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Tricky Interview Questions Explained, plus What You Should Ask


There are certain questions that seem to crop up again and again at interview, but that candidates can struggle to answer.

Being prepared with answers can help you stand out from other interviewees, so here we've explained what each question means to help you plan good answers.

Don't let these questions catch you out

What’s your biggest weakness?

Usually at interview you want to keep your flaws hidden, but this question is designed to see if you have some modesty and self-awareness. So, answering with the cliche 'I'm a perfectionist' will make you come across as picky and pedantic. On the other hand, you don't want to create the impression that you can't do the job! Humorous answers like 'Chocolate', 'Gorgeous shoes', or 'I steal the covers' can go down well here. The important thing is to make your answer both true and light-hearted.

Why do you think you will be successful in this job?

It's tempting to just relate your skills, ability and experience to the job at hand - and that is important - but this question is designed to show you the chance to be enthusiastic about the role. Your CV will show what you have done and what you can do, but the interview gives you the chance to show that you have an interest in the job, that you enjoy what you do and will enjoy working for the organisation. Be specific when talking about what you enjoy and how you think you are the right person for the job. It's the details that matter. Don't just tell them you're enthusiastic - show them that you are.

Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?

This is a very direct question and gives you the chance to show that you are diplomatic, tactful, affable and easy-going; the sort of person that always looks to mend bridges rather than burn them.

Do not criticise your current or former employer, even if they are awful. When describing a tricky situation, be sure to do so in a way that makes it clear that you considered the other person's point of view, that you didn't let it affect your work or relationships with them or others, and that you didn't take it personally. Finally, state something positive that you learned from the experience.

Give an example of a time when you handled a major crisis


Give an example of a time when you showed initiative

This is an opportunity to show your abilities to work under stress and to handle things when something goes wrong. There are four main things to demonstrate: (i) that you took responsibility for the situation; (ii) that you thought on your feet and came up with a solution; (iii) you didn't give up and were determined to keep working to fix things; and (iv) that you are wiser now for the experience.

Where do you expect to be in five years’ time?

Your answer here has to demonstrate that you see your immediate future with this organisation. Recruitment is expensive, and a new employee represents a significant investment. So you need to map out a career path that is tailored to the role you are interviewing for and the company you are applying to.

Good answers will indicate that you see yourself growing at the company and acquiring new skills or qualifications that will make you a valuable asset to the business.

What motivates you?

Don't make the mistake of just talking about your interests outside of the workplace. You need to relate things that excite or interest you to the job that you are applying for - for example, if you play sports then you can relate that to working together as part of a team. It's not the pursuit or hobby that's important, it's what you like about it and how you can bring that aspect of your personality into work with you to be a productive employee.

How do you manage your time and prioritise tasks?

Most jobs involve too much to do and not enough time to do it in, so you need to show that you can assess your workload and organise yourself on a day to day basis. Again, you can include specific examples from your current or previous jobs.

Now, here's some questions for you to ask when it's your turn

Employers expect you to ask questions, whether during or at the end of the interview. You need to show that you have researched the business - and don't ask simple questions that are already answered on the company website. Dig a little deeper and show that you are seriously considering what you would be doing were you to take the job.

Here are some template questions that you could adapt and ask. Please note that these should be customised to be highly specific to the company and the job.

What is the plan for [name of the business / department] over the coming year and how does [name of department / team] fit in?

What do you most enjoy about working here at [name of business]?

I'm particularly interested in [something the company does] - what opportunities are there for [training / on the job learning / qualifications]?

These are open-ended questions, and leave room for a conversation to develop, so do ask follow-up questions.

Remember that an interview is a two-way process: you need to decide whether this would be the right company for you, and questions that show that you're interested in finding out as much as possible show confidence as well as curiosity.

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