How to Answer the 5 Toughest Interview Questions You'll Face

Last Updated May 4, 2011 10:21 AM EDT

Job interviews are a theatrical performance. In this case, a stutter could mean bad reviews -- and cost you a perfect position. And in a competitive market, interviewers are inundated with qualified candidates, so they're throwing out tougher questions than ever. Here are five of the toughest questions you may likely face during your job search -- and how experts say you should answer them.

Tough Question #1: Why Should I Hire You? How To Answer: Listen and learn, then use that information. "Throughout the interview, ask them specific questions on who they are looking for, what specific attributes stand out for them, discuss a day-in-the-life of the position, etc. Then once you understand their terms, their methodology, their process -- you use those exact attributes in answering [that famous] last question, 'Why should I hire you?'" says Laura Rose, founder of Rose Coaching.

Tough Question #2: What is your greatest fault? How To Answer: Keep it relevant and simple. "Stay away from personal weaknesses, and don't use a fake 'weakness' such as 'I work too hard,'" says Charles Purdy, senior editor and career expert at Monster.com. If possible, mention something that you're working to improve. Purdy's example: "I am always working on improving my communication skills to be a more effective presenter. I found that joining Toastmasters was very helpful."

Tough Question #3: What three historical figures would you invite to dinner and why? How To Answer: If you're asked a real off-the-wall question like this, the one thing you must do is remain calm. "When an interviewer asks you a bizarre or oddball question, they're typically looking to see how well you think on your feet. Often, there is no 'correct' answer to what they're asking...This is often your chance to incorporate a little humor into your answer or show your personality -- so try not to stress too much about being 'right,'" says Heather R. Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended.

Tough Question #4: What are your salary requirements?
How To Answer: Your goal here should be to set yourself up for the most they can offer, without pricing yourself out of a job. To do this, let your interviewer lead. "If at all possible, you should try to find out the other person's hand first," says Jonathan Mazzocchi, a manager at the staffing firm Winter, Wyman. Then, be direct without pinpointing a required salary. "You can simply state your current salary and explain that your main focus isn't salary but finding the right job where you can have a direct impact on the company and bottom line," says Mazzocchi, adding that you can also ask what someone with your experience would expect to earn. "The bottom line is, you want to get to the offer stage. Once you know they want you and have made you an offer, you will have much more leverage," says Mazzocchi.
Tough Question #5: Where do you see yourself in five years? How To Answer: Here, you want to show you have ambition but not appear to be aggressively pursuing your interviewer's job. This is one of the few areas where being a bit vague can be valuable. Tracy Cashman, a partner in the informational technology division of Winter, Wyman, suggests saying this: "I [have] been fortunate enough to find good companies to work for where I have been able to progress and be continually challenged. I would hope that my next role allows for that to continue over the next 5 years. Based on what I've heard from Joe and Susie in my interviews with them, this seems like just that kind of place."

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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