The Toughest Questions

Guy thinkingSome interview questions can be very difficult to answer, because they may touch on past work difficulties or personally delicate or embarrassing matters.  

Maybe you've been fired, have long gaps in your work history, been in prison.

Give direct, honest answers. Take your time. Develop the answer in your head before you respond. If you don't understand a question, ask for it to be repeated or clarified. You don't have to rush, but don't be indecisive.

Be prepared. Answering difficult questions that may reflect negatively on you can be answered by using the "sandwich model."

Start with a positive statement followed by admitting the negative situation, and ending with another positive statement about what you've done to overcome the problem.

Ending with a positive statement leaves a positive impression. Anticipate tough questions and practice interviewing beforehand.

Try a few of these examples as a tactic to answering this hardest of questions.

Why were you let go? 

My skills are in engineering (or name your field). My employer decided those skills were no longer needed. Therefore, I've taken some training and upgraded my skills (specify) to meet the qualifications for this type of job.

Or, if you were fired, career expert and columnist Joyce Lain Kennedy suggests several great answers, among them the following.

  • I was cut loose and that was a blessing because I got a chance to explore different opportunities like the one we're talking about right now.
  • My skills weren't a good match with my former employer's needs.
  • The job simply wasn't working out for my boss and me, and we both agreed it was time to move on.
  • The former job was a learning experience, and I'm wiser now and want a chance to prove it.
  • A new manager came in and cleaned house, including me, and I figured it was time to move on, anyway.
  • Certain personal problems that I have surmounted upset my work life. I'm now up and running strong to exceed expectations in a new job.
  • I wanted to move my career in a different direction and that set up the conditions for departure.
  • I usually hit it off with bosses, but this time was an exception. We didn't hit it off and I'm not sure why.
  • My job was off-shored to India. I outlasted several down-sizings but not the last one.
  • I was desperate for work and took the wrong job.

Remember to keep your answers honest and brief and try to move the conversation along.

It appears you haven't worked in the past for or 10 years. Why? 

I've been busy going to school full-time (specify), raising two children and managing my home. Doing that on a daily basis gave me a lot of skills we generally don't acknowledge, like leadership, time management, teaching, coordination, planning and so forth.

I needed to address some health issues. It would not have been fair to an employer if I took too much time off from work. I'm now ready to return to work and give you 100 percent.

Why haven't you worked in the past 10 years? 

I was trained in machine operation while at a correctional facility. I have now completed my GED and am ready to work for you.

Questions You Should Ask During an Interview 

It's not enough to have good answers during an interview. You should also have some good questions. Here are some you could consider:

  • Would you describe an average day on this job?
  • What is the history of the position? Why is it vacant?
  • What aspects of this job would you like to see performed better?
  • What are the key challenges or problems of this position?
  • Can the duties of this position be expanded?
  • Where can I go from here, assuming I meet/exceed the job responsibilities?
  • How would you describe the ideal candidate?
  • What are the employer's short- and long-range objectives?
  • What are some outside influences that affect company growth?
  • Where does the company excel? What are its limitations?
  • When and how will I be evaluated? What are the performance standards?
  • With whom would I be working? Who would be my supervisor? Who would I supervise?
  • What is the department's environment like?
  • When will you make the hiring decision? May I call you for the decision? When is a good time?

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