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Career Tips

How to answer difficult interview questions

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
March 7, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 9


Illustration of a man in an interview.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Practice your responses to avoid being put on the spot.

You’re interviewing with your dream company, and things are going well. The people are wonderful, and you’re excited about the position. As you wrap up the interview, the human resources representative asks, “Do you have any other job offers?” What do you do? How do you respond to a question that you don’t want to answer?

Be truthful. You can simply answer the question. This is most people’s first inclination, and you may respond before you even take a moment to think. However, this can be costly. If you say you have no other offers, you may weaken your negotiating position. On the other hand, if you brag about having a lot of other offers, people may think you are trying to pressure them.

Refuse to answer. You could say, “I would rather not answer that question.” This response can be blunt, and the interviewer will probably be surprised. The person may start to distrust you and assume you are trying to hide something. Or the interviewer may ask follow-up questions and think the worst if you continue to refuse to answer.

Lie. You could give the answer you think the employer wants to hear, whether or not it’s true. While this might work in the short term, it is almost guaranteed to backfire if the person finds out that you’re lying. This approach is definitely not recommended.

Deflect. Often, the best approach to answering a difficult question is to turn the conversation back to something you want to talk about. For example, you could ask, “Does this mean you are going to make me an offer?” The employer’s instinct will be to answer your question, helping you pivot the conversation in a different direction. Often, the interviewer will never return to the difficult question.

Studies have shown deflection to be an effective strategy, producing better results than simply answering the question; it also makes the respondent more liked and trusted than those who refused to answer.

Be prepared. Other difficult interview questions you might want to prepare for include the following: What is your salary expectation? Do you have children? Aren’t you overqualified for this job? Will your spouse let you relocate? Where else are you interviewing?

Practice your responses out loud, ideally with a friend who will do a practice interview with you. As you become more comfortable with your answers, you will also become more confident in your interviewing skills. Your ultimate goal isn’t getting every answer right; it’s moving the conversation toward a successful result.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (



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