The 5 Most Dreaded Interview Questions


Interview Hot Seat

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

In my last blog post, I wrote about the reasons to do a mock interview at the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development. Today’s post deals with some of the hardest interview questions for students seeking non-academic positions.

You can find some basic advice about non-academic interviewing in our job search basics guide. We also have multiple webinar recordings about the job interview process. Finally, if you’re interviewing for a faculty positions, check out the advice about interviewing in our academic job search guide.

The good news about difficult interview questions is that that after some practice, they can actually become pretty easy.

The 5 Most Dreaded Interview Questions
(and How to Handle Them)

1. Tell me about yourself

Answering this question makes an important first impression. Stumbling can set a bad tone. Know what you want to say and practice that, and you’ll introduce yourself in a clear and concise way. Limit your answer to 1-2 minutes: it’s an ice-breaker and there’ll be follow-up questions. Start with what you’re doing right now and then work backwards. Summarize your job or internship experiences, courses or projects, and skills that are most related to the position. Even though you’ve rehearsed your answer, deliver it conversationally.

This response is often called your elevator pitch with the imagery being that you can introduce yourself in the time that it takes the elevator to reach your floor. (Of course we’re not talking about going to the top floor of the Empire State Building or descending from the 8th to the ground floor of the Graduate Center at 5:00 p.m.) Your response can also be used in all sorts of networking situations and career fairs.

2. Why are you interested in our company and this position?

You can’t say, “Because your company posted the job opening.” Instead, do some research to discover what’s special about the organization. Its website and Linkedin page are good sources of information and demonstrate how the company views itself. If someone who works or worked for the organization told you great things about it, definitely refer to that in your answer. You’re interested in the position because it will allow you to utilize the skills that you learned at the Graduate Center. The development of your skills and your personal success are a win for the employer as well.

3. If you had to say you have a weakness or an area that you need to improve in—what would that be?

This tough question trips up many candidates. Here, the interviewer wonders how insightful and objective are you about yourself. Here are several ways not to answer the question: Never point out a personality flaw such as, “I just can’t get up in the morning. Don’t expect to see me here before 11 a.m.” Don’t disguise a strength as a weakness: “I’m a workaholic. I’m going to be here 18 hours a day.” Don’t point to a flaw that’s intrinsic to the position: “I’m sure I could be a great receptionist but I really don’t like people.” Don’t choose a ridiculous or unrelated weakness: “I don’t know how to fix cars.”

Here’s how you might answer: Choose a deficiency that’s not far-fetched but not mentioned in the job description. For instance, if the job description doesn’t mention public speaking, you could say (if it’s true) that you’re somewhat nervous speaking in front of a large group of people. If you’re a non-native English speaker, you could mention your English: you’re not telling them anything that they can’t hear for themselves. Whatever you choose, show how you’ve worked on the weakness so that it’s not much of a problem anymore: “I did a class presentation this term and though I was really nervous, it came off very well” or “As you can see I’m not a native speaker, but my English is much better than when I arrived in the U.S. I’m still improving by ____.”

4. What salary do you expect and/or require?

This question shouldn’t be asked in a job interview. Salary should be discussed and negotiated when a job offer has been made. However, interviewers sometimes ask it and it’s important to be ready: a low number can sabotage your future salary and a high number can take you out of the running. Before the interview, research going rates for the company and the position and articulate a realistic salary range that you’re comfortable with. There are a number of websites like,, and glassdoor, where you can find this type of information. If you know someone in the field, you can ask what he or she thinks is the average salary. You’ll derive the best answer to this question from research and can present it in this form: “I would be satisfied with a salary of between $_____ and $______.

5. Why should we hire you?

This question often comes towards the end of the interview and it gives you the opportunity to summarize your strengths and make your case. Here, it’s okay to repeat your qualifications and to add in strengths that did not come up. Though you might be tired at this point, it’s important to keep up your momentum and finish strongly. Final impressions are as important as first impressions.

After this question, you are usually given the opportunity to ask the interviewer some questions about the position and the company. I’ll address this important and complicated part of the interview in my next post. Stay tuned!