How to Handle the Job Interview Questions You Fear Most

Woman reviews notes while waiting for interviewInterviews aren’t fun for most of us. Being evaluated by strangers, worrying about getting a job you need, fearing rejection, finding parking, getting there on time—any one of these things can jar even the calmest job seeker. The part that usually keeps us up at night, though, is wondering what questions we’re going to be asked.

For many of us, “What is your greatest weakness?” is a question we dread because it feels like a trap—and it can be one. However, it’s not the only question that gives job seekers nightmares. Anything else that preys on your insecurities, whether it’s explaining a gap in employment, an illegal question about your family planning, or an explanation of why you had to leave your previous position abruptly, can also be anxiety-provoking.

Here are some strategies to help you get the sleep you need the night before your interview and get through the questions you may or may not be asked.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Preparing good answers for the questions you dread most may help you feel calmer and more composed going into the interview. Invest some time in thinking of tactful ways to handle difficult questions, but try not to obsess.

Keep in mind that you might not have anything to worry about. The interviewer might not even ask you the questions you fear. It could be an easy interview, or it could be challenging in a way you can’t possibly anticipate or prepare for.

Know You’re There Because They Wanted You to Be

You are being interviewed for a reason. The interviewer likely recognizes no candidate is going to be perfect, and compared to everyone else in the pool who didn’t get an interview, you are qualified to do the job.

You are demonstrating a key skill for the job by handling awkward questions with aplomb.

The interview is more about finding out what kind of person you are, how you present yourself, and how you handle difficult questions in a meeting. So take a deep breath and relax a little. Just because the interviewer asks you about something doesn’t mean they are concerned enough about it to rule you out. If they were that concerned, you wouldn’t be meeting. The interviewer just wants to see how you handle the question.

Keep Your Answers Succinct

Answer questions honestly without offering additional, unnecessary information. When it comes to interview questions, even the nice ones, the goal is to get the interviewer to talk to you as much as possible. Yes, as a candidate you want to sell your skills and abilities, but even when it comes to that, people will tend to like you more if they think you want to listen to them. So even if you get your favorite question, keep your answer short and to the point.

When it comes to awkward questions, give an answer that provides enough information to ward off a follow-up question, but nothing more.

Redirect Inappropriate Questions

If you are a young woman and the interviewer asks if you are planning to have children, that is a red flag. Questions about your family plans, religion, health conditions, and more are not only rude and none of the employer’s business, they’re also illegal. Obviously, pointing out to an interviewer that the question is illegal is not a way to score points. You may want to ask yourself if you want to work for someone who engages in these practices, but you can consider that later. An example of how to handle this type of question is to say something like, “I am currently focused on the next step in my career, and I believe this meeting is a good opportunity to discuss how the position you are trying to fill could fit into that.”

Always bring the conversation back to how you plan to move forward and the skills you have to offer that could be a good fit for the position. It may feel a bit like playing politician, but that is a role people sometimes need to play in business meetings. So, don’t worry. You are demonstrating a key skill for the job by handling awkward questions with aplomb.


U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC, MCC, LPC, Career Counseling Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Liz

    April 12th, 2016 at 10:21 AM

    You want to go to work for these people but I don’t think that they have to know your entire life history to be considered a good hire. I wonder if you could ever get away with just saying that the question makes you uncomfortable and that you would rather not have to answer that, or that they could maybe give a you a little time to ponder your answer and get back to them via a phone call or email. I just have to think that if otherwise you are a strong candidate then you could have a little leeway with those questions that maybe you are not the most prepared to answer in the moment. Realistic or just a dream?

  • aurianna

    April 12th, 2016 at 2:26 PM

    Even if it makes you uncomfortable I always think that being honest is the bets policy. What happens if you try to bluff your way through it and then they catch you in the lie and you don’t get the job because of that?
    I would much rather lose out on the job because I was being truthful than I would by being caught up in a lie.

  • Justin

    April 13th, 2016 at 11:32 AM

    Unless you are just starting out and going for your first job I think that we all know pretty much which questions are going to be asked in any job interview and there should be a way to prep for them all. I know that there will be a time here and there that they could throw you for a little loop just because I think that there are interviewers who want to see how quickly you can think on your feet. But for the most part I think that within most industries and fields the interviews and the questions should be pretty standard and easyish to prepare for.

  • Raina

    April 13th, 2016 at 4:49 PM

    I remember the very first interview that I went on. I went home crying to my mom because they had dared to ask me my strengths and weaknesses. What? I was shocked. I thought that all they would ask me about was any experience that I may have had in retail, but nope. Here they were asking me to lay it all out for them and I was terrified that I has said all the wrong things and that there was no way that I would get the job.

    Thankfully I was wrong. I got the job, they let me work all through a crazy college schedule and now they have hired me full time in a management position. So all these years later I still remember that horrible interview feeling and am glad that it has led to so many bigger and better things for me!

  • vaughn

    April 14th, 2016 at 7:58 AM

    You need to be prepared for them to ask you pretty much anything, and have an answer for it.

  • Willa

    April 14th, 2016 at 1:59 PM

    Make sure that you do a little homework about the company that you are interviewing with. Take the time to get familiar with what they do, talk to others who may either be employed there or who have gone through similar interview processes.

  • tank

    April 19th, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    Be confident in yourself. Those questions will then have no power at all over you.

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