Ace The Interview! The Top Five Difficult Interview Questions … and How To Answer Them Like a Boss!

MercerCountyWorks
7 min readOct 29, 2020

by Justin Tyler

Let’s jump right into it!

Q: Were you ever fired?

A: In today’s job market, a significant amount of terminations are connected to current economic conditions and work relationship challenges. If you were terminated, it is in your best interest to admit it and end the statement with positive vibes by saying, “I have learned from this time after reflecting on this experience.” Conversely, if the termination was by mutual design (with you opting for resignation), be cautious about confirming this.

Below, please review summaries of why an employee can be terminated and suitable responses to this question.

Incompetence

  • A suitable response to this question is, “The job responsibilities of the position at the time of my hiring were considerably changed throughout my tenure at XYZ company.”

Never admit that you were fired because you did not perform well. Would admitting that you were incompetent to a potential employer instill confidence in the recruiter to hire you? I don’t think so. Rather, if you provide the sample response above, then be fully prepared to also explain the circumstances surrounding your departure. Some safe reasons to provide are restructuring, hiring of a new manager, termination of the manager that hired you or implementation of new technology that changed the scope of your position responsibilities.

Lack of interpersonal relationships with your direct supervisor, your supervisor’s supervisor, co-workers and/or your subordinates.

  • A suitable response to this question is, “In my last role, I worked for a tremendous supervisor and I felt confident about my job and the direction of our department. Then, he/she decided to leave the organization and he/she was replaced by someone who wanted to bring in a new team. Therefore, I was not in the future plans and soon became dispensable despite showing my value each day.”

Always think about what you should disclose and how much you should disclose of any negative circumstance. There is no advantage to admit that you had a difficult time working with your previous supervisor. If you expound on this situation and admit that you were terminated, then you have conceded to the narrative that you are “difficult to work with” and were possibly fired.

Job elimination or lack of work

  • A suitable response to this question is, “Unfortunately, I was laid off because my position was eliminated. (If you received a severance package) The organization provided me a severance package upon my exit.”

Again, never admit that you “fired” or “terminated” in any circumstance. Rather, if you stated that you lost your position due to lack of work or job elimination, then these statements mean that your loss of job was out of your direct control and not directly tied to your performance. In addition, the admittance that you received a severance package (if true) upon your exit subtly tells the employer that your previous organization thought something of you to provide this package and possibly showcases your negotiation savvy.

Q: What is your current salary?

A: Be very careful about revealing your true salary. The employer is trying to “size you up” and see if they can hire you on the cheap or determine if their salary offer could be potentially misaligned with your salary expectations.

  • Perhaps, you have already mentioned this amount in their job application. If so, be consistent and mention the same number to the employer.
  • Have you previously determined the salary range for the position? If so, answer with a range. You will negotiate the salary when the employer offers you the position. Don’t worry about the negotiation or ask about the salary at this time.
  • You are uncertain of the salary for the position. These are perilous times! If your response is too high, then you will be considered too expensive to hire. If your response is too low, then the employer can offer you a pleasantly lower compensation package than the market or your professional value suggests.

Q: Why are you choosing to leave your employer at this time?

A: It is important to stay consistent with the reason(s) you have outlined in your cover letter, job application or previous conversations. Keep the same energy and statements as you continue your interview with the employer.

As a rule of thumb, it is in your best interest to stay aligned with your former employer in regards to why you are no longer employed there. Companies perform reference checks. Additionally, if you are applying in the same city and in the same industry, then it can be a small world as words travel. If possible, it is in your best interest to ask your previous employer about what employers will be told during the reference check. If you can secure this in writing or in a professional recommendation, then go for it!

Nonetheless, be confident, present favorable nonverbal cues and don’t lie. Control your narrative and always place a positive spin on the situation (discuss how you have learned from this experience in an encouraging manner).

Speaking of a positive spin, consider some of the sample answers below:

Personal reasons

  • “Regarding the organization, I have moved up as far as I could go. The person above me was somewhat new in the position, so he/she will be in the position for some time. Thus, he/she is solely focused on his/her current position at this time.”

Location

  • “The organization is relocating to a different area.”
  • “My spouse/partner will require relocation for his/her new role. Therefore, I am looking for new employment in the area.”

Changes in the industry

  • “Our company will be eliminating our production unit due to technological advances in the industry.”

Company changes

  • “Recently, new management replaced old management. They are planning to bring in a new team to replace the existing team within the next few months.”
  • “The company is currently undergoing restructuring/liquidation/acquisition/merger.”

Legal reasons

  • “Certain aspects of the job/organization are unprofessional and I did not feel comfortable as a contributing member of the organization.”

Q: What are your strengths? What are your areas of weaknesses?

A: Be prepared to give examples of both your professional strengths and weaknesses. Regarding strengths, employers love to hear strengths such as good interpersonal skills, being a team player, loyal, dependable and strong work ethic. Conversely, the amount of weaknesses should be kept to a minimum, but still addressed. Give the employer a glimpse of how reflective you are and your approach to self-improvement.

Some examples of weakness statements are:

  • “I work really hard to beat project deadlines.”
  • “I get impatient when other team members are not working with the same seriousness.”
  • “I like to work relentlessly because I genuinely enjoy what I do.”

Also, another strategy is to discuss which area you are currently working on to improve.

“Historically, I have shied away from doing office presentations. Yet, I knew that public and persuasive speaking was important in my position. Therefore, I practiced public speaking scenarios and presentation exercises during off hours. When my supervisor asked our team to nominate someone to lead the next presentation, I raised my hand and self-volunteered. I was nervous when the time came, but my confidence grew as I powered through the presentation and I received positive reviews from my peers and my supervisor. Now, I look forward to the public speaking opportunity to present.”

Q: How long have you been looking for a job? Tell me about your job search so far.

A: It will be somewhat easy for your employer to confirm how long you have been unemployed. For example, they can contact your former employer for employment verification, compare your resume with your LinkedIn or check your resume for dates of employment to identify relevant gaps of unemployment. Therefore, it is important to be consistent with your resume and admit it. However, you must turn a negative situation into a positive narrative because the employer will definitely peg you as a “weaker” job candidate (because the perception will say that you are unemployed because you are not a valuable employee).

Thus, here is an example of how you can answer this question more effectively:

In an interview: “I have been looking for some time because I am being careful about the next company and position move. Yes, I have fielded offers, but nothing truly moved me to accept these offers.”

To address an employment gap on a resume, please see below:

February 2016 — June 2017

“My employer underwent a rightsizing and my entire department was subsequently laid off. I decided to pursue my graduate degree in Human Resources Management to acquire the knowledge and theory necessary for my next role.”

Be prepared for the interviewer to ask you about the status of your job search and your current job offers. It’s advisable to let a prospective employer know that you may have some potential job offers, but you are equally looking to ensure the right culture and work fit, too. Additionally, the interviewer may want to know what you were doing in between jobs. State your volunteer activities, apprenticeships, freelance gigs, entrepreneurship activities, courses, college degree, training and/or projects that show the investment in your professional development.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

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