Answering tough interview questions

Well done! You have been selected to meet with the company you applied to work for. They are obviously interested in you, your CV or what your recruitment consultant has said about you. Your foot is in the door but how do you deal with the next stage, the interview and the hard questions they may ask?
Even the most confident of candidates gets thrown by the most simple of interview questions. There is no right or wrong way of dealing with these. But we can give you three key things to do when posed with a tricky question:
  • Listen carefully to the question
  • Think about what they are asking of you
  • Be honest
Below we have put these into practice with 10 of the more difficult questions that are commonly asked.

1. Tell me about yourself

This isn’t your chance to enter into a voluntary therapy session divulging your life story. At most they would want a very concise summary of your career’s highlights so far. Chances are they want to know why you think you are the best candidate for this job. Give a couple of examples to illustrate and ask your interviewer if they’d like to hear more after.

2. How has your education prepared you for your career?

Your education, to whichever level you studied up to, was not just theory. Here they are looking for some indications of your core competencies. This could be teamwork, presentation and communication or even time-management with deadlines. Your answer should be a mix of both theory and practical application and do not forget to give examples.

3. What is your long-term objective?

Too ambitious or unrealistic goals may show your dream vision and confidence however you will also demonstrate a definite daydreamer quality. If you think about what your interviewer is looking for, this is probably more along the line of 'does this person's long term plans fit into the company's?' You should give achievable objectives here that will pave the way to your dream role.

4. Are you a team player?

Think carefully when answering this. It isn’t a closed question so your answer should not be just ‘yes’. Good examples will show the kind of team player you are. Try to give a diverse range of examples be it work, school or a sport. Think about when your contribution really helped and when you got through a situation collaboratively with your team members.

5. Have you ever had a conflict with your boss? How was it resolved?

This question isn’t asking you to talk about a time when you had a near punch up with your boss, merely a conflict. This could be a disagreement on a project or even a personality clash. Neither of these are necessarily bad things as you are human after all! But your interviewer will be interested in how you dealt with the situation. Can you put personal feelings aside in order to be professional? Will you listen to others’ points of view? Do you work collaboratively?

6. If I were to ask your boss to describe you, what would they say?

If you get offered the role, your new employer will take a reference for you so being honest is very important in answering this question. You should use positive feedback from any appraisals or informal chats you have had with line managers in the past. The interviewer may also be looking for an indication of how you will add value to their department and what kind of employee you will be.

7. What qualities do you feel a successful manager should have?

Think about how a line manager has helped your personal development. Also think about that line manager’s contribution to the wider business. A good manager will be able to develop a whole team and therefore be a good leader. They should also be able to do this to the benefit of the company and understand where this effort adds value. Use examples on how this has been the case with you and your observations of this.

8. What is your greatest weakness?

Many people still give the classic ‘I am too much of a perfectionist’. Listing a strength as a weakness just shows that you are not listening to the question and you may come across as insincere. Select a weakness you have actively been trying to overcome. If you can give real examples and show evidence where you have put this into practice, all the better.

9. Why should I hire you?

Plain and simple: I am the best person for the job. But you need to give more than just that. What differentiates you from other applicants? What makes you want this job above anything else you have interviewed for? Communicate this and you are answering the question.

10. If you had to live your life over again, what one thing would you change?

The best way to answer this is to pick a missed opportunity or a key turning point. Then tie your response to what you are currently doing in your career to correct this missed chance. That way, it isn’t doom and gloom and it is another objective you want to meet soon in your career.