Student Success Centre

Challenging Questions & Situations

Interviews can be a stressful experience, however, occasionally you will run into an interview situation that raises your blood pressure more than most.  An interviewers goal for the interview is to determine whether or not you are a good fit for the position they are hiring for.  Sometimes, they take an unorthodox approach to this task.  The following are some particularly challenging interview situations and some advice for how to handle it with grace and ease:

Why has it taken so long for you to find work?

Provide a short, concise description of why you have been out of work, highlighting what you have been doing in the meantime to improve yourself and your skill set.  Make sure it is clear that you haven’t been sitting around waiting, but rather, have been making good use of your time.

Have you ever been fired?

If you have been fired, be honest and take responsibility for the situation without providing too much detail.  However, if you left a previous job due to layoff or downsizing, be clear about this as these situations do not reflect negatively on your abilities.

How would you react if I told you that your interviewing skills are terrible?

This question is meant to test your ability to handle criticism, therefore, it is important that you remain composed and calm. Be sure to watch your body language!  Highlight the fact that you would like to learn from the situation and do better if given another chance.

Have you attended other interviews as well as this one?

This question can offer a big advantage to you - if the interviewer believes that one of their competitors is after you, it makes you a better catch to them.  Make sure your answer is honest but don’t hesitate to inform your interviewer if you have attended other interviews.

You have read the job description. What areas of the job appeal to you the least?

Try to answer this question quickly and politely by saying that you can’t find anything in the job description that doesn’t appeal to you.  If you do find something about the job that doesn’t appeal to you and you feel compelled to tell the interviewer, be sure that it isn’t a significant or substantial part of the job description.

How long do you anticipate it will be before you make a significant contribution to our company?

Be realistic.  Be sure to state that you intend on pulling your own weight from day one but that it might take upwards of six months before you could expect to know the organization and its needs well enough to make a major contribution.

I can hire someone from within the company. Why should I hire an external person such as you?

The interviewer may not actually have someone internally who they could hire, but rather, are looking for you to explain why you are the best fit for the job.  Highlight your unique selling points in a clear but concise manner.  This is the time to ‘toot your own horn’.  And remember to point out that new employees bring fresh ideas and experience to the workplace.

Could you have done better in your previous job?

Don’t be negative about your previous performance.  Instead, focus on the things you learned at that job that you will bring to your new position. If you really feel the need to give an example of something you could have done better, try to find an example where external factors beyond your control were to blame.  Highlight what you learned from that situation and how you turned a negative situation into a positive learning experience.


Note:  It is important to remember that some challenging questions are actually illegal.  As an interviewee, it is your responsibility to understand your rights and know how to handle yourself in these difficult situations.