Job interviews: How to answer difficult questions

Nadene Reynolds interviews Michaela Beeda

Nadene Reynolds interviews Michaela Beeda during a mock interview as part of a college class. After the interview, Reynolds provided a critique of the process. Photo by Gabriella Nicholas

You have an appointment for a job interview, and you want to be ready.

  • You’ve researched the company you are applying to.
  • Your résumé is crafted for the specific job you are interviewing for.
  • You have a professional interviewing outfit.
  • You have determined the interview location so that you will be on time.
  • You’ve rehearsed answers to questions about your previous work experience and how you can position yourself as an asset to the organization.

In a previous blog post, Nadene Reynolds, senior assistant director for professional development and experience in the University of Florida’s Career Resource Center, offered advice about preparing for the interview — Prepare, Rehearse, Be Confident.

She also provided insights into some of the potential challenges of job interviews – especially for those who are new to job interviewing.

Don’t expect every recruiter to provide positive feedback during the interview

She says she doesn’t smile, and that may make the people she interviews think they aren’t doing well in the interview. But don’t be overly sensitive to or critical of the recruiter’s body language.

“I’m not trying to be your friend. I’m trying to figure out if I can hire you,” Reynolds said of her interviewing approach when she interviews job candidates.

She said that some job applicants are counting on the nods and smiles of the interviewer and if they don’t receive that kind of feedback, they don’t interview as well.

She advises applicants to “develop a thick skin” and not be so dependent on affirmative body language.

You may be asked a question that you hadn’t expected

“If you need time to answer the question, that’s OK,” Reynolds said. “Take the time to think about it and your response.”

Interviewing at UF's Career Showcase

Interviews at job fairs are the first step in being asked for more in-depth interviews. Photo by Julie Dodd

Don’t feel like you have to rapidly answer each question, she said. Some people quickly answer without really understanding the question. Pausing and taking time to think can make a big difference in the quality of your response.  You may want to ask the interviewer to repeat the question to make sure you understand the question – or to give you some additional time to consider the question.

Try to prepare for unexpected questions, but understand that you can’t think of every possible question you might be asked. Interviewers may ask a question you haven’t anticipated to see how well you respond when you aren’t rehearsed.

Although you want to talk about what your abilities and successes are, the interviewer often wants to find out how you do when all doesn’t go as planned.

 Expect to be asked: “Tell me about a time you failed”

Reynolds said that employers expect that you will have experienced failure at some point or another. In fact, they will question your self-reflection if you say you’ve never had a failure.

She said to be ready to share a failure but to not leave it as a statement of the failure. She recommended the STARR Method:

Summarize the situation.

Task: Explain the task you were assigned/assumed.

Action: Discuss the action you took.

Results: What made the situation a failure. Beware of blaming other people.

Reflection: This is the critical step. Explain what you learned from the failure that would indicate that you have grown from that experience.


This blog post is based on a presentation made by Nadene Reynolds in Multimedia Writing (JOU3109) at the University of Florida. You can learn more about UF’s Career Resource Center on Twitter @UFCRC. Thanks to Nicki Karimipour, a doctoral student and lecture assistant for the course, for compiling notes from the class presentation for this blog post. She’s on Twitter @future_dr_k

What if your job interview is on Skype? Read 8 tips for successful use of Skype for job interviews.





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