How to answer the top 3 toughest interview questions

By reflecting over how to answer these questions, you are on the road to making your answers more polished and substantive.

In a recent survey of 2,000 Americans by recruitment agency Randstad US, job seekers said the the top three toughest interview questions were, “What are your weaknesses?,” “Why should I hire you?,” and “Tell me about yourself.”

These questions can be tough, but these questions are also among the most common that job seekers get asked. They should not be unanswerable. Good job interview questions are not designed to stump you. They are designed to get you to share the story of your career, so that an employer can see if you are the right fit for a role. Armed with the right research and preparation, you can answer each of these questions with ease. Here’s how to do it:

What’s your biggest weakness?

This is a subject I have covered at more length in a separate story. Too often, job seekers think they can dodge the question with an answer about not having real weaknesses. But you need to admit vulnerability. Recruiters do not want a perfect robotic candidate; they want an authentic one that can tell the story of their career, and that includes the parts of yourself you still need to develop.

If you cannot share a setback or an area of growth that you need to improve on, you are signaling that you are not self-aware about your own strengths and weaknesses. You need to own up to a shortcoming, and show how you have been addressing it.

Why should I hire you?

The hiring manager wants to know why you should be picked out of all the candidates being interviewed for this job. Your answer should outline what you have to offer that others may not have. You want to highlight your enthusiasm for the role and your specialties. To come across as the right candidate for the job, you need to do research on what the company most needs to hire. Career development specialist Lily Zhang suggests coming across as a “problem solver” by explaining “how you can make the interviewer’s life easier by addressing his most imminent issue.”

You do not need to have all the answers, but you do want to come in with well-researched ideas of how you would improve a company starting from the day you are hopefully hired.

Tell me about yourself

Job seekers can make the mistake of thinking “Tell me about yourself” means launching into a long answer of your personal ambitions and unnecessary details about your life starting from the day you were born. But you want to keep this answer short and broad. The hiring manager wants a brief summary, not a treatise. Ask a Manager’s Alison Green suggests hearing the question as  “give me a broad overview of who you are, professionally speaking, before we go deeper into specifics.”

If you do not have immediate answers to these questions, do not worry. By reflecting over how to answer these questions, you are on the road to making your answers more polished and substantive. Look over past performance reviews. Ask colleagues about your memorable qualities. Brainstorm key stories about your career that you want to include. Practice answers with a friend. Through these research methods, you can sound calm and steady when you are in the room with an interviewer.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.