27 smart answers to really tough interview questions

Confused man

Some job interviewers ask tough questions to trip you up or to get you to reveal information you may be trying to conceal. Others want to get a better sense of your thought process or see how you respond under pressure.

Whatever the reason, you’ll want to be prepared.

In her book “301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions,” Vicky Oliver says in order to prevail, you need to “trounce your competition.”

One of the best ways to stand out: have the smartest answers to the toughest questions.

Note: Many of these are examples of great responses to help guide you. They won’t necessarily work for everyone, in every situation. You should never lie in an interview.

Vivian Giang contributed to a previous version of this article.

Q: From your resume, it looks like you were fired twice. How did that make you feel?

A: After I recuperated from the shock both times, it made me feel stronger. It's true that I was fired twice, but I managed to bounce back both times and land jobs that gave me more responsibility, paid me more money, and were at better firms.

Q: From your resume, I notice that you interned at a small boutique investment bank. Did you pursue a full-time job offer with them? What happened?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A: Yes, I did very well at my internship, and I had originally assumed that I would come on staff once I graduated from college. However, BB&L drastically cut back the number of new hires they were planning. As fate would have it, they will not be hiring any of the interns they had last summer.

I loved working at BB&L, and I brought some references with me today to show you that my job performance there was stellar. Still, in some ways, I consider this new turn of events to be a lucky break for me, believe it or not.

Q: Can you describe your dream job?

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A: This is my dream job, and that's why I approached you about it in the first place. I am excited about the prospect of helping your promotion agency upgrade and fine tune your loyalty programs.

Q: How many hours a week do you usually work, and why?

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A: I work pretty long hours most of the time. With the extra time, I try to find ways to 'add value' to each assignment, both my own and the firm's. When our clients read our reports, I want them to think that no one else could have possibly written them, except for our company.

Q: Please give an example of the most difficult political situation that you've dealt with on a job.

Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

A: I was hired by a woman who was on her way out. She asked me to be her 'fall guy' on a number of assignments. I just learned to drop the assignments off with my boss on the day that they were due, and when the managers would ring me up, I would recommend that they simply follow up with her. This kept me out of hot water with my boss and with her superiors.

Q: Did you ever make a mistake that cost your company money?

Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

A: I suppose that asking for name-brand vodka at the Christmas party, instead of the generic swill that they normally serve, doesn't count, right? No, honestly, I'm delighted to report that I never made a mistake that cost my company money.

Q: Is it more important to be lucky or skillful?

A: I think that it's more important to be lucky, although being very skilled can help to create more opportunities. Certainly, (at my former job, my boss's) confidence in me inspired the decision makers at our firm to trust that I could do the job. But clearly, I also happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Q: When do you think you'll peak in your career?

Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

A: I come from a long line of healthy, hardy, mentally active types, and so I confess that I never even think about 'peaking' in my career. That having been said, I do think it's important to have some self-knowledge, and to recognise when one is past one's prime.

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