Don’t get caught out with these tricky interview questions

Job interview feature
Job interview – via Shutterstock

Attending an interview can be a stressful situation – after all, this is a big opportunity.

However, practice makes perfect and after just a few interviews you’ll have a good idea of what to prepare for. The trickiest questions are those which put you on the spot by asking for an insight into your personality, working history and career goals. Recruiters want to gain a rounded picture of candidates, including where they’ve come from, their current situation and their potential to grow. Here are just a few things you might be asked:

1. Why should I hire you?

It’s not enough to say that you’re a fabulous employee, you need to elaborate by listing the key skills that make you stand out and providing examples. When faced with this type of question, you need to show that you’re aware of the skills and qualities needed for the job you’re applying to – so pick out things that are relevant to the role advertised. At this point, it’s important to show how you differ from your competition. Do you have a particular area of expertise, for instance? Make sure you communicate the parts of your CV that you’re truly proud of and illustrate outstanding qualities.

2. Why are you looking to leave your current role?

There are many situations which cause people to look for a new job, from stress in the workplace to redundancies and changes in personal circumstance. However, an interview may not be the place to discuss these in detail. If you want to leave because of your new boss, for example, it’s best not to mention this. Recruiters will be looking for red flags which highlight issues with candidates who are unable to work well with colleagues, maintain professional behaviour or cope with difficult tasks. To answer this question, focus on the positives. It might be that you’re looking for a new challenge or you would like to develop a particular area of expertise.

3. Where do you want to be in five years?

This question can be difficult as you need to demonstrate your intent to commit wholeheartedly to the workplace you’re applying for. In reality, nobody knows where they will be in five years’ time, but it’s always good to have ambition. Employers are looking for candidates who are willing to learn, open to development and, with the right support, can boost the way in which they contribute by stepping up to a more senior role. When faced with this question, it’s important to show certainty, so take some time to reflect on your personal goals. Try looking at the positions available in the company you’re interviewing with – can you imagine yourself progressing to other positions in the future?

4. How have you handled a difficult situation?

If you get asked this, choose a situation which reflects well on you as a person. The example you choose to talk about shouldn’t be a disaster of your own making! The tricky thing about this question is that you’ll need to talk about the background behind the situation without apportioning blame, even if the incident was caused by a disgruntled customer or wayward colleague. This is also your chance to show your maturity as a candidate by evaluating the situation, mentioning anything that you’d do differently to improve next time.

5. How do you deal with failure?

There are some questions which seem impossible to answer without painting yourself in a bad light. These include what are your weaknesses? And how do you deal with stress? During an interview, it can be tempting to lie, that actually, you deal with failure really well. In reality, nobody likes failure. In fact, it’s a good thing that success is important to you. The key thing employers are looking for is how you deal with negative circumstances. Do you have the tenacity to rise above this or do you let this overwhelm you? Everyone faces challenges, so show your interviewer that you’re able to self-evaluate, recognising areas for improvement in yourself. Be careful, however. Don’t expose yourself by referencing inadequacies which could affect your ability to do the job you’re applying for.

6. What would your colleagues say about you?

You may have a fantastic relationship with your colleagues, or you may not… either way, this question is about the professional rather than the personal, so you don’t need to talk about how you were the social star of the latest office party. Again, hiring professionals are looking for honesty, as well as your ability to demonstrate self-awareness. When you respond, pick qualities that are most applicable to the role you’re hoping to fill and reference performance reviews or LinkedIn recommendations. Think about how you’ve shown willing to step in for your teammates, go the extra mile to provide support and give helpful advice. If you’ve done your research, you’ll be aware of the kind of culture cultivated at the place you’re interviewing for, which will allow you to adjust your answers to match.

Kate AllenAbout the author

Kate Allen is the MD of Allen Associates, one of Oxfordshire’s leading independent recruitment agencies, that specialises in Marketing, Finance, PA/Admin and HR roles. In 2018, Allen Associates launched their first London office, specialising in Marketing, HR and PA/Admin roles.

Allen Associates also offer guides to businesses, containing top tips to help your recruitment and hiring process. They also offer guides to candidates, to help then with their job hunt.

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