The Modern Interview Guide: How To Answer Some Of The Toughest One-On-One Questions

by Jen Ruiz

We've all been there: You've prepped for an interview, done your research, put your best suit on and you feel ready. Things start off well; you get there early, greet everyone with a firm handshake and offer a strong introduction.

You're just starting to feel comfortable when suddenly, you get one of those dreaded, nonsensical questions that completely catches you off guard. Flustered and not quite sure what to say, you give an impromptu answer and stumble your way through it.

You do your best to end the interview on a high note, but you know you blew it.

In an effort to help you avoid this all too common situation in the future, I've put together a list of seven tricky interview questions and word-for-word sample answers. Tailor these responses to you and your experiences and you'll have a great shot at nailing your interview.

1) Tell us something not on your résumé.

Why they ask: to get to know you as a person and see if you're a good fit for their company

Similar questions: What's a little known fact about you? What do you do when you're not working?

Sample answer: I like to garden and actually helped start an urban garden on our street after watching a TED Talk about the lack of fresh foods in cities. In my spare time, I like to cook (sometimes with my own crops!), go to the gym and travel whenever possible.

2) If we called up a past employer, what's something they would say about you?

Why they ask: to see if you have any skeletons in your closet, and to judge your reaction

Similar questions: May we contact your employer? What could we expect to hear from your references?

Sample answer: If you were to contact my past employers and references, they would likely say that I always exhibit professionalism by being on time and completing assignments without need for constant hand-holding or supervision, and that I'm passionate, dedicated to my work and always follow through.

3) What's your biggest weakness?

Why they ask: to see if you can recognize your own faults or if you're just a know-it-all newbie who will be intolerable to work with

Similar questions: Tell us about a time you overcame a challenge. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Sample answer: I have a tendency to want to foster good, working relationships. At one point, I realized people were taking advantage of my leniency and requesting frivolous extensions, which in turn, made my work product suffer because I didn't receive the necessary materials on time.

I learned that as much as I'd like be everyone's friend, I'm here to do a job first and foremost. Thankfully, everyone was respectful of my time moving forward once I clarified that point.

4) Why do you want to work here?

Why they ask: to see if you've done your research

Try to personalize your answer so they know you've done more than just peruse the company website.

Similar questions: What do you know about our company? Why do you think you'd be a good fit for this position?

Sample answer:  I have always wanted to work in [consumer protection] and have tailored my classes and internship experiences accordingly. I was especially eager to work in your [fraud detection] unit since [I myself was the victim of identity theft] and, as a result, became renewed in my resolve to prevent the same from happening to others.

5) Where else have you applied?

Why they ask: because they can

This is a difficult question to tackle if you haven't had luck on the job hunt yet, but try to answer truthfully while painting yourself in the best light.

Similar questions: What other jobs are you considering? Have you applied to similar offices in the area?

Sample answer: I applied to other similar offices in the region and have just begun interviewing. I would ideally be able to remain local and would be open to any placement that allows me to practice in my desired field.

6) Why didn't you seek a job with your internship?

Why they ask: to see if there's a reason you haven't been hired already

Similar questions: Why haven't you found a job before now? What were you doing during the time not accounted for on your résumé?

Sample answer: While I enjoyed the time I spent there, I knew that it ultimately wasn't the placement for me, for many reasons, not the least of which being that [I simply wasn't interested by the substantive work I was doing there/I wasn't getting to do a lot of substantive work there and am looking for a more challenging atmosphere].

7) Where do you see yourself in five (or 10) years?

Why they ask: to gauge what your goals are and see whether you're someone who will commit to the company long-term

Similar questions: What are some of your long-term goals? How long are you looking to stay with our company?

Sample answer: I see myself working with your company for a fair amount of time, certainly long enough to advance in rank and achieve a position of import. As far as my 10-year plan, I'd be interested in pursuing a [judicial nomination or similar political appointment] in the future.

If you're asked something not on this list and you're not sure what to say, here's my advice: Brevity is the soul of wit, so keep it short. Let them ask you a follow-up question if necessary.

Interviewees get into dangerous territory when they ramble on or try to explain away their answers. Quit while you're ahead and always try to end the interview on a positive note.

Remember, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Go in there knowing what you're going to say and you've already won half the battle.

Photo Courtesy: USA/Suits