Trickiest interview questions... and how to answer them!

15th September 2016

If you have been asked to attend an interview by a prospective employer, congratulations! You are only a few well-crafted answers away from landing the position.

By now, you should be fully prepped, armed with a stellar CV and ready to succeed. It’s time to step up and focus your attention towards what you will be asked.The questions asked at interview are designed to test your ability to cope under pressure and deliver considered responses which reflect the key requirements of the role. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your suitability and determination for the role, so it’s critical that you take some time to prepare.

Our recruiters have drawn on many years of interview experience to compile some of the most commonly asked questions, along with some suggestions to help you frame your own responses for your interview. 

1. What is your biggest weakness?

Nobody is perfect and we would argue that honesty is always the best policy, but it’s also important to practice diplomacy.  Being aware of your audience will ensure you provide an answer which is professional and reflective.  The interviewer wants to see that you are honest and aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.

How not to respond

“I’m always late.  I just can’t get out of bed in the morning!”

Alternative response:

“In the past, I’ve recognised that I’m not very good at [X, Y or Z]. However, this is something which I’ve identified and am currently addressing to improve on.”

The second response is a better answer because it shows that you recognise your weaknesses but also shows initiative in working to improve upon them.  This is an honest and professional answer which considers your listener.

2. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

This is a trickier question, for which there isn’t really a “perfect” answer, but it’s important to consider what kind of response your interviewer is looking for.  They will be looking to establish what you consider important.  Are you ambitious?  Are you honest? When considering an answer for this question, be honest with yourself and your career goals.

How not to respond:

“In your job.”

Alternative response:

“Ideally, I see myself in a role where I am challenged and my performance is valued.  I have aspirations to manage a team and would like to see myself as a manager within five years, ideally within an organisation which considers my personal development as important as my contribution.”

This answer shows ambition and transparency.  The interviewer will respect your candour and commitment to personal development and that you are willing to work hard to reach your goal.

3. How would your current colleagues describe you?

This is a question designed to put you on the spot and see whether you are prepared to answer a question honestly and justly. The interviewer wants to detect a level of self-awareness here.  The panel can pick out a storyteller and are looking to see whether you are prepared to be open. It’s acceptable to highlight a negative character trait, as long as you can turn it into a positive.

How not to respond:

“Without a doubt, they’d say I’m incredible at my job.  Best employee ever!”

Alternative response:

“They recognise that I’m a hard worker.  It’s known that I’m vocal with my opinions, but I’m always considerate of others and I think my colleagues would say I listen and take on-board any differing views.”

This response projects a professional image, but shows that you can be self-critical.

4. Describe a situation where you have received negative feedback. How did this impact you and your response?

Another curveball!  This time, you’re being tested on your ability to think under pressure and how you deal with criticism.The interviewer is looking for you to show that you can be reflective.  Can you accept negative feedback and bounce back?

How not to respond:

“My boss told me that I wasn’t performing well.  I took this personally and that’s why I’ve decided to look for a new job.”

Alternative response:

“In the past, a manager addressed an area of my performance that they didn’t feel was up to scratch.  While it’s difficult to hear, I listened carefully and asked how they thought I could improve.  With their feedback in mind, I approached it as a project and worked on my performance in this area.  I made a point of checking back in with my manager a month later to follow up.”

The second answer shows that you’re not afraid to recognise your faults and change your performance to achieve results.

5. Why are you looking for a new job?

This is a straight forward question; as long as you don’t fall into the trap of speaking negatively about your current job, employer or manager.  This is a major red flag to the interviewer.  Instead, focus on the new challenges that a change of position could bring and highlight your ambition and eagerness to succeed.

How not to respond:

“I’m sick of the way my boss treats me.  They never give me challenging tasks to support my development and give me no respect.”

Alternative response:

“I’ve spent [X] amount of time in my current role and I’ve learned a lot from this position however I’m really keen to gain new experience and continue to learn and develop.  I love a challenge!”

Our suggested answer has avoided speaking negatively about your current situation without being dishonest.  It shows that you are driven, focused on your career and keen to learn.

6. Give an example of a time when you’ve handled a major crisis?

This question appears tougher than it actually is.  The interviewer is really looking at two things here; your ability to cope under pressure and also to determine what you would consider a major crisis.
Ideally, you want to project that you are a cool character who is capable of remaining calm in a chaotic situation.

How not to respond:

“It’s hard to think of a specific example here. Generally I’m quite level headed and pride myself on just getting the work done.”

Alternative response:

“There was an incident at work which involved some high pressure tasks with short timeframes.  After reviewing the situation, I considered my options and made an informed decision which I thought was best.  Following this, I consulted with my manager to check if there was anything I could have done differently.”

This answer shows that you can calmly make informed decisions in a pressured environment, without adding to the stress. The first answer is best avoided as it doesn’t fully answer the question – the interviewers wants to see that you are capable of identifying that things do go wrong and that you recognise that the importance is placed on getting these issues resolved.

7. How would you review your own performance?

This is an important question as it gives you a great opportunity to showcase your ability to review your performance objectively.  You should demonstrate how you have done this in the past and show how it brought you success.

How not to respond:

“I don’t really tend to measure my own performance.  If my line manager has a problem with my performance, they will tell me.”

Alternative response:

“I am keen to grow and develop so actively seek out feedback whenever possible.  I always try to learn from my mistakes and think that gaining feedback is the best way to improve.  I keep notes and set myself objectives to work towards.”

8. Use three words to describe yourself

Your interviewer may ask this to test your ability to think on the spot.  That said, it doesn’t hurt to have some adjectives already in mind and ready to impress them.  It goes without saying that you shouldn’t use words which paint you in a negative light.  Our suggestions show how to spin a negative into a positive.

How not to respond:

Impulsive, opinionated and ruthless.

Alternative response:

Creative, honest and thorough.

The second response takes the adjectives in response one and removes the negative connotation and instead replaces with positive wording.

9. What kind of working environment do you work well in?

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  Do you work well in a team or are you a lone ranger?  This is the part where your personality is put under the spotlight.  There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer here, it’s more about how you phrase yourself.

How not to respond:

I work better when working on my own with minimal supervision as I don’t like to be micro-managed. I just really like working by myself and find working in a team really awkward but I’ll do it when I have to.”

Alternative response: 

"I work well on my own with minimal supervision but I’m still a team player.  I have worked well in teams in the past and understand the importance of free and open communication amongst colleagues. I am definitely able to adapt to my surroundings based on what is required of me at that time.”

Be open about who you are at work but don’t dwell on the negatives. Show that you can get the balance right between being a team player and working alone. This second response shows that you are versatile and are adaptable. The first response will deter interviewers as it suggests that you are stuck in your ways.

10. Why should I hire you?

This is quite a common question to end an interview with, but nevertheless it can be a tricky one to answer.  By this point, it’s likely that the interviewer will have an idea about whether you are suitable for the role.  This is a perfect opportunity to summarise key points that you want the interviewer to remember you by.  Be careful not to approach this question with arrogance.

How not to respond:

“I’m the best candidate for the job, you won’t regret your decision.”

How to respond:

“I believe I am the right candidate for this role for several reasons.  I have actively demonstrated in my answers and application/CV that I have the capabilities to fulfil the duties of the role.  I am fully committed to personal development and would welcome the opportunity to learn new skills.”

This answer provides evidence to back up your response. It focuses on facts and avoids arrogance.

Those are our top 10 trickiest interview questions, but they definitely aren’t exhaustive. There will always be a curveball question ready to pop up when you least expect it. Above all, we believe that by being honest and taking the time to consider your answer you will be capable of conjuring a reasoned response.

What’s the trickiest interview question you’ve ever been asked?

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