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3 Awkward Questions Interviewers Like to Ask, and How to Respond

October 28, 2019 | By | Reply More

Interview questions


Talking about yourself under pressure is enough to make anyone freeze. Yet, it’s usually the first thing an interviewer wants you to do.

We’ll probably never enjoy being interviewed for a job. In fact, three questions, in particular, are at the top of the Most Dreaded Job Interview Questions list. To help you ace them,

But first, allow me to ask you a question: Who created the modern day job interview?
Answer: Thomas Edison.


Born out of his frustration from what seemed to him like dim-witted interviewees, Edison gave each job applicant a series of 150 questions, tailored to the positions for which they were applying. If you’d read a few of his questions, I promise you would be more appreciative—or, at least, tolerant—of the interview questions most job applicants get today.


Job interviews are seldom enjoyable. There are three questions, in particular, at the top of the Most-Dreaded-Job-Interview-Questions list. They’re written below and, to help you ace them, I’ve explained why these questions get asked and how to answer them.



“Can you tell me about yourself?”

Such a simple question. So simple, in fact, many fail to prepare for how they’ll answer it. No one knows you better than you know yourself, so why bother rehearsing such a no-brainer, right?


Actually, that is one of the most troublesome of all questions. Talking about yourself in a favorable light, under pressure, can make anyone freeze up. And, since it’s usually the first question an interviewer asks, you’ll have three seconds to determine what it is about your entire life, personality, and professional experience they want to hear.



What the interviewer wants to learn

Your answer to this question lets the interviewer quickly get to know you. It helps them warm up a little, too. More importantly, it helps the interviewer discern if you are likeable, can clearly communicate, are well prepared, and present yourself well. 



How to answer this question

Although the interviewer is trying to assess your likeability, avoid including anything personal in your answer unless it relates to the position or enhances your qualifications. For example, if you’re interviewing for an Online Veterinarian Assistant position, you could do the following to combine the personal and professional:



“I have worked with animals for many years. In fact, over the past decade, I have fostered many homeless animals (personal). Talking to people about pet care is something I enjoy and have a lot of experience in.”



One thing to avoid when answering this question is regurgitating your resume. Touch on important points, but don’t just repeat things interviewers have already read. 


Lisa Zhang, a writer for The Muse, suggests using a “Past, Present, Future” structure to answer this question:



Present: Talk a little bit about what your current role is, the scope of it, and perhaps a big recent accomplishment.”


“Past: Tell the interviewer how you got there and/or mention previous experience that’s relevant to the job and company you’re applying for.”


“Future: Shift into what you’re looking to do next and why you’re interested in this gig (and a great fit for it, too).”




Career coach and resume expert, Linda Raynier, writes that when answering this question, “remember to tell a story. Not a life long story, but your professional work story consisting of your work experiences, qualifications and why you’re a good fit for this role.” [Emphasis added.]


As you can see, this “no-brainer” question is more challenging than it appears. But, with preparation, using these tips can help you breeze through with a great answer.



“What was/is your previous/current salary?”

This question can feel like a triple-edged sword. At one end, you don’t want to reveal a salary that may be lower than what you want to receive. At another, you don’t want to give numbers that may exceed their expectations and scare off the interviewer. And at the last end, you don’t want to avoid answering this question, giving the impression you have something to hide. So what to do?



What the Interviewer wants to know

Why do interviewers ask this question? First, they might do it to get a feel of how competitive the salary is for the position for which you’re interviewing. (* See end of post for more information.)


According to Dori Zinn, writing for, “employers ask about salary to gauge the market for your position. If you’re interviewing for a position that’s similar to the one you currently have, a company might look at your compensation as a competitive rate. But not all jobs are created — or paid — equally and fairly.”


Second, they want to figure out if they can afford you. Or, at least, they want to see if everyone is playing in the same league.



How to answer this question

Understandably, your impulse might be to respond, “I don’t wish to discuss it!” But we both know that won’t fly if you’re trying to give off a professional, likeable persona. Doing research is crucial to preparing an educated answer to this question. A bit of calculation will be necessary to ensure you don’t sell yourself short.


To prepare your response, begin by figuring out your professional worth. TIP: Regardless of what your current pay is, what you’re worth is what your answer should reflect. You can get estimates of your worth using helpful tools available online for free. Websites such as and are great places to start. They offer easy-to-use “calculators” in which you enter your job title and location and come up with a salary at market rate. (Keep in mind that not all cities and towns have the same market rates.)


Next, learn about the company to which you’re applying so you have reasonable salary expectations. Start-up and non-profit organizations, for instance, often do not pay market rate salaries. However, they may offer other perks to make a job more rewarding, such as allowing you to work from home three days a week. 


When determining your salary worth, be fair to yourself and the company to which you’re applying. If you’ve done your research, you won’t sell yourself short or scare off the company by being unrealistic with your salary request.



“Why do you want to leave your present position?”

People leave their jobs for many reasons. Poor benefits, inadequate pay, lack of flexibility, or a micromanaging boss are just a few common reasons employees look elsewhere. 


Other reasons could be more individual or personal: a long commute, a lack of diversity, not wanting to work with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, or a lack of opportunity for advancement. Whatever your reason, careful thought needs to go into your answer.



Whey they want to know

This is a very reasonable question. Employers don’t expect that people won’t ever change jobs (they certainly have!); but they want to uncover possible red flags. No matter what your reason is for wanting to leave, put some care into preparing this answer.


“[Employers] want to be certain you’re pursuing a new role for the right reasons and that you won’t bring drama or tension to their organization. They may also want to determine whether you’re serious about changing jobs or whether you’re simply exploring the market,” writes a guest on 


If you already have left your job, an interviewer will want to know if you quit or were fired. If you quit, did you leave on good terms, or did you walk off after some bitter exchange? They want to determine your ability to be loyal to a company. If you were fired, naturally they want to know why.



How to answer this question

It is crucial that your answer be rooted in truth. However, no matter how awful the truth, your response should neutralize it and turn it into a positive.


In her article for, Reasons for leaving a job that won’t scare off interviewers, Dawn Papandrea writes that “many people quit for more personal reasons—because they couldn’t deal with a boss from hell, they felt stuck in a dead-end position, or they were tired of enduring poor treatment. In those cases, you’ll have to find a way to put a positive spin on why you decided to say, ‘I quit!’ when you go on your next job interview.” (Emphasis added)


I cannot stress this enough: Never bad mouth your previous employer, coworkers, company, or job/income during your interview. Doing so most assuredly will cause the interviewer to wipe you clean off the candidate list. 


Give positive answers. Point out how the prospective role is a good fit for you and how you are a good fit for them. “Take the opportunity to share what you’ve learned about the potential new company (demonstrating your interest in the opportunity). Talk about the environment and culture of this company, and how you feel it’s a strong match with your strengths and experience,” writes Beth Colley for



Be prepared

Interview strategies are always evolving, especially as the workforce becomes more global. Interview methods will continue to change; yet the bottom line remains: Are you a good fit for this job and this company? With that in mind, steer every response to the above questions in your favor. Your responses should convince an interviewer that you are, without a doubt, the best person for that job.




* Be aware that in some states, asking about a previous salary is now illegal. However, even within those states, laws are different for distinct types of companies or in various cities. Research is key.


P.S. If a company requires that you provide them with a salary history letter, here is a helpful PDF example from Loyola University Chicago for you to view or download. 




Tell us what you think: What are your most dreaded interview questions?





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Category: Featured, Interviewing, Telecommuting

About the Author ()

Pamela La Gioia has been researching and writing about remote work since the early 1990's. She is CEO/Founder of RemoteWork Source, the leading provider of technical and professional remote career opportunities.

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