Best Answers to the Worst Interview Questions


It’s rare to find someone who genuinely “enjoys” interviewing. I’ve found that even the most confident and qualified get anxious about the vulnerability and subjective judgement that comes with an interview.

The best way to calm the nerves is by adequately preparing for your interview. Control the controllables. Do your research, hone your stories and schedule a practice interview.

I put together a list of the “Top 5 Worst Questions” that you are most likely going to be asked and how to answer the questions.

1. What is your greatest weakness?

Don’t give the overused response, “I am a perfectionist and can be too detail oriented and have a hard time doing work less than 100%”. If I was the hiring manager interviewing you for a job and you gave me that response, I would ask you for another weakness.

Hiring managers are looking for red flags or opportunities where you might need some additional help or coaching. I suggest giving a “real” weakness in a straightforward way. That being said, don’t share anything as a weakness that relates to how you work with others or how you get along with management. Your weakness should also be non-essential to the job. For example, if you are interviewing for a position as a major gifts fundraiser, don’t tell the hiring manager that you get intimidated talking to new people. That’s a big part of the job! Instead, focus on a tool or skill you haven’t used.

Using the example of the major gift officer, if you noticed in the job description that they use Boomerang donor management software but you’ve only used Raiser’s Edge then your response to the question could be, “ I noticed you guys are using Boomerang for donor management. In this role, I may have a small learning curve as I’ve only used Raiser’s Edge. When working for XX I got proficient with Raiser’s Edge and was frequently running reports and search queries. I am optimistic will a little training I should be doing the same with Boomerang”.

Occasionally this question will be re-worded to “What is an area of your professional life your current/former boss would say that you need to improve?”

2. What are your salary expectations?

Before we move forward– know that the question, “what is your current salary” is now illegal in many states. If you get asked this question then you should rephrase the question to the statement, “my target compensation is….”

If it’s possible, deflect the salary question if it’s asked early in the job interview. Early on in the interview process the company isn’t sold on you and is still assessing how you match up to the candidate pool. You’ll have better leverage to negotiate later, so it serves you best to avoid naming a specific number too early.

Secondly, do research on the position and what you are worth in the market. Benchmark comparable companies and factor in the cost of living for the area. You should consider total compensation packages including stock options, PTO and health insurance. Look at your current salary and typical salary progression for the industry you’re in. Identify your target total rewards compensation. This should include target vacation & paid time off, retirement benefits, insurance options (medical, dental, vision, life, disability). Don’t sell yourself short just to try to move forward with the interview. Your response to the question should be, “My target compensation is $XX”.

My experience as a recruiter is that I generally respected candidates who knew their worth and clearly articulated it. There were times we passed on candidates who were too expensive– but if a job seeker gave us a reasonable number within the range ** and it didn’t throw off department equity** we tried to match it.

The above responses was posted on Linkedin (here) and met with many in agreement but some opposition. A savy recruiter in the e-commerce space retorted, “The timing of the salary question is always tricky. This can often be dictated by industry. I tend to bring it up very early. I have a list of “knockouts” that I address before getting to the meat and potatoes. Those topics center around schedule, education level, familiarity with certain computer programs, etc. I include compensation in this discussion. That elephant is always in the room. Why not tackle it early on? If the company and candidate ranges overlap, great. If not, each side knows they won’t be wasting each others time. Like a lot of things in recruiting, this isn’t part of a manual. I think it’s just recruiter preference. My candidates seem to appreciate the upfront approach. You do not want to find out at the time of offer that you are thousands and thousands of dollars apart.”

3. So, tell me about yourself?

I am going to make the argument that this is one of the most important interview questions and that you should not dismiss it as a fluffy question. Why is it important? Research by Monster shows that employers are highly influenced by their first impressions of candidates. The Monster report found that job applicants have on average just 6 minutes 25 seconds during the first meeting to impress interviewers. This means that your personal presentation, the small talk you make, and your response to the typical first interview question really matters.

The key to answering this question is having a concise, enthusiastic response that summarizes your big-picture fit for the job. This question is not an invitation to recite your entire life story starting with how you grew up on a farm in Georgia or even to go line by line through your resume. I also personally don’t think you should use this time to share your hobbies or family information.

A formula that I suggest to my clients is Passion-Present-Past-Future formula.

Start with the why. How did you get into your field? Why do you do what you do? Then move to the present—where you are right now. Then, segue into the past—a little bit about the experience you gained at the previous position (it’s also OK to brag on yourself a little by sharing an achievement or two). Finally, finish with the future—why you are really excited about this specific opportunity and this specific company. You could also tie in the mission statement of the company and how it aligns or ties in with your personal mission.

All in all your response should be 2-3 minutes long. Practice! How you say it is just as important as what you say so practicing this response is essential.

4. Is there anything else I should know about you?

This question is typically asked at the end of the interview. Most candidates will respond by saying, “no, I think we’ve been pretty thorough today. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” As a former recruiter, I have seen countless candidates–at all levels– miss an opportunity with this question.

This is your opportunity to close the deal. Speaking as a former recruiter, I can’t tell you how many times a job seeker got passed over for a job that they were well qualified for because the hiring manager questioned if they really wanted the job.

If you actually really want the job, I recommend responding to this question by saying something like, “I really appreciate your time today. I feel like I got a good sense of the actual position. I also genuinely like the team and your leadership style. I feel like my experience doing XXX would translate well to this department. You mentioned early on in the interview that you were looking for someone with XX. I have XX (one brag point). I am hopeful that we can move to the next step in this process”. The key here is not sounding desperate but re-stating your interest in the role and that you are confident you have what it takes to do the job.

Matt Gibbs, the co-founder of Recruiterly responded to my post by adding, “So many variables to this and different ways to respond and some really great insights in your comments. Thanks for sharing this post. If you break it down, the interviewer is or should be looking to see how engaged you are, right at the end of what can be a tiring process. Simply responding with “no, I think we have covered it all” to me, just tells me you want to get out of the interview, you have checked out, or perhaps don’t have the stamina. All telling signs that this may not be the right employee for the business. Remain engaged all the way to the end – even when they walk you to the lift to thank you for your time, take the opportunity and ask something relevant that shows you paid attention, have heaps of energy and enthusiasm for the position and would make a great hire. Focus on doubling-down on the great impression you already made in the very last 5 minutes.”

5. According to my Job Search Fight Club, the worst questions are the ones that come out of left field.

According to Glassdoor, these are some real life examples: “Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?” Whole Foods Market “What would the name of your debut album be?” Urban Outfitters “How many basketballs would fit in this room?” Delta Air Lines.

According to a media release by Michael Page consulting, 2 out of 5 interview candidates are asked wacky questions. Despite thorough interview prep, sometimes there is nothing you can do to fully prepare for the wacky, random or just plain dumb questions. What I do recommend doing is adequately preparing for the other questions so that you have already built a strong rapport with the person interviewing you. Control the controllables. Answering the question at hand–“how should you handle the wacky questions”, I suggest remaining calm. Smile. Be genuine in your response.

Take time to actually think about the question and why they might be asking it. How can it relate to the company or the role? Apply a reasonable rationale to your answer and explain your process.
I once worked with a hiring manager who loved random strategic questions. In his opinion, he felt like they were a great way to reveal the candidate’s personality and ability to think on their feet. He wasn’t particularly concerned with the actual answer as he was with the candidate’s demeanor, rationale and ability to problem solve.

By Sarah Johnston, Founder, Briefcase Coach

As the Founder of Briefcase Coach, Sarah is a career search coach, LinkedIn profile writer and interview advisor.

She specializes in mock interviews, job search strategies, resume and cover letter writing, and LinkedIn profile development. Sarah is a LinkedIn Profinder Profile Reviewer and Resume Writer, holds a Certificate in Personal and Organizational Leadership and a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Speech Communications from the University of Georgia.