess that make you the perfect candidate. For example, “You should hire me because I will bring a unique set of skills to your department. I have a strong work ethic and I…” Applying for a sales position? Speak about how you exceeded your sales goals for the quarter in your previous position and your excellent communication skills.

3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This question can be difficult to answer without sounding like you are vying for a higher position. On one hand, you want to show you have ambition, but you also do not want to seem so ambitious that you will outgrow your position in a year. Think about the specific skills necessary for the position. What are the objectives of the position? Think about those achievable objectives and how you can reach them. You may want to talk about how you would like to become an expert in your field and how this job will prepare you to take on additional responsibilities within the organization. For example, “In 5 years, I would like to be in a leadership role with a leading marketing company, hopefully, this one, if I am the right person for this job.” Think about what you are doing now to improve your skills, whether it is earning continuing education credits or being an active participant in professional organizations. Relate your efforts and ambition back to the position.

4. What is your greatest weakness?
A lot of career advice I have received on this question has been to select a strength and present it as a weakness. For example, “I am too dedicated to my job and work too much.” Wrong. First of all, if an interviewer has been interviewing multiple candidates, they have probably heard this answer before. Second, it misses the point of the question. An interviewer wants to know how self-aware you are, and how you are working on overcoming your weakness. For example, “I have had trouble in the past with organization and prioritization. But lately, I have been taking steps to correct this issue. I now keep a calendar and every day I begin by making a To-Do list.” Demonstrate how you have been able to overcome your weakness and turn it into a positive situation.

5. Tell me what you disliked about your last job?
Do not say “nothing.” Everyone has something they disliked about their job. If you say nothing, you may give the impression that you are lying. And no one wants to hire someone who lies. A good way to answer this question is, to be honest without speaking negatively about your previous employer. Similar to your weakness, you want to state what you disliked, but turn it into a positive situation. Did you learn anything? Tell the interviewer about something you disliked and then talk about the productive steps you took to rectify the situation. For example, “In the middle of the year, my budget was cut by 20%. My team and I brainstormed and came up with creative ways to save money and increase revenue. It was actually a great teambuilding experience.”

Once you have prepared for the tough questions, the next step is to practice. Practice speaking your answers out loud in front of a mirror. Then practice with a friend, someone who you can trust to give you honest feedback. While you still may have jitters going into an interview, the preparation and practice will go a long way toward making a great first impression.

Written by: Ramona Acuna
Ramona is a former Career Services Specialist for the University of Arizona Global Campus.

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