Your best bet? Make sure you’re well prepped for the knowns…and have a plan for those curveballs. Think of it this way. Your interviewer wants you to have the right answers as much as you do. Their intentions are just. And your answers are your opportunity to show them you can react under pressure and think on your feet, and show that you’re a good match for their company.
We asked our audience of hundreds of thousands of professional women to tell us about the toughest interview questions they’ve received. Here are the top five, and some tips to help make your response easy-peasy.
1. Tell me about yourself
On its face it seems simple enough. Surely we all know a thing or two about ourselves…ahem. And yet, many of us consider it one of those tough and dreaded questions that is far too open-ended. Should you talk for two minutes…or 22 minutes? Do you tell them about how you grew up on a farm milking cows every morning or just stick to your work history?
The purpose of this question is to determine if you’re a good fit for the position. And, luckily, there’s a formula to help you answer it, and it goes like this… Past-Present-Future. Begin by describing your current position or the position that you just left and your major accomplishments there. Then delve into the past a little bit and describe previous experiences and skills you ascertained. Finish with the future — tell the interviewer what you’re looking to gain from this prospective job and why you’re the perfect fit. Make sure you don’t just recount the bullet points on your resume and don’t be afraid to add some personal anecdotes — they’re trying to get a sense of your personality, too.
2. Dazzle me
As annoying as this prompt is, there’s a pretty simple goal on the interviewer’s part when they throw it your way. They want you to know exactly why you’ll excel in this position and why you’re a better fit than your next competitor. This is your chance to convey your passion, personality, and drive, and personal stories and specific examples are how you make your answer shine.
Instead of simply saying “I’m a hard worker,” have some anecdotes ready that highlight your core strengths and work ethic. For example: “I’m a fervent worker — I don’t give up easily, like the time that I…” Try to always relate your answer back to the company and its culture; the interviewer wants to detect if you’re genuinely passionate about going the extra mile at this specific company.
3. What animal best describes you?
Oof. I’ve actually never gotten this one personally (but I were asked what car describes me, I would definitely be a silver Honda Civic). The key here is to be creative and use this as a window into how you perceive yourself. There’s no right or wrong answer. Your interviewer just wants to understand your thought processes and see how well you react to being put on the spot.
You could compare yourself to a lion if you’re a courageous leader and fight for what you believe in, or perhaps a dolphin if you’re loyal and inclined to helping others achieve their goals. If you’re really on top of your game, go the extra mile and tailor your answer to the specific job you’re applying for. For example, don’t compare yourself to an independent leopard if a main aspect of the position is working within a team.
4. Tell me something about you that no one else knows
Cringe. This one gives most of the InHerSight team bad vibes, but it happens, so be ready. The challenge in this question is that of course there are plenty of things about you that no one else knows…but there’s a reason for that. So you probably want to avoid blurting out the first thing that comes into your head and think for a second.
If you get asked this question, chances are your interviewer is trying to get more to the heart of who you are and what makes you, you. Spin it this way: How a previous situation or experience has influenced you? Have you had any poignant experiences recently? Did you make a mistake at a previous job and learn a valuable lesson from it? Make sure to detail the challenge you faced, your reaction and the overall lesson you learned.
5. What salad dressing would you be, and why?
Similar to the animal question, this unusual one is designed to allow you to advertise your creativity. It’s also a fun question to break up the monotonous and serious interview question flow. Have some fun! For example, you could compare yourself to classic balsamic vinaigrette — you’re trusted, and similar to how it pairs with many different types of salads, you work well with many different types of clients and coworkers.
And always remember, if you need a second to think before responding, take it. Taking a few extra seconds to think through the question and decide how you want to respond will help make sure they get to know the you that you want to share. Need more help knocking out your interview nerves? Here are some of our favorite tips.