Interviews and assessment centres

The interview: tricky questions and clever answers

22 Jun 2023, 13:23

Every interview will include challenging questions, you will have to think on your feet in order to react to questions you didn’t expect. Of course, some of these questions are well known to be common in interview situations, but you will still need to come up with accurate and composed responses.

A person in an interview

Let’s look at how you can handle difficult questions and of course how you can ask a sensible question or two of your own.

What’s your greatest weakness?

This question is often used by people new to interviewing, but since it can show how a person handles the obvious, even long-time job interview pros may ask it. I prefer the best response is one that is sincere, but winds up positive, using the basic format of (1) your weakness; (2) how you have worked on it; and (3) how you have learned to turn it into a strength. It can vary from that, but mainly you want to leave a good impression of how well you face and then overcome issues. What you don’t want to do is play the old worn-out “I work way too hard” weakness card. You might get away with it, but it shows no creativity and possibly leaves a taste of someone who thinks they are outsmarting the interviewer – or trying to.

What’s your greatest strength?

There are many good ways to answer this question, but when you prepare, I suggest you think ahead of time about what the new job requires (carefully review the job description) and what you’ve done in the past (good to look at your resume). Think of a strength of yours that fits nicely with the job you want. And make sure to have a quick story as an example of how you successfully used that skill/strength in a prior job.

Tell me something about yourself

One of my favourite questions to ask a job candidate. I usually use it at the beginning of an interview to get a feel for the candidate – and to see what they choose to tell me about themselves. Tell the interviewers about where you are now in your life, what aspirations you have and how this job can help. Don’t focus on overly personal things like marriage status, health issues, unrelated hobbies. Remember that questions about gender, nationality, religion, and age can only be asked under very specific circumstances that you are made aware of.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

This is one of those questions with no one-size-fits-all answer. Depends on the type of company and job. Some interviewers look for strong signs of ambition. A good answer paints a picture of you as a person who will look to build solid working relationships and do their best wherever they are and whatever challenges they are given. Someone looking to become an essential part of the company and take on new projects and opportunities as they arise.

What do you know about our company?

Organisations like to know that you took the time to research them and learn about what they do, and perhaps something about their values and stated mission, if they have one. The last thing you want to do is show up and say that you don’t know much, but are very willing to learn. That tells them you’ll have the same passive attitude as an employee.

Why did you leave your last job?

If you’re still in a job, then your answer can say something about looking for a more challenging job, or realizing that what you really want to do is what this new job offers, or you’re looking for advancement, etc. The main thing is to make it positive and NOT knock your current (or former) employer. If you were fired or quit your last job, it’s especially important to think about your answer ahead of time. You don’t want to badmouth the last employer, because it makes the interviewer think that one day, you’ll be saying this about them, even if you assure them it’s not true.

What do you think your former colleagues or fellow students would say about you?

You’re going to want to look for some things that not only were positive experiences in some prior job, but that point to the new job as well. Some interviewers will be happy with just the experiences, but many will also be looking for words about your attitude and how you helped solve problems or how you took on responsibilities that weren’t necessarily part of the job. Really think about things that show how cooperative, resourceful, determined, talented (without sounding too boastful), and pleasant to work with you are. You don’t have to hit all these points – and I urge you to come up with some of your own – but this should at least give you a good idea where to go with your answer.

Are you able to handle stressful situations?

Every job has its stresses and most require multitasking. Do you like to make lists to better manage your time during busy periods at work? Do you manage stress with a walk around the block? There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question, but having an answer prepared will help you through one stressful situation: the job interview.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask us?

If you don’t already know this, most interviewers end the interview by asking what you’d like to know about them or any other questions you might have. So, come prepared with some questions that show you understand the company and job. You can ask things like what an average day on the job might be like or what challenges they see for the department over the coming year or something specific that you got from your research. Also, it’s ok to ask what the next step is after the interview and what possible timeframes might be.

As a rule, a first interview is usually not a good time to ask about salary or benefits, unless they raise the issue – or unless you’re sure this is your only interview, and the salary wasn’t stated anywhere you could see it. At the very least, don’t try to negotiate salary at this point unless an offer is made.

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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