In every interview, there are a few really tricky questions that get thrown in amongst the more mundane ‘what are your skills’ style questions. These questions are there to see how you think on your feet and test other qualities like diplomacy, ambition and your social skills.
Your answer, whatever it is, will say a lot about you but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare yourself.
Here are a few of the hardest questions you might be asked.
Tell us about yourself
Straight off the bat, an incredibly broad question that could mean anything. Before you start panicking, this question is usually intended as an icebreaker, and the reason it is so broad is that there is no ‘right’ response.
Think of this question as being similar to your social media bio: stick to a few key points from your CV, a career highlight and maybe a piece of trivia. So it might sound something like: ‘I’m an English graduate and have been working as a journalist for the last year. I really enjoyed covering the local news in my area, especially when there was a pop up food market one week. I love cooking and I have to admit I am a cat-lady.’
Of course, you might not be a cat-lady, in which case, add something else to hint at your personality.
What is your biggest weakness?
Admitting what you aren’t good at in an interview can be tough – naturally you are good at everything you do! However, your interviewer is looking for you to provide evidence that you are self-aware and know what you want to improve.
It might be that you have gone for this job because you would like to improve or expand on some of the skills required in which case, now is a good time to say that you are hoping to grow into the role. You could also bring up a problem you’ve had in the past and the steps you took to overcome it. For example, if you were struggling to manage your time, you might say that you have since created a system and you now meet all your deadlines.
Another way to approach this question is to frame it with a strength. Perhaps your passion for research sometimes means that you spend a bit too long getting to know a subject. Maybe you are really good at concentrating on one thing for a long time so when something else crops up, it can be difficult to switch your attention.
The most important aspect to this question is showing that you can analyse yourself well and provide working solutions to any weaknesses you have. Never deny that you have any weaknesses.
Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?
Before you launch into a ten minute rant about ‘that time when…’ and continue with phrases like ‘and another thing!’ take a second to think about this question. This is not the moment to be rude about a previous employer, but an opportunity to show your social and diplomacy skills.
Think of a time that you might have disagreed with a manager and then outline how you dealt with the problem. Perhaps you set up a meeting with your manager to discuss the problem and how you worked through the issue together to find a compromise or a solution.
If you have never had a bad experience with an employer then say so, then suggest ways that you have ensured a healthy working relationship. Perhaps skills like good communication and problem solving have prevented any situation from becoming a bad experience. Reflect on these skills and how they could help you in the future.
Where will you be in five years?
This question is essentially about your ambitions – do you have them and what are they? It might be obvious to you that within 5 years you want to be managing a team or coordinating projects but to lots of people the 5 year plan is a little less clear cut.
If you don’t have a particular work goal, you can provide other goals too. Maybe you are training for a marathon or would like to go travelling? Or you might have less specific goals and would like to see where your interests take you without restricting yourself to a 5 year plan.
All of these responses are fine but make sure you don’t say any of these things: ‘I don’t really see myself at this company in 5 years’, ‘I want to be doing your job!’ or ‘I haven’t really thought about it’. These answers aren’t doing your ambition any justice and are conversation closers. Aim for an answer that might provoke further questions to keep the conversation flowing.
The curveball question
This is the question you can’t prepare for, the ‘how many piano tuners are there in England?’ or ‘would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?’. Again, there is no right answer here, this question is all about thinking on your feet and being critical in solving the problem.
The best thing you can do when presented with this kind of question is to take a few seconds to consider what you are going to say. Feel free to think out loud, as this will give your interviewer an insight into your thought process.
If you find yourself stumbling then remember you can ask questions too. Your questions will show how you approach problems as well as indicating that you aren’t afraid to ask for guidance when you need it.
These questions might be difficult, but they aren’t impossible. And now you have an inkling as to what you might be asked, you can think about how you are going to respond.