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How to Answer Difficult Interview Questions

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

This is usually the first question and first impressions count. It helps to have the first sentence or two prepared so that you immediately come across as confident. You should also keep your answer brief - the interviewer doesn’t want to hear your life story. Describe yourself in relation to the position and the company and then maybe add some extra detail to give you more depth.

What is your biggest weakness?

This question makes a lot of people nervous. A common strategy here is to ‘turn a weakness into a strength’, the classic being “I guess I can be too perfectionist”. This can work, depending on your interviewer, but isn’t the best approach. Instead, show the confidence to admit your weaknesses. Discuss something you struggle with that isn’t particularly relevant to the job and then evidence how you’re improving. 

What is your biggest strength?

People often find this question difficult too as they don’t want to appear arrogant. The trick here is to choose something you can evidence. If you’re still concerned, refer to other people’s appraisals of you e.g. “my previous team particularly complimented my leadership skills”.

What would you change about your last job?

Make sure not to criticise colleagues or management to avoid appearing difficult to work with. Also beware you may be asked how you tried to address the problem. It helps to pick something out of your control e.g. poor technology.

Why are you leaving/left your last position?

Again, don’t focus on bad things the company did. Rather, talk about what the company couldn’t offer. Maybe it was promotion opportunities or diversity of experience or you simply wanted to work in a different industry. Whatever it is, make sure you give them the strong impression that you aren’t going to job-hop.

Why did you have to leave this role?

So what if you were forced out? Particularly in the current climate, redundancy has become very common and is nothing to be embarrassed about. In this case you should demonstrate that your work was valuable and that your dismissal was not performance related. If you were fired, first be as brief and neutral as possible e.g. the role became an ill-fit for both yourself and the employer. If they probe further, still try to keep it brief but be honest and don’t evade the question. Stay as neutral and unemotional as possible to show that you have moved passed it and then shift the conversation to how you have developed from the experience.

When have you…?

A frequent interview question is to give an example of when you have achieved something or dealt with a specific situation. These can vary from interview to interview and so are more difficult to prepare for but you can help yourself by thinking of several impressive anecdotes before the interview. Then, if nothing pops to mind when asked, you have a selection of good events to choose from instead of struggling to answer the question.

And when a new question surprises you?

You can never prepare for everything and you way very well find yourself sitting in front of a new question. The first thing to do is take your time. Don’t feel like you have to immediately cut into the silence as that’s when mistakes get made. First look at the question and look for any subtext. Why are they asking you this? What are they looking for? What impression do you want to make/avoid? Next think of an example that can help evidence what you’re talking about rather than struggling through with dull hypotheticals. If you’ve already discussed that example, briefly mention it again but then move onto something new to keep you sounding fresh and experienced. There’s a lot to think about and in a short window so this is where interview skill really comes into play. Get a friend to ask you lots of different and new questions and practice giving well phrased, evidenced answers.