Lists: 15 Hardest Questions for Job Interviews in 2021

Interviewing has changed in 2021. Here are the 15 hardest questions that are being asked in job interviews right now and expert advice on how to answer them. 

15 Hardest Questions for Job Interviews in 2021 (and how to answer them)

Congratulations if you landed an interview! That means that you have done the hard work of applying endlessly online to jobs. But, the work is only getting started when you have an interview scheduled because you have to keep applying and you need to prepare for the big meeting.

Below are some of the hardest questions that people are getting in interviews right now. We have included tips on how to answer these common questions in job interviews in 2021 below. Make sure to practice them as these (or similar questions) will likely come up if you are interviewing for a job in 2021.

Tell me about yourself.

This question almost always comes up and it gets asked for a lot of different reasons. Nearly every candidate dreads this question and it almost always comes up first in the interview.

The best answer to this question is to think about it as an elevator pitch. Tell the interviewer who you are, what skills you have, and relate it back to the position that you are interviewing for. Connecting back to the job can be as simple as "that's why I'm excited to learn more about this job and what you do here."

Want to know more about how to answer this question? Check out this blog.

What are you working on now?

This question rapidly emerged post-COVID when so many people were unexpectedly out of work. Recruiters started asking this question to focus on what people do when they aren't working to gauge the candidate's motivation, drive, honesty, and interests. It helped to break the ice and to start an authentic conversation.

This question has staying power and is continuing to be asked by companies regardless of whether the candidate is out of work. Focus your answer on current information and tailor it to the audience. Always keep it professional and try to keep it positive whenever possible. And, regardless of the specifics, remember to frame this up in the context of your elevator pitch for the position.

Why do you think that you were kept?

So many people were laid off through various phases of COVID and the related shut-downs. The emerging presumption is that if you were not laid off during that time, then there must be a reason. Thus, recruiters are asking why.

There may not have been lay-offs at your organization or there may have been furloughs/lay-offs in other departments. So, your department/team may not have been impacted. Regardless, if you are asked this question, address the reality of your team/department. Tell the recruiter about whether there were lay-offs and use it as an opportunity to say why or why not you were impacted. Focus on yourself in this answer and explain what value you brought to your employer. But, be careful in this answer not to focus on things that are skills that may not be relevant to the job that you are interviewing for or that are about things you don't want to do anymore (i.e. work more for less, travel, etc.)

Tell me about a time that you did not live up to expectations.

This question is challenging because answering it requires that you provide an example of a time that you failed. Choosing to not provide an example of such a time will kill your chances at the job because people will think that you aren't honest or that you put blame on others - either of which is not good for a potential co-worker.

Provide a clear example when answering this question. Be smart about picking that example and focus on your role in the situation. Don't get stuck in the weeds - meaning don't focus too much on what you did wrong. Acknowledge exactly what the expectation was and why you weren't able to live up to it. Then focus as much energy/time of this answer on what you learned and how you have applied those lessons going forward. This part of your answer is just as important as what the mistake was (if not more important to the future employer).

Why are you interested in making a change now?

A lot of people stuck it out in jobs they hated through the COVID-19 pandemic because they were thankful to have a job during a time when so many people did not. Everyone was asked to do more for less because of the uncertainty of the times. Now, everyone is looking to make a change.

Don't get stuck in this trap. Focus on what you want in the next role instead of focusing on what you are trying to get away from in this answer. Even better, relate that answer to the specific job that you are applying to and/or the company. Smart candidates will even use this question as a chance to incorporate the research that they did for the interview to showcase their skills and interests in the company/job.

What are you looking for in the next job that you can't get in the current role/organization?

Again, be careful in how you answer this question. To answer it, you will have to provide negative information. But, how you handle that information is key to a good answer here. Remember that you are the one being interviewed - not your current company or boss. So, focus on what you want and how you think you can get it in the job that you are interviewing for.

What are your biggest weaknesses? Or, what are your greatest strengths?

Yes, people still ask these questions and they simply aren't getting easier for people. The reason why they get asked is to get the person to talk about what they view as their skills and opportunities - as it relates to the job that is being interviewed for. Thus, you need to think about your answer in this context. Avoid sharing things that may create a red flag about your abilities to do the job or sharing any details that may be negative (or confidential) about former employers/clients.

Besides money, what motivates you to do a good job?

This question forces you to think about all of those other things in a job that is important and to communicate them to the interviewer. Do this with a focus on the specific job/company that you are interviewing with. Make sure that you incorporate the research that you did before the interview in answering this question to talk about the company's culture, mission, or values and how that connects with what motivates you. Be honest in your answer so that the person interviewing you can understand whether you really are a good fit for their culture/team. This is really important as you don't want to be stuck in a company or team with a culture that you can't stand.

Describe a time that you took initiative when you were not asked to do so.

This question is deceptively complex. Taking extra initiative isn't always a good thing as it could be a sign of someone that goes rogue or that is easily distracted from the organization's mission. You also need to provide a clear example of a specific time when answering this question. It is simply not enough to answer this question with generalities like "I always go above and beyond."

So, be smart about picking an example and make sure that you frame it up in a way that is relevant to the position that you are being considered for if possible. Also, think about using the STAR method in this answer to keep the answer balanced and provide the right level of detail for all the information that the person interviewing you wants to hear.

Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult colleague.

This could be asked about a colleague, boss, vendor, client, or any other type of person that you have to work with to do your job. The point of this question is to understand how you overcome challenging personalities and what you view as challenging. Provide sufficient detail about what made it difficult to work with the particular person in that specific example and focus on what you did in the process. Don't get stuck in the negative here. Focus on you at every step of the process to make it clear how you deal with people when personalities or situations aren't great.

What are your salary expectations?

This question is particularly challenging for so many candidates because the salary is often not posted with the job when you apply. So, you have to guess what the right answer is here. You may have even provided a range when you applied online, but the interviewer could still ask you what you actually want in the interview. Use this as an opportunity to go on the offensive here and consider turning it around with a question.

For example, "I'm willing to look at the whole package and I'd really have to understand more about the benefits and the specifics of the job. To better answer this question, can you give me a sense of what the budget is for the position?" You ask this because companies will have set a budget for the job and they will not be authorized to go above a specific compensation level without specific approvals. So, it's fair in many situations to ask this common interview question with another question. You may get pressed back if you take this approach, but it will often level the conversation to start a real dialogue about this important topic.

How do you feel about remote work?

People have such varying opinions about this topic post-COVID. Some can't wait to get back to the office and others never want to return. If you are unclear about the work arrangement for the company or the specific position, be clear about your preferences in answering this question. You may even want to ask this question when the tables turn to you to ask questions so that you can clarify the organization's willingness for remote or hybrid arrangements if it is otherwise unclear.

Also, make sure that you say that you are open to negotiation on this topic if you actually are. No one wants to waste time interviewing for a job that you really don't want or to lose out because you were too focused on one aspect of the role instead of the bigger picture.

How much are you willing to travel?

This question post-COVID can be tricky because it can trigger you to talk about medical information or the specifics of the people that you live with and you simply may not be comfortable in sharing this in the interview. This question also runs the risk of triggering a quasi-political conversation about COVID that simply doesn't belong in the context of a job interview and your fit for the position/company. So, make sure to focus your answer on the facts and the reality of what you want.

It's also fair to not fully commit to a percentage here. Instead, you could say something about how the way work is done has changed and that you are willing to leverage these lessons in doing the job. Remember to also incorporate information here about how you understand that sometimes travel is the best way to achieve the results and you will work within the specific needs of the situation and company guidelines.

All employees are required to obtain COVID vaccination or to submit to regular testing. Will you be able to meet this requirement?

This question will come up in an increasing number of interviews as 2021 continues and well into the future. For many candidates, this is an easy question. For others, it could require medical information, religious beliefs, or politics. In that case, this question becomes quite challenging. The best answer here is to focus on the question and to answer it honestly. There are laws that are designed to prevent discrimination and how this question is asked is important. But, how you answer it is also important. So, be honest and answer the question in a way that focuses on the facts and your ability to do the job if hired.

Why should we hire you?

This is never an easy question. It will get asked or it will be thought about by the people interviewing you. In fact, this question is the entire point of the interview exercise - people are talking to you and you are talking to them to see if this job is a fit. So, you need to be clear in how you would answer this question if asked before you walk into the interview.

You also need to be able to answer this question in the context of other questions if you aren't asked directly. This will make it clear how you stand out from the competition and makes it easy for the interviewers to pick you. Knowing the answer to this tough question also makes it easier for you to come up with the answer to all of those unexpected questions that can come up in interviews because it will enable you to focus your message.

Want help in preparing for your interview? Get help from an expert interview coach now. Learn more.