Interviewing: Answering the Tough Questions

The interview is your moment to shine, so knowing how to answer any question you are asked is crucial. However, questions are sometimes looking for more than meets the eye initially. Think about “Tell me about yourself.” This question seems innocuous but is actually asking about who you are, how you arrived at this point, what you bring to the table, and where you plan to go. The following questions exemplify tough interview questions and relevant tips on how to answer them effectively.

  1. Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma.

    First, recognize that an ethical dilemma engages morality. Consider what the correct course of action is in a given situation. The interviewer does not just want to know that you face difficult decisions occasionally; they also want to know that you would do the right thing in those situations. For instance, if you saw a friend cheating on an exam in law school, you would want to inform the professor about the cheating student. No, this is not tattling because for any occupation, a person should know the material. Otherwise, that student might not be able to properly defend someone in court or provide appropriate legal advice.

  2. Tell me about a time you failed at something.

    While some people might not want to talk about a time they failed, this question makes you address a mistake and show the steps taken to rectify the situation. The interviewer does not want to hear all the details about how your group project completely fell apart due to your procrastination or hear a blame game about how everyone else dragged you down, but do not completely avoid the question. Admitting to a mistake and showing how you fixed the situation, informed your supervisor, completed other work as requested, and took active steps to prevent similar failure in the future all provide a well-rounded answer.

  3. What is your ideal salary?

    Mentioning salary or pay during an interview generally works against you. Do not mention a concrete number unless absolutely necessary because you want to make sure your number is informed. Responding with an informed number requires doing research into the industry and knowing appropriate pay levels. It is best to answer with a statement about being open to seeing the company’s offer, which prevents you from slipping into a set pay level and keeps the door open to negotiate.

  4. What song best describes your work ethic? OR What is your favorite book?

    Initially, these two questions do not appear to be real interview questions. However, both questions reveal some personal interests and ask you to apply those interests to your professional work. Simply saying that you love Harry Potter would not be a sufficient answer if you don’t explain why, but answering with “Under Pressure” by Queen, you can say the song keeps you motivated because you know there are expectations to meet.

For any interview question, relatability is important. Tricky questions ask you to find a connection and make it apparent. Be willing to share a little about yourself and stay positive. Careful thought about the question will pay dividends, so make sure to practice ahead of time by using the Center for Career Development’s Practice Interview program.