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How to answer difficult interview questions

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Job interviews are nerve-wracking experiences for most of us. Between trying to sell yourself to a potential new employer, remembering all the research you did and striking the right balance between being friendly and professional, there’s a lot to think about. Then to top it off, the interviewer goes and asks a question like ‘what’s the thing people most often criticise you about?’ 

Employers ask difficult questions for a number of reasons. They want to see how you react to difficult situations, they’re probably trying to work out your strengths and which skills you need to brush up on and crucially, they’re checking to see if you’d be the right cultural fit for the company. The most important question of them all however, is how do you think on your feet, so that you’re not thrown by these tough questions?

Preparation is key

Unless you’re naturally good at winging it, the best thing you can do is prepare for your interview as much as possible. As well as doing your research on the organisation, write out the types of questions you think might come up and practise going over them again and again. It’s a great idea to role play with someone else because they can offer feedback on your answers and give you tips you may not have thought of. 

The different types of difficult questions 

Below are some examples of difficult questions and how you can answer them without getting flustered. 

Personality questions:

  • What annoys you?
  • How do you handle stress?
  • What motivates you?
  • If you could re-live the last 10 years of your life, what would you do?

With these questions, the interviewer is trying to find out more about your personality. Your response will help them to determine whether you’re a good match for the company and whether you’ll fit in well with your team. 

Weakness questions:

  • What’s your greatest weakness?
  • What have you learned from your mistakes?
  • What has been the greatest disappointment in your life?
  • What problems did you encounter in your previous role?

Interviewers love to ask these questions but they’re difficult to answer because the last thing you want to do is say something that could put them off. Despite this, don’t be tempted to say, ‘I don’t have any weaknesses’ or something like ‘I’m a perfectionist.’ Employers don’t expect you to be perfect. They’re looking for someone who can recognise a weakness within themselves and work hard to turn it around. Be honest, positive and focus on solutions. Choose a weakness that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker and then describe how you overcame it. This will allow you to turn the situation around and you could go into how much you’ve developed as a person since you’ve overcome your weakness. 

Previous experience questions:

  • What did you like/dislike about your previous job?
  • What was it like working with your last manager?
  • Who has been your best and worst boss?
  • How has your education prepared you for your career?
  • How do you deal with conflict in the workplace?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • Why do you want to leave your job?

It’s natural that a potential employer is going to want to get a feel for how you handle workplace situations, so make sure you’re prepared for these questions. No matter how qualified someone is for a job, if they’re not the right cultural fit, it’s unlikely they’ll stay long. Always try to stay positive, but also be honest, without trashing your previous employer or boss. For example, when asked why you’re leaving your current job, explain that you’ve loved your time there, but there’s no opportunity for promotion and you’re looking to progress your career.

Quirky interview questions:

  • How many basketballs would fit in this room?
  • What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?
  • Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

Believe it or not, all of these questions have been asked in genuine interview situations. Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer - employers are simply trying to find out more about you, how you react to situations, how you solve problems, if you can respond to changing environments and how fast you can think on your feet. 

A great tip is to get someone to ask you a list of strange questions so you can practice thinking outside the box and responding to something you’re not expecting. If you need help finding your next role or preparing for an interview, get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to help.