How to survive the trickiest, stickiest interview questions

As ‘The Great Resignation’ chugs on, take time to brush up on 12 notorious stumpers designed to make candidates sweat.

Editor’s note: We are re-running the top stories of 2021 as part of our year-end countdown.

Job interviews can be an excruciating experience.

Even in the best of times, it’s awkward having to essentially prostrate yourself before people you’ve just met. It’s an exhausting dance of banter, bargaining, flattery and salesmanship—and, sometimes, scrambling to answer really difficult questions.

Regardless of “whether a job interview is conducted in-person or virtually,” preparation is the key, according to FlexJobs’ Career Development Manager Brie Reynolds. She and her coaching team at FlexJobs identified 12 tricky curveball questions you may encounter, along with guidance on how to respond.

1. “What is your current salary?”

FlexJobs notes that several states and localities now prevent companies from asking this question due to pay discrimination concerns, but you know some folks just can’t resist.

If you’d rather not divulge your most recent pay, you can respond thusly:

  • “Before we discuss pay, I’d like to learn more about the full scope of the role.”
  • “I’d be happy to discuss salary, and I’m interested to know what you had in mind for the pay range for this role.”
  • “I’m looking for a range of $75,000 to $85,000 for this type of role, and I’m very open to talking it through further.”
  • “Would you be able to tell me more about the budget or range for this role?”

2. “Why do you want to leave your current position?”

Resist the urge to curse and carp about how lousy your colleagues are. Rather, take the high road, and keep a cool-headed answer at the ready, such as:

“I’ve been with my current company for X years, and I’m ready to find something new. I also feel that your company culture is a better fit for me because of your commitment to work-life balance and team building.”

3. “How did you get along with your former boss?”

In your nicest voice, say something to the effect of:

“My boss and I had different working styles, but I learned how to meet their needs and learned more about how to lead a team effectively.”

4. “Why do you want this job?”

FlexJobs says to mention specific reasons why you admire the company, be it the ample parking, robust health plan or attractive vending options. You could also try:

 “I’m really impressed with this company’s reputation in the industry, and I would love to help contribute to your mission.”

5. “What is your desired work location?”

You could be real and say, “Right on this here sofa, boss,” or respond professionally with:

“I’m open and flexible to the location of this role, and I’m definitely interested in working remotely if the job allows it.”

6. “What was the corporate culture like at your previous job?”

Again, try to be positive. This is not the time to dish dirt. FlexJobs suggests something in the vein of:

“My previous company didn’t have much in the way of company culture and building employee bonds. Your focus on team retreats and rewarding employees is a big reason I’m interested in your company.”

7. “What are you hoping to gain from this job?”

They don’t need to know about your need for cash to buy more chainsaw accessories. This is a good time to mention your thirst for knowledge and personal development:

“I’m hoping to expand my knowledge in this industry, and I would particularly look forward to taking on the tasks of [a], [b], and [c].”

8. “What makes you the right candidate for this position?”

You might have heard the quote, “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.” Toot your own horn if you get this question, but back your claims with evidence, such as:

“Because of my background with publishing and my certification, I know that I could complete the tasks required of the job with excellence. In my previous role, I performed similar tasks that wound up increasing our readership by 40%.”

9. “Tell me about yourself.”

No need for a lengthy biography here, nor should you mention whatever weird hobbies you’re into. Instead, be succinct and focus on career-centric highlights:

“I grew up in the Midwest and studied at ABC College on the East Coast. I started my career off in sales where I learned a lot about the tech industry. After that, I worked at XYZ Corp where I started to develop my skills in…”

10. “What would the person who likes you least in the world say about you?”

Yeesh. Hopefully you never get asked this question in any setting, much less in a job interview, but if you do, FlexJobs says: “Rather than choosing a negative trait, highlight a quirky characteristic (like impatience, for example) and turn it into something positive.”

A sample response might be:

“They’d probably point out that I’m impatient. However, I feel that it makes me a better worker as I rarely miss deadlines, I respond to emails quickly, and I regularly get answers to questions I have.”

11. “What is your biggest weakness?”

This is another stinker that you should attempt to flip around into a positive, a la:

“I’ve struggled with multitasking, choosing to focus on one project at a time. But I’ve learned that sometimes things need to be done simultaneously, and I’ve worked hard at being able to easily switch from one project to another.”

12. “How do you handle or manage stress?”

Don’t say anything that might raise a red flag, here. Instead, try something more vanilla, such as:

“When I get stressed out, I find it’s best for me to take a step back and make a plan of attack. This helps me get a handle on the situation and figure out what I need to do to alleviate my stress and get things accomplished.”

Guidance for onboarding

Interviews can be tough for employers, too. Especially in a remote environment.

To make the most of these remote interviews, Flexjobs’ VP of People and Culture, Carol Cochran, says to focus first and foremost on communication:

“During the interview process, pay attention to how candidates communicate over the phone and in writing. Are they clear and concise? Or do they show a lack of comfort with communicating in a virtual way?”

Cochran says companies should be keenly aware that they’re not just assessing a candidate’s ability to perform a job, but gauging their proficiency to do the work in a virtual setting. She says:

“Specifically, seek out candidates who are excellent digital communicators (over email, chat, etc.) and who have strong skills with independent work, time management, and organization.”

After a hire, it’s essential to make the remote onboarding process welcoming, warm and educational, yet also compelling enough to make them want to stay a long time. To streamline the remote onboarding process, Cochran recommends:

  • Prepare and welcome the new hire by sending them everything they’ll need for their first day, such as login credentials, technology platforms or software to download and legal documents.
  • Encourage staff to welcome the new hire and introduce themselves prior to their first day.
  • Create a 30-60-90 day plan and benchmarks for accomplishing the goals within the plan.
  • Provide the new employee with written documents on the company and team policies, the job expectations, and specific job duties to help them understand how they will contribute to the company’s success.
  • Assign a “work buddy” or mentor that can serve as the go-to person for any questions or issues.”

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