How to answer a tough interview question

In a job interview they ask you a tough question. If you reveal the answer you'll be disqualified. What do you do?

Ramit Sethi

All right, you’re sitting in a job interview and they ask you a tough question. What do you do?

Not “What are your greatest weaknesses?” I already have a word-for-word script for that answer in my Dream Job program.

But an even tougher question: One where you CANNOT reveal the answer, or you’ll instantly be disqualified for the job.

How do you answer?

I just recorded a new video showing you what to say.

Do me a favor by leaving a comment below: What’s the toughest question you’ve been asked in an interview?


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  1. Matt

    I do the lifestyle design thing and love to travel, volunteer, and work outside of my profession in order to gain certain skills or experiences. This results in a resume that either has large gaps if I omit certain positions (sprout grower at a holistic healing center) or lack of direction if I include them. As a result, my tough questions are usually about career direction and focus.

    • Ramit Sethi

      How do you answer? I’ll critique your answer here if it’s helpful.

    • Sue

      Personally, I would highlight the fact that you’re a versatilist and have many interests that provide you with a variety of experiences with each one giving you something new and challenging from which you learn. There are many paths, grasshopper. 🙂

    • Jim

      I would bet you will not be happy in a job where you sit at a desk all day every day, so you should be looking at work which will appreciate your variety. Ideally your profession and passion overlap and allow you to get paid for what you love. If not what you love, at least what fits your personality.

      In any case, you will need to consider the position you are applying for end find ways your multitude of skills will help that company. My guess is a common hook is your interactions with some many different people give you a compassion, or a unique ability to connect with people, speak their language, communicate. All jobs require good communication and ability to work with others, so play up that angle.

    • Cory Huff

      I’ve been an actor, salesman, blogger, product developer, missionary, and account manager.

      My current career position could only be taken on by someone with a weird hodge-podge of jobs like I’ve had. My recommendation would be to look for positions that are ‘cross-functional’ and play up your ability to be in multiple worlds.

      Put all of your stuff on your resume, then write a strong cover letter emphasizing your ability to live in multiple worlds, and how your varied background has prepared you for this position better than any other person.

  2. jonatan

    I love this concept of you answering questions…and the music in the background!

  3. Lian

    Right on the dot Ramit. You would say that many people do not have this problem but Im about to go into an interview and this is very timely.

    Thanks for all your good work. Getting around the globe here
    hugs from Panama


  4. Mystie

    Do you think, given your physical disability you will be able to handle the demands of this job? To answer that I focused on the fact that I was able to overcome all of the challenges I faced to get to the point of being able to interview. But is there a better way to handle that issue when you have a clear and visible disability? Thanks 🙂

  5. Lukas Halim

    That makes a lot of sense – my tendency is to always provide information, regardless of how it makes me look… surely not the wisest strategy. Thanks for video, Ramit!

  6. Rahul

    That was a good one,how do you negotiate the pay rate?

  7. Alex | Perfecting Dad

    Why not answer in a positive way? Something like “I took time off to relax, work on personal improvement, take courses, learn XYZ, stayed at home with spouse worked, etc”. You wouldn’t even have to mention or imply that it was for negative personal reasons. If someone said “Personal reasons that I can’t tell you but resolved.” it’s obviously something bad and embarassing. They definitely didn’t take time off to win a Nobel prize.

    Just my take. Your first question about if there were five equal candidates, the one who had “Secret personal reasons” is probably only a close second to the “Mental health reasons” in being at the bottom.

    • Kuan Yin

      A+ on this comment, Alex.

      I would at least omit “had to” from the script in the video. “I took” is more positive and empowering than “I had to take,” which tells me that you think you are a victim.

      Thanks for getting us thinking, Ramit.

    • Nil

      Totally agree with you more on this Alex. I feel that if the interviewer is pushing you to by asking “can you explain this in detail a little more” in itself means that he/she wants to know what the exact reason was. Now if you choose to say that the issue is resolved that doesn’t answer the question that he is asking in the first place. Even though the interviewer might leave at that by not pushing any further but at the back of his mind it won’t be answer that he was expecting.

      Something more positive personal reason (but not the exact mental reason) will certainly help and will sound genuine.

    • Sue

      Alex has his own group of fans here 🙂 What if you said that you had to take time off for medical issues (rather than mental) and now you feel a lot better? Something like, “You know, I had to take a medical leave, but I feel a lot better now. I’m excited about the next step and I’m ready to contribute to this job!” That’s positive, to Nil’s point.

    • Sue

      I do agree with Ramit though, that mentioning a mental health issue does result in an instant no-hire. It’s not politically correct, and it’s against the law to discriminate on the basis of a prior mental health issue. However, it would be very hard to prove as the employer will simply provide another reason, such as it’s not a good fit, as Ramit mentions. Susan has to sidestep the mental health issue, but tersely saying, “it’s resolved” isn’t going to work.

    • Jason

      Of course the interviewer may not like the evasion. So what? This isn’t a recipe to get every job offer you interview for, it’s a technique to keep you from disqualifying yourself.

      And the positive stuff is fine, if any of it is true or unverifiable, e.g. avoid “I took a course…” if you didn’t. The problem is that it’s not necessarily going to look good if you say you took time off to do a bunch of nebulous things that don’t produce a direct benefit to your ability to do your job (or are otherwise aspirational activities, e.g. travel, which is also verifiable and should be avoided if you didn’t do it). In that case, “Personal Reasons” is something everyone can relate to as something that was needed outside of the job realm and prevented you from participating in it.

      In that light, I have have no problem with the “had to” portion of the response. All that’s important here is that the interviewer themselves imply an external cause for your absence, when “mental health” is seen as an internal cause, and you give no direction either way.

  8. Diane

    Hey Ramit,

    So what kind of answer would you recommend for something like taking a leave of absence during grad school to have a baby? I haven’t been confronted with this question yet but I sort of feel it lingering over my interviews, like they must be wondering if I had a health issue or a personal issue. Of course I don’t say anything about it! But if asked, should I leave it at the general “I had a personal issue” or should I be like “I had a baby!” I am inclined not to say I had a baby.

    • Chavi

      I would totally say “That’s when my son/daughter was born” — as opposed to “personal reasons” which might imply that you are the kind of employee who has a hard time balancing responsibilities and is forever taking off for personal reasons.

  9. Michael

    Near the end of an interview I was once asked by the panel: “If you had to fire one of us here today, who would it be & why?”

    Um…ok? Luckily I happened to know everyone on the panel (the position was for a student leader group at a University) so I somewhat jokingly looked at the Director of the program and said “You. Because someday I’d like to have your job.”

    I don’t think that answer would sit too well with most employers however.

  10. Suz

    That was really helpful. I should spend more time on your site! Thank you!

  11. Dani

    I think I’ve had relatively easy interviews up to this point in my life, but the hardest question I’ve had to field was more of a demonstration than a question.

    I was being asked to explain my favorite Holiday (Halloween) to the panel of interviewers as if they were 7 year old Japanese students. Between the sudden mental leap I had to make and the interviewer’s mumbling voice, I requested for her to repeat the question a few times before I could finally understand what they were saying. By that point, I had worked myself up into nerves from worry that I had irritated them by not being able to easily understand what they were saying.

    Needless to say, I did not get the job.

  12. Susan

    Thanks for the succinct answer, Ramit. Politically correct or not, the world just isn’t ready to accept that some illnesses (such as the one I share with Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln) make one worthless as an employee.

    Hardest question I ever answered prior to the illness (and got skewered for)? “What is the hardest job you’ve ever done?” Naively, I answered truthfully, “Being a single parent–the only 24/7 job that you pay to do.” It’s still the truthful answer, but I’m a little less wet behind the ears now.

  13. Bob

    Thanks for the short and to the point video, Ramit. I thought it was right on target.

    In a recent interview I was asked why I wanted to work for the City of _____. It was a hard question to answer because a large part of my motivation was that I felt like I needed to get out of my business for awhile to get a steady paycheck and I did not want to just say, “I need a job”. The job I was applying for was something I had done before (on a much smaller scale) and I knew I would enjoy most of the work even though it was a big departure from my main career work. I also live in they city in question and have long wanted to do something to “help” my fellow citizens. I felt awkward answering the question because I had not thought through answers that were true but that would also be satisfying to my interviewers. I did not get the position but I am not sure how much of it had to do with that answer; they liked me 30-60-90 Day Plan that I left behind with them. (Are you familiar with 30-60-90 Day Plans?)

  14. Rickard Modig

    Thanks Ramit.

    I had a tough childhood and took a long time to “grow up”. As a consequence i I may always be inexperienced in relation to my age.

    If I’m getting the same question in an interview but it’s not in reference to a 6 month gap in an otherwise decent career, but rather having a long string of failures behind me up until this point, how do I respond to that?

    I’ve always felt sort of alienated from your material because even though I feel like I understand the reasoning behind everything you say and I’m willing to work hard, I’m always carrying this baggage. How do I make interviewers see that I’m willing to work hard to compensate for a lack of experience?

    • Ramit Sethi

      Ok, tell me your potential answers and I’ll critique them.

      (The key behind what I just asked you to do is this: Don’t make the busy person do your work for you. Come to them with options.)

    • Eleanor

      Hi Richard,

      When I read your comment, I was thinking – why doesn’t he cast his experiences in a positive light – eg: you’re a winner because you overcame X, Y, Z and achieved A, B. C so will be able to achieve a lot more.

      For example: “I’ve had to climb some serious mountains in my life and, despite all the difficulties, I came out ahead, did X & Y”. To me it wouldn’t really matter that you’ve not yet found a cure for cancer, but rather that you faced the difficulty and instead of giving up, worked through it and came out ahead, celebrating by (just tossing an activity out there) organizing a local beach clean-up to highlight the importance of collaborative community work or anything that shows you can organize/structure something around a goal (50-person BBQ with special fruit drinks & great DJ to spotlight a new tasty hotdog, anything).

      Good luck!

  15. Shad

    I was asked if I would consider myself an impulsive person.

    I knew immediately that the “question behind the question” was: you seem like a job hopper, are you going to leave me, too, as soon as you get bored? Even though I knew this, the way she phrased it completely threw me off and I was stumped. I jumbled my way through some lame answer.

    I will never get caught in any variation of this question again!

    • Ramit Sethi

      GREAT job, Shad.

  16. Asterix

    Good tip, right on! A lot of people need to learn to have the guts to stand up for their rights, especially in something that has such high stakes as the interview for a good job. And they do ask a lot of personal questions, and sometimes even simple things such as marital status or children could have the potential to disqualify you for certain jobs. Of course, you need to use common sense, for most jobs there would be no need to avoid the answer or you’d look weird, but for the ones where you feel it could make a difference, there is no need to share that personal information.

  17. Iris Delgado

    Thank you for this video, I appreciate the work you do.

  18. Georgina

    I was interviewing for a researcher job and was asked; ” You will be required to guillotine rats and dissect their brains. Is that going to be a problem for you?”

  19. Kevin

    I hadn’t really thought about this much; I have a physical issue with my back, but since I don’t walk around with a cane or show any obvious signs of the problem, I simply put it in the back of my mind. When the question comes up (Always does) about if I can meet the physical requirements of the job (IT) I let them know I am able, which I truly am, I just have to be more careful when doing the lifting now.
    Appreciate the video and explanation Ramit!

  20. mustafeez

    Hi Ramit
    I like your videos and tips for the interview, really more help full… I have a question that i am unemployed for 1 year.. in the same time period i have don some certification, last 3 month back i had an couple of interviewed and i was selected for job. unfortunately what happen is after 2 moth later i got mail saying that the position for which i selected is no more. i just want to ask you how i can answer for the1 year gape…..

  21. sachin khona

    Thanks for the video Ramit!

  22. W at Off-Road Finance

    I tell them the truth and if they don’t like it I go find another job.

    I’ve consistently found that the jobs that don’t want you, you don’t want.

    • Jon

      Your truth and your employer’s truth are two different things. That said, i do see where you are coming from. In any relationship, both partiesmust agree to walk forward together.

      The distinction Ramit is trying to make is to not say anything that clearly will disqualify you. If you clearly not qualified for the job, it will show in your performance anyway. The question that was asked was more abstract in nature; had nothing to do with a specific skill set used on the job. So since it is an abstract question, no problem with providing an abstract answer 🙂

  23. Elizabeth Traver

    I think that’s an excellent answer. It puts the whole thing to rest and you’re not lying. As an employer, when I was interviewing a prospective employee, my favorite question was always, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” I takes people by surprise and told me a lot about a person. Had that person sat down and really thought about their life, had they set goals instead of just following the flow of this J.O.B. and then to the next, etc., until retirement to a comfy chair in front of the TV? What an ugly thought.

  24. Jenn

    “If you won the lottery and didn’t have to worry about money, what would you do?”

  25. Kimberly Houston

    I honestly don’t remember any super tough questions from interviews, but then again, I’m older than most of your audience, so maybe I’ve just forgotten. ; )

    But I did have an interview about a year ago where almost none of my answers were received well, and I know I’m not a total troll — I’m personable and friendly and professional, with good skills & experience — so it didn’t make any kind of sense to me. So it would be good to know how to handle a situation like that if I ever find myself there again.

    So I was interviewing for a job as the manager of a retail wine store, a job which at the time I thought I really, really wanted. Wine has long been my hobby and my passion, I was blogging about it at the time, and thought I wanted a career in the wine industry. Hence interviewing for a low-paying retail job — I could see all kinds of benefits to getting this job. And tasting wine with wine reps at 9:00 in the morning 3 times a week was just the least of it. ; )

    Anyway, the store owner asked me all kinds of questions like, “if someone came in with $20 dollars to spend and wanted a wine to pair with roasted chicken, what would you suggest?” I know my stuff, so I can answer questions like that all day long, and I’ve worked in wine retail before, so I know how to sell a bottle of wine. But he didn’t like my answer to that, or to almost any other question he asked me either.

    At one point he said, “Well, I read your wine blog, and I know you go to alot of wine events and tastings, and then you must have to drive home, and drinking and driving is not very smart,” or something like that. I explained that if I went to a tasting, A., I wouldn’t have more than the equivalent of one glass of wine (a tasting is just that, a “tasting,” not a wine slamfest), and B., I always waited until that one glass wore off before driving. Which was true, but I don’t think he bought it.

    And that’s the least of it — I could go on, but the bottom line is, this was the most confrontational interview of my life, and I walked away from it feeling like crap and wondering what I could have done to antogonize this person so. Which a few days later made me realize that it working for this guy would be a huge mistake, b/c obviously we weren’t a good fit for each other, so I didn’t need to be disappointed if I never heard from him again.

    Imagine my surprise when he called about a week later to say, “Ok, I’d really like to move forward on this thing, so call me.” WTF??? I didn’t return his call. And when he called again a couple of weeks after that, I didn’t return that call either. I should have done the adult, professional thing and called the guy back, but I just . . . I had no idea what to even say to him.

    If I ever find myself in a situation like that again, it would be good to know how to diffuse the bad juju or confrontational energy or whatever you want to call it. So if you have suggestions for that . . . . what should someone in that situation do? I was and am still completely baffled about how it went down, though I was plenty pleasant to this guy even as he was saying “No, I don’t like that,” or “No, I don’t believe in doing it that way” to nearly every one of my answers.

    Sorry this was so long, but I didn’t think I could get across how odd this interview was without describing the details of it.

    • Misty

      It could very well be that he wanted to see how you handled yourself under stress, and in particular, the stress of confrontation. Working in retail requires a person to be calm, professional, and friendly even when customers are being incredibly rude and confrontational, so maybe he just wanted to see if you would be able to handle that?

      Just a thought.

    • Kimberly Houston

      Thanks Misty, that’s a very good insight. I had lots of retail and customer service jobs when I was younger and just starting out in the working world, so you’d think I would’ve thought of that. ; )

      I later found out this guy was having some pretty serious addiction issues (there’s *alot* of alcoholism in the wine trade), and was going to have to step away from the business for a while. Once I found that out, I figured he was argumentative and hard on me because he was about to go away for awhile, and he was worried about having someone else running his business and working with his loyal clientele — which he’d worked very hard to build up over the years. And I get that.

      Still, there were tons of red flags in this interview outside of this guy’s personal issues — and I was right to not pursue the job.

      But if I ever interview for a retail position again, I’ll keep in mind what you said Misty — very helpful.

  26. Tim McGuire

    My toughest question was in a sales interview. The interviewer introduced her self and right off the bat began with “What are your questions?” Now that I am the one doing the hiring and I can tell you that I like it when people bring me questions and know something, anything, about the job they are applying for. Just remember that saying too much in an interview can be as bad as not saying enough.

    • Ramit Sethi

      I like that. Good one.

  27. jeronimo

    I still don’t know what a good answer for: “what is your greatest weakness?” You’re not supposed to mention a true flaw. And saying that you work too hard or are a perfectionist is also frowned upon…so what exactly is expected when this question is asked?

  28. GB

    I was once asked in a job interview if I planned to have any more children. Since I had never mentioned that I had even one child, I was taken aback. The generally snide tone of the interviewer on top of an overall horrible company vibe helped me decide what to say: I told the interviewer that it was an out of bounds question and I declined to answer it.

    I also declined the job offer when she called the next week. That place was nuts.

  29. Stephen

    Curious if this “for personal reasons?” answer has been tested? I think if we are assuming they have no right to get the truth answer, then lying would probably be preferable to being mysterious.

    Here’s what I’m thinking as a interviewer. “She won’t tell me the reason? That’s weird. Well, why? Oh, because she believes I’d disqualify her if she told the truth. I’d better disqualify her.”

    I’d rather somebody tell me they took a sabbatical to see if they had what it took to join Cirque du Soleil or sell dugout canoes on Etsy than start getting mysterious about work history.

  30. Pudding

    Very helpful Ramit, keep up the good job!

  31. Carolynn

    When I’d just graduated college, I had an interview with the president of a privately held company that he’d founded. One of the first questions he asked me was, “Do you plan on having kids?”

    Another interviewer (at a different place!) apparently had a temper. I was warned beforehand by his assistant when she asked me, “Does getting yelled at bother you? Because he yells a lot. But don’t take it personally.” During the interview he asked me my personal opinion about Israel and Palestine.

    I don’t even remember how I answered these, save that I was flabbergasted and did not pursue these jobs. I think sometimes people forget that the employee is interviewing the employer too, not just the other way around.

  32. Sierra

    I’ve been self-employed in a creative industry for almost 10 years. It’s been a constant struggle to make ends meet and, even though I have very mixed emotions about it, I think I’m ready to get a full-time job. Financially speaking, I NEED to get a job to pay the bills and some debts. Medical benefits would be nice too.

    I have an interview next week for a position that’s related to my industry and I’m anticipating some questions about why my business wasn’t more successful and why I want to give up on it.

    The honest answer is I lack the self-esteem to properly promote myself, and working alone gives me complete freedom and zero accountability, which can be a dangerous combination.

    So I have trouble reaching my goals entirely on my own and I think I might be more successful in a team environment that still provides a level of independence that I desire. The job I’m applying for would offer that by allowing me to work from home or on the road a few days a week.

    So what’s the best way to answer questions like “why is your business failing” or “what’s your five-year plan… will you leave this job in a year or two and go back into business for yourself”?

    Thanks very much.

    • Sue2

      “Why is your business failing?”
      Redirect the question: The business is great, but I’m ready for a change and when I saw this position I thought I was a good fit for this position. I’m confident I can bring a lot of the talent that I have cultivated over the years to this company and help in creating many successes.

      What is your five year plan? Do you have one? If you don’t, redirect.

      Will you leave this job in a year or two? Redirect. I think this is the kind of job I will continue to thrive in and look forward to contributing to the company long term.

      My suggestions anyway.

  33. Ashling

    I was once asked, “If you could be any car, what kind of car would you be and why?”

    Seriously?! I looked out the window and saw a Pathfinder rolling by, so I said a Pathfinder because it’s rugged and blazes its own trail. The interviewer said, “Really?! I would picture you of more as a ‘porsche’ kind of girl, that’s really cool.”

    Needless to say, I didn’t accept the job when they offered it.

    • Ramit Sethi

      I heard the same question — but a different variation — on the Jenny Jones show once. The answer was pure genius.

      Question: What kind of fruit would you be?
      Answer: A kiwi.
      Question: Huh? A kiwi?
      Answer: Duh. I’m hairy and exotic.

  34. Kayla

    As a counselor and mental health advocate, I thInk this is a great answer. It’s friendly, non-confrontational, and responsive. When it comes to explaining long leaves of absence for health issues (any issues, not just mental health ones, in my opinion) to an interviewer, less is definitely better.

  35. Balachandra

    A few months ago I left a decent job mainly because my Team Leader did not have enough faith in me. The work was done on time, the client side was happy, even the boss of our company was happy with my performance but my TL had other opinion about me. I told my boss that it becomes very difficult to deliver the goods when the TL does not trust you. He told that he understood but supported his TL. Of course the TL was one of his dark horses but office became hell since that day. I left my job in a few days.
    Any way the common question I am facing from new interviewers is “Why did you leave your previous job?”. The answer: Me and my TL had a communication gap. Most of the time I received mixed reaction from interviewers. Could you think of a better answer?If yes then please help. Thank you.

    • K00kyKelly

      You could say you were being bullied by your team lead and had to get out of the situation. You might even say that you aren’t sure if you had handled that the best way but that you had never experienced something like that and weren’t sure what to do.

    • Will

      I have never found that coming down on a previous employer or management team has been positive. I also left a previous job because the management team were not responsive to many employees suggestions or complaints. I usually respond with something, “Although I enjoyed my time at X company, there was a lack of opportunity to grow within the company (true because of the team lead not trusting you), and I am looking for a company which will better suit my career goals.”

  36. cass

    Q: what’s the thing that frustrates you the most ( in context of contract project management interview….PMs are supposed to alwaye stay calm so the answer has to reveal yes there are frustrations but you simply expect and deal with them….. ?).

  37. Marty

    I have benign MS. People dont understand it. I keep myself heathy and have had no sick days for 4 years. I can run up and down stairs fitter than many. Yes there is a risk I could have an episode but then a few drugs and you are back at work, limping maybe but productive. I never take employer funded health care.

  38. Marie Selarque

    I liked your answer as it just sets boundaries without aggression. It also shows that you can keep something personal under some stress which would please me as a potential employer.

  39. Michael E

    There are only three interview questions that matter:

    1. Why do you want to work here?
    2. Can you do the job?
    3. Will you fit into our company?

    When you have done your research, you can answer these questions. If they persist in asking questions other than these three, go back to question #1.

    For Mystie, rather than answer their question, you should have asked, “Are you in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act?” If they want you, they will make the accommodations necessary to help you work, if they don’t want to make the accommodations, go back to question #1.

    With all due respect, people, you are not supplicants for the job. “Oh, please! Oh, please! I’ll be a Gumby so you will hire me!” If you feel like you have to beg, cheat, dissemble or change your personality to get the job, go back to question #1.

    Bob! You let them take your work and not compensate you for it?? And you used to be a business owner??

    Dani: Were you being hired to explain Halloween to 7 y.o. Japanese students? If yes, then you should have been prepared. If not, then go back to question #1.

    The only person so far for whom I have much sympathy is Rickard Modig – I’ve had similar troubles. Here is how you deal with a lifetime of failures:

    *Write down everything you’ve done that you consider to have been a failure.
    *Examine it, and ask why you think it was a failure.
    *Think about what you are –actually capable of doing– that would change it from a failure into a success.
    *Prepare yourself to do that next time.

    If there is nothing you could have done differently with your knowledge, skills and abilities at the time, then it is not a failure, it is a success, because now you know what knowledge, skills and abilities you need to learn to succeed in that situation in the future. If you do not wish to acquire that knowledge and those skills and abilities, then it is still not a failure, because have learned to avoid those situations in the future since they are a waste of your time.

    Here is how to overcome low self-esteem:

    *Start with a series of easy wins.
    *Congratulate yourself on your success. Really love yourself for them.
    *Add somewhat more difficult challenges.
    *Congratulate yourself on your success. Really love yourself for them.
    *Add even more difficult challenges.
    *Congratulate yourself on your success. Really love yourself for them.
    *Keep going.

    The point Ramit is making with the video above, I believe, is that should you come upon an inexperienced interviewer who would ask such a pointless question (like the interviewers Michael had to waste his time with), the best way to answer is to say what Ramit suggests: “I dealt with something. It’s over.”

    Except Ramit forgot to include the follow-on to get the interview back on its real purpose, “Let me show you how hiring me will improve your bottom line…”

    • Susan

      It might help Rickard Modig deal with a lifetime of failures by studying some very successful people–for example Abraham Lincoln. He was a failure in so many vocations before he finally found his niche. He was even considered a horrible orator (he had a high, squeaky voice and barely talked for a few minutes)–yet how many of us in the USA can remember at least the opening to his Gettysburg Address?

      You can also look into how many failures it took to find the right filament to use in an electric light bulb. Sometimes failures are just steps you take to find out what doesn’t work that lead you to the path that does work.

  40. Michel - from Europe

    Ok I have to answer this one. Here is what I (try to) answer:

    First, I didn’t need to work for a living (true, I am on community support and i don’t need to tell how crappy that life is).

    Second, I was not interested in working (true, I was too busy with my inside thoughts and surfing the internet).

    Third, I had other activities (true, I am giving private lessons and helping people with computer issues and I don’t need to tell that it’s only a few hours here and there).

    Fourth, I was busy with learning new skills (true, I just had a training with Citrix software but that argument can backfire as I certainly don’t have enough qualifications given the length of time i haven’t been working)

    Fifth, I speak about the positive actions that happenned in the last *months* or weeks so that the previous years don’t come into play. If you don’t have any positive things to bring to an interview, work on that first.

    As you can see, I try to be positive with the situation even though it was a very negative situation in my life. Will it work ? I think it will, there is a demand for my skills right now. Now if I could stop avoiding interviews, that would help.

    What I don’t like with the solution you provided in your video is that it leaves the interviewer guessing, it closes the communication channel and creates a distance between both. Some interviewers might want to push you until you have to close but the goal should be to create a relation and even to seduce the interviewer.

    Best wishes,

    -Michel (from Europe)

  41. Betty

    I had to leave my job because of PTSD stemming from a sexual assault that was perpetrated by a coworker… kind of a nightmare scenario to skirt around when interviewing. The counselor I worked with suggested saying that I had taken a leave to care for a family member who was ill, but that they had made a full recovery and that I was excited to rejoin the workforce now. It was true, strictly speaking, and other than people commenting that they were glad my family member was back in good health, did not seem to elicit further comment or questioning on the interviewer’s part.

    • Kacie

      I was thinking the same kind of answer, too, Betty.

      Or what about saying “a loved one” instead of family member.

      And whoa. I am so sorry what happened to you, and I’m glad you sought counselling and are recovering.

  42. Tulio

    How many ping-pong balls can you fit in a 747?

    The interviewer wanted to know how I structured problem resolutions. The answer I gave was: the plane has around 100 yards of length by 10 of diameter, you can probably fit 10000 balls per yard of plan, so you would fit 1.000.000 balls in a 747. The numbers don’t mater, it’s all about structuring the problem.

  43. Michael E

    I’m not trying to take over Ramit’s blog, but I have been working longer than Ramit has been alive, so I have dealt with most of what you-all are asking about.

    Balachandra asks a version of the question about what to say when you have left a job because of a crappy manager.

    Never. Never. Never say anything negative about your previous work, previous employers, previous managers or previous colleagues. Never. Never.

    The only acceptable answer is, “Because I wanted to be more successful doing X (where X is the thing you will do for your new employer to improve their bottom line) and I see that by doing X with you, I will improve your bottom line. Here is how hiring me will make you look like the most savvy business leader on the planet, Madame Manager …”

    Notice that you do NOT say, “I wanted to be more successful doing X, and they were not doing it,” or, “I found the situation limiting,” or, “I had reached my highest level.” Nothing negative ever.

    Here is the underlying message to everything you say in an interview, the “answer behind the answer,” so to speak:

    I excel at doing X.
    You are doing X.
    I want to do X with you.
    Hire me and you will become rich.

    • Trevor

      Michael, Trouble with some of your answers is that if I was your interviewer I would ask you ” if you’re so good, how come you haven’t made yourself rich or improved your bottom line to the point of sitting on a beach in Florida, instead of sitting in that chair opposite me”.

      No offense, it’s just I’ve heard all the “contribute to the bottom line” stuff before. I like Ramit’s approach of telling a story like ” it’s funny you ask that …..”(see one of his other free videos).

  44. Erica

    What’s the best way to answer a question when you’re asked about your level of knowledge about a topic? For example, if asked in an interview what I know about ajax (or other software development technology). If I know next to nothing and don’t want to disqualify myself, what’s the best way to phrase this?

    • Lukas

      Be honest – say that you do not know it.

  45. DeeDee

    Seems to me that leave of absence for personal reasons=sabbitical for personal and professional growth coaching! After all isn’t that what happens when you go see someone about your mental state then you feel better?

  46. Stanley Lee

    Are there any cases where the hiring manager would keep pressing on for an explanation when the candidate stated “I’d prefer to leave it at that. It was a personal issue and now it’s resolved.”? As in they are trying harder to disqualify the candidate than you think.

  47. Rickard Modig

    “Ok, tell me your potential answers and I’ll critique them.

    (The key behind what I just asked you to do is this: Don’t make the busy person do your work for you. Come to them with options.)”

    Point taken.

    This is more of a strategy level question than tactics, I’ll understand if that’s not what you’re interested in right now.

    My old strategy has been what most people advice, try to cover up my past and make plausible but thin excuses. Stretch out school and employment further than they actually cover. Definitely not lie, but try to avoid the issue.

    I later changed to being very honest. Acknowledging my meager employment history before it’s even brought up to assure the person that I’ve got nothing to hide.

    Option #3 would be to do what you advice in your video, to say I’ve had some personal issues but I’ve resolved and put them behind me.

    #1 and #2 feel like very weak positions, especially #1. The problem with #3 is that in my case I’ve got such an unimpressive work history that not somehow explaining it could lead people to assume even worse things than mental health issues.

    Should I still go with approach #3?

  48. Sue2

    I don’t know if you’d consider it ‘tough’, but it was sort of off the wall to me for the position I was interviewing. I was asked how I would determine how many gas stations were in a one mile radius for the State of Nevada. Huh? Deer in headlights. The manager claimed it was to show my thought processes. Okay, but WTH? I gave her several scenarios. Still think it was an off the wall question and I couldn’t relate it with anything to do with the job. You know, sometimes the interviewee is just better off walking away from some opportunities.

  49. Judith

    As a long-time hirer I think Ramit’s answer to this tough question is right on.

    Toughest question I ever got asked followed on a preliminary question, so I knew it was coming: Why did you leave your previous position? True answer: the position was eliminated. Toughest question follows: why was the position eliminated? (Underlying question: Was it just to get rid of you, and if so why?)

    I answered truthfully: I didn’t know as I wasn’t told, but I had to assume that it wasn’t because of my performance, as I’d received a raise every year and a promotion in that position. The interviewer wanted to know if he asked my previous supervisor about the job ending, what that person would tell him (still trying to get at an “underlying reason”; I said that he was welcome to but I couldn’t speak for that person as I literally didn’t know more than I had said.

    Sticking to the truth, and not going into some long personal story or guessing at people’s motivations, is the best plan. I can’t tell you how many people want to tell me a long sad tale, when I just want a brief, professional answer to the question.

  50. Mary X

    How about this one, Ramit:
    Over 20 yrs ago, when I was young, vulnerable, in an abusive relationship and from a horribly abusive childhood, I made some mistakes and now have a non-violent felony on my record. I was also homeless for a spell and did whatever I had to to survive, which led to three ’embarrassing’ misdemeanor arrests and two convictions. However, I haven’t been in any trouble whatsoever for 24 years now. How would you explain that one?



  51. Rickard Modig

    Michael E and Susan – thanks for weighing in on my situation!

    My life experiences have forced me to really work on how I mentally deal with challenges and “failures”. These days I’ve got a black belt in Liking The Hand I’m Dealt and I’m a master re-framer. I’ve read a few books.

    I move on from “failures” quickly, don’t identify with mistakes and see opportunity in adversity. It’s really only when I get tested that I get a chance to evolve. Right now I’m employed part-time and people are really noticing those qualities about me.

    But it’s hard to sell this advantage to a potential employer. It’s a bit abstract, while being away from the job market for a long time is very concrete.

    Michael, if you have more reflections on how to overcome this challenge you’d be most welcome to email me. I’d be glad to have your advice.

    • Michael E


      Just to get started, I suggest you read everything that Ramit posts on his blogs – automating your daily life gives you more free time for important things. Next, read everything on these two websites:

      Ask the Headhunter
      No Shortage of Work

      And, I suggest reading Steven Covey’s “7 Habits…” and Tim Ferriss’ “Four Hour Work Week” (and the related blog).

      What I DON”T suggest is trying to slavishly follow their systems, but figuring out how they can be adapted to you and your life the way you want to live it. Don’t treat any of these folks as gurus (especially not Ramit [wink]) but as advisers.

    • Rickard Modig

      Thanks Michael!

      I’ll be checking out those two blogs. I’ve already read the other material you recommend but maybe it’s time for a re-reading.

      I try not to believe anything too much, I’m just looking for maps that are useful. Thanks for taking the time to help out!

  52. Ani

    Great. Simple and shut mouth.


  53. Erik Holguin

    Ramit. I like these videos. Thanks for all the great info.

  54. Ryan

    The toughest question I ever had asked:
    What is the one thing your coworkers would say about you that you would disagree with?

    • Chris R.

      They would probably say I’m kind of a nerd. The truth is, I really just like to go DEEP in what I’m learning, so I understand it, inside and out, so I can help my customers better!

  55. Jessica

    The most oddly specific question I ever got was, “Please share 3 strengths and 1 weakness you have when you are problem solving as part of a team.” I already had some strengths and weaknesses in mind and was able to talk about how those would play out in a team problem-solving scenario, tying in an example from my story toolkit of working on a team. I talked to several older, more experienced professionals afterwards who said they’d never been asked, or asked, such a specific interview question.

  56. Annika S

    My toughest interview question is “do you have experience in X software or Y task” – I’m trying to move out of hospitality and into reception/admin, but employers don’t like the fact that I have no office experience.. I try to turn it around by saying “no, but I have done Z which is similar/means I can easily learn how to do the tasks you mentioned.”
    Would appreciate any other reframes of this answer though!

    • Niclas Johansson

      “No, but I have had the opportunity to learn Z as well as A, B and C (etc) software/tasks before, and I love learning and mastering new things. I always want to learn the best way possible to do things.”

      Could be an even more clear way to show that you’re ready to learn and adapt.

  57. Jessica

    Toughest interview question requires some backstory. The online application for a job requested a cover letter and answers to essay questions, and a resume was optional. I uploaded my resume anywhere. Then there was the standard long online application, most questions marked as required and some not. I filled out everything except the non-required job experience and education section, since that was already on my (non-required) resume. When they first contacted me about the position, they said my application was “incomplete” and told me to go in and fill out the missing portions (aka copy/paste from my resume).

    Then in the interview, one of the interviewers brought up the “incomplete” application and basically asked me if I was always that careless with forms. Since I am often praised for being a super-organized, detail-oriented, and thorough person, I was momentarily stunned and didn’t know what to say. I brought up several examples from previous jobs of when I had needed to be detail-oriented, but felt like I was stuttering like an idiot, as I’d never had to defend that aspect of my work before!

    Lesson learned: Fill out every part of every form, even if the information is duplicative.

  58. Jaicidi

    Have you been working out Ramit? I notice some developed traps there. Seems like someone’s being taking tips from buddy Mr. Ferriss.

  59. Diane

    I was interning at a magazine in editorial with big inflated dreams of being THE editor of the NYTimes or other publication someday. But since times were tough, I took my friend’s advice/favor and interviewed at a top PR firm in the city. The woman interviewing me was an alum from my college, so I thought we’d get along great. Then she said, “So, you’re interested in joining us? What would you say if your current employer came you and offered you a job? Would you still say no?”

    ??? I took it from that question that she didn’t like me and wasn’t going to hire me regardless of what I said. Plus, my current job, while not perfect, offers 1/3 less hours with an additional $13K salary per year compared to their offer.

  60. Jonathan

    A difficult question that I have learned to answer is a variation on ‘You’ve had a lot of jobs and seem like a job hopper. Why would we want to invest time and energy into hiring and training you if you’ll just move on when you get bored?’

    My answer goes something like ‘I’ve had many experiences in a variety of industries that I believe make me a better candidate because of all the skills I’ve learned. I thrive when I’m learning and taking on challenging situations. If I’m not learning and growing then I feel I’m doing myself, (and whoever I’m working for) a disservice but the benefit is that I’m highly adaptable and have many experiences to draw from.’

  61. Akruti Patel

    I ( am Indian) was recently asked by the hiring manager if I like working for Indians as we were finishing up our interview. So it was more of yes or no answer rather than giving a story. So I said ‘yes I do’. She didn’t say anything but just smiled. I wasn’t sure what she wanted to hear, but gave an honest answer.

  62. Michelle

    Hardest interview question I was asked was Why I was unemployed for such a long time……………My answer in my head was “obviously because no one would hire me” but instead I said some thing like “well there really have not been many responses to my resume for my particular job description”…………..PS I live on a small Caribbean Island.

  63. Maverick

    Simple but effective. It’s fun to play their (employers) game sometimes. Remember…..don’t be too honest….cos straight trees are cut first and honest people are scr… First.

  64. Charlene

    “Give me an example of a situation where you faced a problem and used lateral or creative thinking to overcome it.” Threw me for a loop for a moment before I managed to recover but because I hadn’t adequately prepared for this specific question, had to think for a bit and come up with an example that wasn’t so great.

  65. Ella

    Wow! I’m rally learning a lot from you Ramit. Thank you for sharing these tips! All the best! 🙂

  66. Naren

    Loved it, snappy and direct!!!

  67. Hector

    My toughest question would be when they were trying to test my retention power and I was asked certain simple questions but in a flurry and then asked to answer them. There were around 12 questions asked in one breath and I could only answer 6-7. Very nice video !!

  68. Kome

    Ramit, this is a real home school.
    I’ll continue to look in for update and comment. Thanks.

  69. Robert Almajean

    Hi Ramit,
    How can I position myself when interviewing for a job in US or UK and I am asked about the time spent building my own company in Romania and which turned out to be a failure after 3 years. Basically what happens is that most of the companies try to disqualify the experience and the transferable skills I might have got here. The company was a software development one for which I wasn’t even an employee…I relied on dividends to get money out. The money we made kept the company just above survival line.
    I’ve tried to go around this by emphasizing the courage, boldness and positive attitude one might need to tackle such a tough market at a young age (I did this immediately after undergrad school) but not very successful.

  70. Johan Bastiaens

    The toughest question I was ever asked in a job interview:

    “If you had to interview me, what would you ask me?”

    PS. Comments were already closed on that one, but here’s my reply to Cal Newport’s recent guest post on IWTYTBR:

  71. David Favor

    Better answer for resume gaps…. I was taking a long overdue vacation… Just leave out the part about the straight jacket + meds.

  72. David Favor

    Toughest interview questions (back when I use to work for others…) were always tech related, as I was writing code for the highest bidder.

    Rather than missing a $100+/hour contract because of some random language syntax error or any other question… Here’s my stock answer…

    “I got no clue. That’s what reference manuals are for. If you’re looking for someone’s who’s memorized every scrape of C++/Perl/Java/Whatever syntax, I’m the wrong person. If you’re looking for someone who can interact easily with customers and anyone in the company food chain… and can use a reference manual index to look answers… I’m your guy…”

    It’s great fun to watch the interviewer’s expression when you start saying you have no clue of how to answer their questions… 🙂

    By the way, this worked every time for me.

  73. Paulette

    Ramit – Very good, short but truthful answer to an awkward question. Thanks for posting the video.

  74. Edward Antrobus

    The question that always stumbles me: why should we hire you over a more experienced candidate?

  75. Anna Goldstein

    Great advice. In this case less is more. Also make sure that your energy is comfortable with the question and answer.

  76. Fiona McBean

    I like how you phrased your answer to a very tough interview question. Very concise and straightforward.

  77. V

    Ramit, this a very classy way of answering this type of question. I look forward to seeing what other interview answer options you end up providing.

  78. N Dente

    Excellent verbage for that question!

  79. Dee

    I’m an MBA, and I’ve been asked:

    The Interviewer:
    “These days, when hiring MBAs, I know I’m getting hardworking, keen and smart people. Those are baseline for me. What do you have that is over and above those characteristics?”

  80. Marcus

    About 10 years ago in my first ever medical school interview which I failed completely I was asked what I would do in the following example scenario:

    “An elderly patient who is active and able but who doesn’t have full control of her mental faculties is refusing to take medication that you have prescribed for her condition… what do you do?”

    I was stumped and simply replied. “I don’t know.” – exactly that! – “I don’t know.” The current medical student who part of the panel of 4 slumped her head on to the table making no attempt to hide her disappointment at my response.

    I later learned the correct answer but also that rather than saying “I don’t know,” I should have said something along the lines of, “I’m not sure what I would do, but I’m hoping that the I can find the answers to such challenging questions by studying here.”

    Needless to say I aced my next medical school interview – I learned the hard way to prepare meticulously for every possible question and, contrary to my previous interview, I left knowing that I’d got in.

  81. hadi

    I dont know how can i answer a question such as: “Have you ever been sentenced to jail? and why?” if i say yes, they’ll trust me not anymore! if i say no it’s the toughest part for me because i was.

    • hey


    • ROSSCO

      Ask them to share one of their experiences on the subject first 🙂 hhaaha

  82. sharmarke

    very helping answer in a tough interview panel. It’s straight forward and leaves no room for the interviewer to ask more! Thank you so much and i’m still loooking forward for more of such questions.

  83. Iva

    I was at an interview with 2 company psychologists.
    They asked me to describe a situation at a previous job I didn’t handle well.

    There were more of these. The two of them were like good cop – bad cop. One sympathized, the other asked the tough stuff. There were a lot of questions like that one. In the end, I got a job offer, but I think I’ll be scarred for life.

  84. anne

    very concise and non confrontational

  85. A. Al-Semery

    Once i was interviewed for a position at an aviation company, the CEO of the company asked me this question, not once, not twice, but at least 4 or 5 times!!!

    Q- why do you want to work here?

    an easy enough question to answer, but then.. when asked a second time.. and a thrid & a fourth & fifth time…. you start wondering, is this guy crazy, or does he have alzheimers or what !!? turns out the job was a position for customer service so they wanted to test my patience !! 😉

    How would have you handled the situation ?? even after saying, you just asked that question, they would say, yes, but you really didn’t convince us why! LOL… A-holes !!

  86. Michael

    Thanks for the information. We often forget that we are in complete control when it comes to answering questions. As long as we are professional and respectful of the other person, the response Ramit gave is perfectly acceptable.

    My question is, how would you handle illegal questions like “how old are you” or “are you pregnant?” Also, anything having to do with health information should not be brought up in an interview unless it prohibits you from performing the job with or without reasonable accommodations.

  87. Gurjit Soggi

    Simple but effective.

  88. Faith

    How about this situation if a prospective employer who has offered you the job and is checking your references….they insist on speaking to your current or a past supervisor you do not want them to talk to. They insist it is their policy and they have to talk to the supervisor….even though you have given them plenty of references from Board members to other supervisors. The one you don’t want them to talk to is unethical and doesn’t like you because you made a complaint about sexual harassment. How do you handle an employer that insists? You can’t tell them the truth because they will assume you are a problem employee.

  89. Lanilta

    That is one of the smoothiest curtious ways to answer a personal question without taking yourself out of the consideration pot.

  90. Chris

    I haven’t had very many tough interview questions. Most of mine have been pretty basic.

  91. omississimo

    the hiring manager asked me to describe a tough situation i was in and how i got out. the best example i though of had to do with the person this hiring manager fired earlier (this was an internal opening)

    i talked through it w/out naming names but they figured out who it was… we had a good laugh about it…and then i didn’t get the job.
    not because of that or whatever but because the hiring manager’s friend got the job.

    anyways, i may need to come up with another tough work situation in the future that is more neutral in terms of ppl involved, lol!

    • omississimo

      to clarify, this wasn’t a job opening for protective services, in case you are wondering. this is all IT.

  92. Pat

    I was asked an interesting question by a potential manager. My previous several years had been spent as the owner of a niche consulting company, and the hiring manager asked me: “You are used to being the boss in the organization. How do you think you would succeed at being in a situation where you are not the boss?” (I think she asked this partly because I was older than she, and wanted to be sure I would respect her position as the boss.)
    I replied: “Actually, as a consultant, I am never the boss; I always report to the person who engages my help, and it is critical that I know how to take direction from that person. I have never had a problem with it.”

  93. Daniel McBane - Funny Travel Stories

    The toughest question I’ve gotten is, “Why do you want this job?” I know everyone gets that one, but personally, I’ve never interviewed for a job I actually wanted. I’m convinced that job doesn’t even exist. I needed a lot of the jobs because I like to eat and sleep indoors, but I didn’t WANT any of them.

    • Ramit Sethi

      This makes me really sad. You’ve never interviewed for a job you wanted? Why not?

  94. Jon

    I notice people are trying so hard to make themselves fit into a situation that they may not be the best fit for. Ramit was focused on a question that clearly had nothing to do with the actual job performance, but could set off a red flag unnecessarily.

    Obviously if you cannot perform the regular tasks of the job (and you lie about it), you will be found out and eventually fired or forced to learn the task somehow.

  95. Phne

    Ramit, I think there’s a psychological issue here that also needs to be addressed: shame.

    My toughest interview question was at a law firm: they simply asked why, despite my being an otherwise straight-A student with a great academic record, an Oxford degree and a Master’s, I had barely managed to pass my post-grad law qualifications. I knew this would come up eventually, and the difficulty in answering it was not about coming up with a reasonable, plausible answer that would convince and reassure the interviewer, but in allowing myself to make an excuse for this large blemish on my academic record, because I was so deeply ashamed of it that I felt I deserved to be punished for it by screwing up the interview and not getting the job.

    I imagine lots of people struggle with this because the toughest question for most people is generally going to be something that makes them feel guilty/embarrassed/ashamed etc.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Good comment. Really good. P.S. What is this emotion, “shame”?

  96. Aaron

    Ramit, this is a great piece of material for me. I’m an ex-Marine and I’ve had difficulty adjusting since I’ve been out of the Marine Corps. I was injured in Iraq in 2007, and mentally, I’m still getting over it. Everyone who knows me knows that I am intelligent and that I work hard. Just looking at the gaps in my history, it makes my work ethic seem questionable. This is a great answer to an incredibly hard question that I HAVE had to answer before. Thanks for this!


  97. Sonja

    Nice job on those quick interview tips!

  98. Gary Coutard

    The toughest question I’ve been asked in an interview was “Tell me a joke.”
    Simple as that, and wasn’t even a question. A scarily effective way to catch you off-guard, break down any type of mental preparation you had performed prior to the interview and to witness the individual’s character flaws.

    I stammered and paused “thinking of a good joke” for about 30 secs then delivered what I consider the worse punch line in the history of man.

    PS. I hated that interview, and hated myself in that interview, but learned from it. Lesson: Interviewers are people too, they have their life outside work and they don’t want to hire some “poser” that looks good on the interview only to fulfill his greatest fears when you suck at the job and cause him stress.

  99. sharaleenb

    I have found your material helpful thankyou,

  100. Jonnah Chris

    Good article. a very big thank you to the writer. I am preparing for one interview that has made me surf the internet for possible questions i could be asked. I really found your video interesting.

    I also found a website that compiled 64 interview questions and how to answer them in the following link; . Just feel other readers of this website might benefit from it too.