The 3 Hardest Job Interview Questions for Young Professionals

Your first job interviews can be nerve-wracking. You’re eager to make a good impression, but you may not feel like you have much experience, either at interviewing or in your professional field. But with a little preparation you can be your best in any interview. Here’s how. 

There are hundreds of potential interview questions you might be asked. The following are tricky because they suggest that you veer a bit into the personal side with your answers.

  1. “Tell me about yourself.”
  2. “What were you paid in your last position?” (Or: “What’s your salary history?”)
  3. “Do you have any questions for me?”

Let’s get into them.

Tell me about yourself

The question might suggest you start with a description of your childhood, then move onto your education and hobbies. Keep it about the work.

Start with a successful moment from a previous position. Here’s an example:

  • “I’ve focused on creating visual narrative that tells a story as quickly and effectively as possible. As an example, I was able to cut a video clip to half its length by identifying an entirely new entry point. My boss told me that it more than doubled views.”

Take that specific example and make it into a statement about a more general strength or ability you possess:

  • “I particularly enjoy paring a story down to its essential visuals so its impact can be exceptionally clear and direct.”

End with what you’re looking for:

  • “I’m looking for a position where I can put my skills to use. I love contributing. But I also love being in an environment where I can learn and continue to advance my skills.”

Notice that most of your answers are about helping them.

What were you paid in your last position?

I recommend not answering this question if at all possible. You want them to evaluate you based on your work and how you present yourself. Your past pay is about who you were before. It’s not about who you are now and going into the future.

Even if you feel forced to answer this question, you want to put off answering as long as possible. So, the first step is to turn it around:

  • “What have you budgeted for this position?”

Then, follow up with:

  • “How did you determine that range?”

You can also honestly say:

  • “I don’t feel that would be relevant information at this point because my skills have improved dramatically—as you’ve seen—since that compensation package was established.”

You can also take the initiative and cite your own research with:

  • “I’ve reviewed the surveys, and, given my experience, I believe I should be paid $___.”

And my favorite answer:

  • “I need to keep my past salary confidential for my employer as well as for myself.”

Do you have any questions for me?

Most people find themselves unprepared for this one. It almost always comes at the end of the interview, and at this point you may be feeling a sense of relief and thinking you’ve survived, it’s gone OK, maybe you’ll even get the offer.

And then they hit you with it, and you’re on the spot to prove you have your own well-developed, insightful and distinctive questions.

The trick is to have own questions prepared in advance. And no matter how enthusiastic you get addressing some of these same topics during the interview, hold back on a few until the end.

By now, you and the interviewer have gotten to know each other a bit. If it’s gone even reasonably well, you’ve likely begun forming some kind of a personal connection.

You could ask general questions about the job, the company or the industry. All of these would be reasonable. But you could further that personal bond with the interviewer by addressing something more individual to them, along the lines of the following:

  • “Why did you join the company?”
  • “What do you like about working here?”
  • “What’s your favorite part of the job?”

And, finally, you can say something like:

  • “You are part of a remarkable organization. Your work in short films is game-changing. I’d like to be a part of that, and I believe I have a lot to offer.”

Bonus tip: A few more ways to respond

Keep these phrases at the ready. You can use them as needed or appropriate in the course of the interview.

  • “Help me understand. …” This is a thoughtful, polite way to ask a question that challenges the other person to clarify something murky without insulting them.
  • “I started on this journey in grade school when I . …” This establishes the depth of your dedication.
  • “In my experience . …” Because everyone, no matter how young or old, has some distinctive experiences of value to offer.

Ted Leonhardt helps creative workers define their strengths and own their value in the marketplace. A designer, illustrator, and former Global Creative Director of FITCH Worldwide, Ted’s specialized approach to negotiation for creatives has been featured in Business Insider, Fast Company, Communication Arts, and HOW Design.