Mastering the tough interview questions

Sep 6, 2019

For most people, the interview process is by far the most stressful aspect of job hunting, but for some it’s absolutely nerve-wracking and, when curve balls are thrown in the mix, even the most qualified and suitable candidates can fall by the wayside and miss out on a golden opportunity.

Robert Hall, Managing Director of Wighthall Collective, a London-based recruitment agency says: “You are never more aware that people are judging you than during an interview and, knowing that they are probably not going to be a walk-over to impress, makes it all the more stressful.

“Unfortunately, much of the success or failure of an interview will hinge on your response to the tough questions, many of which are seemingly simple on the surface.”

Hall says while these “trick questions” are included to detect inconsistencies in applicants answers and nudge them to reveal information they may be trying to conceal they also have a far more practical purpose.

“Such questions are primarily designed to give the interviewer a deeper sense of who you are and to determine whether you are, in fact, a perfect match for the job and not just on paper.
“The most difficult recurring interview questions seem straightforward on the surface, but
there are usually more wrong answers than right and the best way to prepare for these tough questions is to devise answers ahead of time.”

There are various permutations, but these are the most common questions that can trip up the most confident of candidates:

Tell me about yourself

On the surface, this appears to be a basic, open-ended question and it’s easy to assume that you can talk about multiple facets of your life but it’s not – what they want is a concise, two-minute snapshot of who you are and why you are the right person for the job.

It can be a challenge to offer a concise summary, especially early on in the interview if you haven’t yet had a chance to gauge what personality type the manager is seeking.
Proceed cautiously and always relate the answer to the position for which you are applying.
You may be witty and creative with a passion for adventure, but if you are applying for a job as an accountant, they would probably prefer to hear that you are honest, reliable and work well under pressure.

Can you name three of your strengths and weaknesses?

Each job has its unique requirements and the interviewer is trying to determine if you will be able to meet them or if your particular weaknesses will undermine your ability to perform in this particular position.

It’s important that your answers should showcase strengths which align with the required skill set of the job and that your weaknesses should have a positive spin; in other words, mention those that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker and for which a solution is already in hand.

For instance, saying that you find it difficult to say no and are therefore often over-committed followed by an example of how you are working on prioritising and setting personal limits, won’t be as discouraging as saying that you work too hard or are too much of a perfectionist.

Why is there a gap in your CV?

It’s a major red flag for most employers when a candidate has been unemployed for more than a few months and they will want to know whether this was as a result of the applicant’s personal weaknesses or extenuating circumstances beyond the person’s control.

Usually, the best response is an honest one and, where possible, the explanation of an employment gap should include an opportunity for personal growth. Discuss what you learned during this period and how you hope to apply it in your next role.

Where possible, include the ways in which you remained engaged in your profession or industry despite unemployment, whether it was through further education or keeping abreast of the latest industry news.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s difficult to predict where you will be in five years, and not everyone has a long-term plan yet, especially if they are in their 20’s but the worst answer you can give is to tell them that you have no idea or even that you are unsure.
It may indicate that you are directionless and therefore may probably lack commitment to the job and to the company.

Even if you really don’t yet have a fixed plan, let them know that you have done enough self-assessment to know that you are committed to your chosen career and field and that you believe that this company is the best place to build your career.

Don’t choose a future role that’s completely unrelated to the position for which you are interviewing and, if you plan to study further, only mention it if there is some correlation between the course and the job for which you are applying.

Why did you leave your last job?

Unless there is a straightforward answer like being retrenched, many people may struggle with this question because you can’t simply say that your boss was intolerable.

Rather opt for the “it’s not them, it’s me” approach and explain how there weren’t enough opportunities to optimise your strongest skill set or tell them about the assignments you enjoy the most but seldom got to do in your previous job.

Whatever your answer is, it should relate to something that the new job would solve for your personal needs whilst being a skill and attribute that the company needs.

Why do you want to join our company?

This is where candidates often trip themselves up as they typically describe the company instead of explaining why they want to work there and all this shows the interviewer is that they may be adept at online research.

Telling them what you know about the company does not explain why you want to work there, so let them know why the company resonates with you and how it matches your career goals.
Hall concludes: “In order to ensure the best possible success in an interview, it’s essential to be as prepared as possible.

“No matter how many interviews you have under your belt, it’s never a good idea to ‘wing it’, especially when it comes to the tougher questions. Devise your answers ahead of time and remember to focus on their strengths, even if they are framed as faults.