Interviews are always a stressful experience. No matter how prepared you are, you never know exactly what you’re being judged on – from the shine on your shoes to how long you hesitate before answering a tricky question. Luckily, we can share a few tips for that last one…

The bad news is that there are no golden bullets here; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for those tough interview questions. The good news is that planning ahead will help you to organize your thoughts before you even set foot in the room, as well as help you think on your feet in the heat of the moment.


This Isn’t About You

Some interviewers won’t hesitate to trick you into exposing your weaknesses – and even make a point of it. Don’t feel hostile or take it personally. Believe it or not, but this isn’t about you. They’re just trying to find the best candidate for their company and won’t hesitate to break a few eggs to make that omelette, as the saying goes. Sometimes, it almost doesn’t matter what you say – it’s more about how you respond under pressure. Stay cool, not frosty.


It’s All Part Of The Process

It’s crucial to remember they’re asking tough questions probing for weaknesses to differentiate between candidates with closely matched qualifications, experience and potential. It’s all part of the process. But as you’re rolling with it, it’s even more important to work out why they’re asking that question.

If you can understand the reason they asked a tough question, then you’ll have a better chance of responding effectively. You won’t have much time for armchair psychology, but most tough questions are usually based on historical problems for the employer or concerns about your past, so it can be effective to backwards engineer the question, what problem it suggests and how you could be seen as a solution.


The Six Most Common Tough Questions

Let’s look at some of the most common tough questions that interviewers love to ask and how you can approach them.


Q: Why are you looking for a new job?

Play up the positives. You want a new challenge; you feel you’ve grown as much as you can where you are; you want to move into a different sector. Don’t diss your boss, because your (hopefully!) next boss doesn’t want to be bad-mouthed in the future.

Q: What’s your biggest weakness?

If you reply, ‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’, then you’re history. This kind of pat reply implies you’re gaming the interview and saying whatever you think will work.

You’ll get more points for coming up with a genuine shortcoming – as long as you can also demonstrate the ways you’ve addressed it. That kind of self-awareness and drive to improve is gold.

Q: What are your salary expectations?

If the job ad stated a pay range, throw that right back at them. If not, then suggest that you know the company is a fair employer and you respect that they will pay what you’re worth. Throwing a number out is risky, because it could be so low that you’ll be seen as bargain basement, or so high that you price yourself out of contention.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Do not say ‘In your chair’. That isn’t cute. This question nearly always gets asked and it’s become such a cliché you can rely on it. Make that work for you, because this is one question where you can plan your answer in advance.

The best answers will show ambition to grow and progress, without the arrogance of expecting to take over the company. It’s also a great opportunity to segue into your own question about what training’s on offer too.

Q: Can you explain this gap in your work experience?

This is closely related to ‘Why aren’t you working right now?’ The best approach is to be honest, but always accept accountability. Don’t blame the job market or an industry downturn. Instead, demonstrate the lessons you’ve learned and how you’ve addressed them by picking up new skills, expanding your network or investing time finding the right position for your experience.

Q: Can you think of a time you’ve handled a difficult situation?

This is one question that seems confrontational, but is actually relatively easy to handle. The key is to cite a situation that was not of your making and emphasise how you made the most of it to achieve a positive outcome.

The interviewer is not only looking for evidence of your problem solving abilities, but also what you consider to be difficult. You need to specify a situation that is suitably difficult in relation to the position you’re applying for, as well as how you were instrumental in its resolution.


That’s just six of the most common tricky interview questions – and there are many more! If you want friendly advice about how to answer those tough questions with expert industry insight on how you really are the right person for the job, talk to us today.

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