Tough Interview Questions and Answers With Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 3 October 2022 | Published 30 November 2021

Updated 3 October 2022

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It's normal to find some interview questions tough to answer. Many employers use tough questions to see how you cope with stress and challenges whilst also learning more about you. The kinds of tough questions you might encounter vary between industries, but there are some common themes for these kinds of questions. In this article, we outline some of the most popular tough interview questions and examples of answers to them.

What are tough interview questions and answers?

There are lots of things that employers could choose to ask you about, but the tough interview questions and answers require self-reflection. For example, an interviewer might ask you about your biggest weaknesses or times that you've failed. They might also ask you to talk about times you had to alter your plan because of new information. Other questions could ask you to detail some problems with your current job, or the interviewer may present a problem to you to see how you would solve it.

Related: The Interview Process: A Complete Guide

Questions about personal weaknesses

Being able to critically review your own performance is a valuable personal skill. It's tempting to give a self-flattering answer about being 'too hardworking' or 'too dedicated'. This isn't necessarily the strongest way to prove good self-reflection. Instead, think about how you can give an honest answer that isn't going to be off-putting to someone trying to evaluate your self-reflection skills. A good way to do this is to explain how you're working to improve this weakness. Here are some example questions and answers:

'What is your biggest weakness?'

Example answer: 'I have previously struggled to provide constructive criticism. I didn't like confrontation and so I offered a lot of praise because I didn't want to upset my team. I gradually realised that I wasn't helping them improve. I kept seeing the same mistakes cropping up. I decided to be more open to providing feedback, both positive and negative, so I could support my team properly.'

'Can you tell me about a time you've failed?'

Example answer: 'In my last role, I agreed to take on responsibility for organising the annual company away day for the entire body of staff. I spent a lot of time focusing on the venue, food and planning activities but had not ensured that key people could make it. The managing director was on holiday, but I didn't find this out until it was too late to rearrange. I learned from this, and when planning future events, I provided plenty of notice for the planned dates. I worked with senior managers to ensure it was a day they could all make.'

Related: How To Prepare For An Interview

Questions about your last job

Questions about your previous roles can be easy to answer, with interviewers often asking candidates about their current responsibilities. However, some interviewers may also ask you to talk about the negative parts of your last job. Ensure your answers balance honesty and reflect the qualities outlined in the job description, as this is what the interviewer's looking out for. This could include resilience, adaptability and the ability to cope with stress.

You aren't obligated to talk about a previous employer in a glowing light, but it's usually a sensible idea to not be rude or unflattering about them. Suitable answers here reflect more on you and what you want to get out of a job. You could talk about wanting more responsibility. Otherwise, you could mention feeling like you've exhausted your opportunities there. You may choose to reflect on unpleasant experiences you've had and what they taught you.

Here are some example questions and answers:

'Why are you leaving your current role?'

Example answer: 'I've had a great two years in the role, but it's a junior position. There are few opportunities for promotion in the organisation. I've started looking elsewhere as I am keen to progress my career and take on a more challenging, senior role.'

'What is the worst part of your current job?'

Example answer: 'Being in a customer-facing role, I spend a lot of time dealing with customer complaints. Our internal policies are very prescriptive about how we handle these. This is very frustrating sometimes because it doesn't actually generate a positive outcome for the business or the customer. From speaking to employees in your store, I understand you have a more pragmatic approach. I know that you have a great reputation for customer service, which is what attracted me to work for you.'

Related: 16 Different Types Of Interviews

Open-ended questions about why you want the job

Whilst honesty is always encouraged in job applications and interviews, there are some things that a prospective employer doesn't want to hear. They're asking about your understanding of the company. They're unlikely to respond well if you tell them you're just there for the paycheque or that you applied because the office is five minutes from your house. Here are some example questions and answers about why you want the job:

'Why do you want this job?'

Example answer: 'I have spent a lot of time advancing my computer skills and am excited about the opportunity to use these in the workplace. I know that the company values teamwork and that is something that's important to me because I thrive in a collaborative workplace.'

'Why would we want to hire you?'

Example answer: 'I believe my skills are a good match for the requirements that you've listed in your job advert. I think I would be a good fit for the company. From talking to the team, I understand you place a particular emphasis on technical excellence and personal development. This resonated with me as I'm keen to find a role at a company that values these things.'

Tough questions that no one knows the answers to

Another common way for interviewers to challenge interviewees is to ask them a question that seems impossible to know. Often, these are about numbers. Some examples include:

  • How many newspapers got sold in London today?

  • How many pubs are there in England?

  • How many people sent an email in Birmingham this morning?

The key here is to understand that the interviewer doesn't expect you to know the precise answer. They almost certainly don't know the answer themselves. However, they aren't trying to trick you or watch you fail. They're asking because they want to see your approach to coming up with an answer. Here are some examples:

'How many pubs are there in England?'

Example answer: 'I grew up in a small town. It had a population of about 20,000, and there were two pubs in the town centre and another two pubs on the outskirts. Another pub started up, but it didn't last that long because it didn't get enough business. I think it's fair to say that the population could only support four pubs. So that's an average of one pub per 5000 people. The population of the UK is about 70 million, so if we divide this by 5000, we get 14,000. Working on that rule, there are about 14,000 pubs in England.'

Note that in this example, the answer started with personal experience that was built up into a generalisation. This is a good foundation for an answer to this kind of question. However, if you don't have personal experience of the issue, it doesn't actually matter. They want you to show your logical thinking skills and make reasonable assumptions. See the next example as an indication of how to do this.

'How many newspapers got sold in London today?'

Example answer: 'Let's say that there's a newsagent or supermarket on every major street in London. It's a big city, so there might be 10,000 main roads. Over the course of the day, each newsagent might get through an entire bundle of each major newspaper. How many major papers are there? Let's say there are six major newspapers and maybe two local papers. If those get sold in bundles of 25, and there are eight papers, that is 200 papers per shop. If we work based on 10,000 shops, that would be 2,000,000 newspapers.'

It doesn't matter how right or wrong you are. It doesn't even matter what numbers you pick. It might not solicit a positive reaction if you claim that there are only ten newsagents in London, so base your answers on common sense. The interviewer judges how you structure your answer, what factors you consider and how you piece it all together.

You're more likely to experience these kinds of questions in roles that require you to think on your feet and have an analytical mind. These questions could take the place of situational questions where employers ask you what you would do in a certain scenario. They're looking for how you apply your knowledge to the questions or situations they give you.

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