Contact us
You are here:

Responding confidently to difficult questions at the job interview

Heikle Fragen

How honest are you when it comes to your professional failures? Or how do you react when your discussion partners ask how you deal with criticism and defeats? There is no right or wrong when you are answering tricky questions during an interview. It is much more about putting you in a stressful situation, drawing you out of your shell and discovering your reactions in certain situations. The intention behind it: It allows your contact persons to extract valuable information as to whether your personality really suits the company.

Our tip to begin with: Take a short, deep breath. Decide what the respective question is really aiming at, and be confident in your replies. After all, these are precisely the replies which you worked out in preparation for your interview.

In order to avoid working up a sweat at your next job interview, we have put together some tricky and difficult interview questions for you, and will show you how to answer them convincingly.

You should expect these 10 tricky questions in the job interview

You may have already encountered a difficult question or two in a job interview, such as the one about your professional failures. Be properly prepared for your next interview, and don't let the following questions get to you:

1. What’s going on in your private life?

2. Which books are currently on your bedside table? 

3. There is a gap in your CV between … and …. What were you doing then?

4. What has been your biggest professional failure so far, and how did you deal with it?

5. What are you particularly proud of?

6. What contribution can you make to the success of our company?

7. How do you cope with criticism?

8. How important is money to you?

9. What impression do you have of our company?

10. You don't seem to be very experienced in this job yet. Why should we pick you?

1. What’s going on in your private life? 

Fairly direct, don’t you think? Don’t worry: You don't have to reveal your entire private life here. Basically, this question is about finding out whether you are a team player or a loner.

Don’t react too forcefully in accordance with the motto: "I'm sorry, but what I do in my private life has nothing to do with you." A brief, general answer will be sufficient to satisfy your conversation partner’s curiosity. For example, just say that you enjoy meeting up with friends or visiting your family.

2. Which books are currently on your bedside table? 

This question, which actually seems innocuous, is about finding out what you are interested in. This can be meant both professionally or privately. Responding with a question might help you to get a better understanding of the point of the question.

If possible, don’t by saying that you don't have time to read. Even if you are not reading anything, get some important information from the Internet and quench your thirst for reading and knowledge there. You will then be able to mention your favourite specialist sites, news platforms or exciting podcasts and audio books.

3. There is a gap in your CV between … and …. What were you doing then?

Be it a trip around the world, caring for your parents or professional reorientation: Phases of your life such as this are often not explicitly mentioned in your CV, and can provoke tricky questions during the job interview as a "gap". Don't be alarmed by this question. Because you had your own personal reasons for taking a (longer) break. You should merely be able to give a plausible explanation for this to your potential employer.

Whatever the reason for the gap in your CV: Speak about it openly and honestly, and highlight the positive aspects. For example, you may have gained experience on a trip around the world and successfully improved your foreign language skills. Caring for close family members is also generally evaluated in a positive way. Just like a break for defining your own professional goals and building up new knowledge for the future.

Heikle Fragen im Vorstellungsgespraech

4. What has been your biggest professional failure so far, and how did you deal with it?

Just like the question of how to deal with criticism, this question is also one which is somewhat challenging. Mistakes are a part of everyday life in any job – something about which your interview partners are also aware of. Nevertheless, with this difficult interview question, they want to find out whether you can examine what happened from a different perspective and analyse it. Or do you prefer to sweep your failures under the carpet?

When you answer, think of an honest example which caused problems but wasn’t a disaster. Missing a deadline, failing to conclude a contract or not achieving one of your key performance indicators in a month are good and credible examples of potential professional failures. However, make sure that your biggest faux pas does not affect one of the key requirements of the position you are trying to get at the same time.

An example of professional failure could be:

“We didn’t succeed in completing a project by the set date. This resulted in a considerable amount of dissatisfaction among our customers. The trust that had built up over many years was gone, but the cooperation was going to continue in spite of this.

So I sat down with everyone involved in the project, redefined the responsibilities and pointed out ways in which deadlines could be met in the future.

We succeeded in completing projects on time and restoring the trust that had been lost by means of a detailed schedule, regular team meetings and transparent communication with our customers.”

As a manager, you could give the following example of your professional failure:

“Particularly when I first started my job as a manager, I wanted to achieve too much too soon. I carried out employee interviews, but focussed too much on technical expertise - unfortunately I neglected the personal aspects somewhat in the beginning.

This led to resentment and lack of motivation among the employees, which resulted in resignations. I was promptly confronted with reflecting on my leadership style, and learned how to lead my employees in a better way in a coaching session.

I quickly succeeded in improving the mood in the department and achieving my targets. I learned from my mistake.”

Explain exactly how the problem occurred, but without blaming others. Don't be too hard on yourself, and instead show what you learned from the failure and how you can avoid similar situations in the future. Standing by your weaknesses and accepting the consequences of mistakes quickly turns into your personal strength.

5. What are you particularly proud of? 

What is the meaning behind this difficult interview question? Is it aimed at your professional, private or possibly sporting successes? Before you set off full of enthusiasm and list your successes from your driver's test to the marathon to team leadership, just focus: Think about how you managed an important project, and which personal skills were beneficial for you. It’s important for your counterpart to find out how resilient and self-confident you are.

6. What contribution can you make to the success of our company?

We are now down to the nitty-gritty. When you reply to this difficult question in the interview, show that you have researched the company and the advertised position thoroughly beforehand. In this way, you can pick up on the company philosophy or compare your qualifications with the requirements in the job advertisement. List the various arguments and then move over to the emotional level. Statements such as "I am sure that I will complement the team perfectly, both professionally and personally, because I have gained insights into the industry for years and my sporting activities have made me an absolute team player", will impress HR employees and indicate that you have already mentally settled into this position.

7. How do you cope with criticism?

Criticism can certainly be very personal. It is all the more interesting for HR employees to drill down a little deeper with this tricky question. People won't believe that criticism simply bounces off you, and it will also make you seem overly self-confident. It becomes more honest when you admit that you take an objective view of the criticism of your work. Say that you are pleased to accept any kind of constructive criticism, because it helps you to achieve your results and focusses your concentration on your own work. And in doing so, not only do you improve your own impact on the company, you also improve your career prospects.



8. How important is money to you?

The majority of people probably won’t find it easy to talk about money. Even if money isn't the be all and end all in your life, you shouldn't ignore the importance of financial resources. Answer this tricky interview question with confidence. Make it clear that you need money to support yourself – and possibly your family as well. Or that you love to travel the world to get to know new cultures or marvel at the sights.  In the worst case, making statements like "I don't need much" or "Money doesn't matter to me" will show that you don't know what you are worth, and that you wouldn’t mind not earning much money. Which is not a good prerequisite for your salary negotiations!

When it comes to salary, be clear about your requirement and rely on the salary statistics. But always remain friendly and relaxed.

10. You don't seem to be very experienced in this job yet. Why should we pick you?

There isn’t a great deal of difference between little experience or no experience whatsoever. If this difficult question crops up in your job interview, you should impress with your contagious motivation and the fresh wind that you bring with you. You weren’t invited for an interview for nothing, so you seem to have done some things right already. Be aware of your strengths and qualifications, and focus on how you can benefit the company.

With this question you can also refer to your professional failures and your personal handling of mistakes. For example, you could mention professional failures which occurred because you had little experience in a particular field. If you then dealt intensively with this topic and have built up additional knowledge, this is the perfect argument for hiring you with a clear conscience despite your apparent inexperience.

Difficult questions during the interview as a door opener to the new job

As you can see, there are a series of tricky questions during a job interview which can throw you off track for a moment. The way in which you answer these questions often allows conclusions to be drawn about your personality, and decides whether future cooperation is possible. You will go into your interview feeling relaxed and confident with the right preparation. Take the time to prepare for the conversation and run through the most important points in your mind.

We would be pleased to accompany you throughout your entire application process, from preparing your application documents and analysing your personal branding to simulating important job interviews.

You might also be interested in:

Tips and tricks for making an initial personal impression

In the interview, show that you have studied the company and that you are the perfect person for the advertised position.

Not every question is welcome during an interview

Asking the right questions during an interview can be crucial to your success or failure. We’ll tell you which questions you are guaranteed to score an own goal with!

Salary negotiation: Get the best out of it

Did the interview go well, and now it's time to negotiate a salary? We’ll help you to position yourself well and find the mid-point between dream and reality.