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31 May 2017 · by Huntress How to Answer Tough Interview Questions

Great news! Your CV has been successful and you have moved onto the next stage of the application process. You are feeling prepared for the interview, and you have been practising the STAR technique.

However sometimes in an interview you are asked a question that you hadn’t been prepared for or you aren’t sure how to answer. Don’t panic! Interviewers ask difficult questions as a way of identifying the best candidates. Employers know that candidates will have a bank of questions they have prepared, but catching you unaware will provide the interviewer with a good idea about how you think on the spot and if you can handle pressure.

In these instances take a moment to collect your thoughts and think about what the employer is actually asking you as this will make it a lot easier to answer. It is fine to pause for thought, but remember to try and think of relevant examples where you can demonstrate your strengths or your personality whilst still answering the question.

Try to prepare for these tough questions for your next interview…

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Focus on positive traits that are relevant to your role. For example, a salesperson may describe their self as ‘driven, ambitious and persistent’ whereas a HR person may say they are ‘diligent, trustworthy and methodical’. Back up your chosen words with short examples of when you validated those skills.

What is your biggest weakness?

The employer doesn’t want to hear that you are often late and you rarely meet a deadline. Traditionally jobseekers have answered this question with a “false weakness", such as ‘being too organised’ or ‘not being able to stop until the goal has been reached’, but this method is too predictable.

Instead think about areas where you would like to improve and think of how you can train or teach yourself in these areas. This demonstrates that you are aware of your skills and how you can better them. Obviously avoid saying your greatest weakness is the skill most necessary for the role!

What are your greatest strengths?

It can be tricky finding a good balance between sounding confident and coming across as arrogant. Modesty is fine as long as you can think of good examples of areas you excel in and you’re able to elaborate on them to justify your claims. Don’t be shy but do be realistic! Look for examples of praise you have been given by previous managers and team mates, particularly if they are relevant to the role.

For example, a marketer may say ‘creative with good attention to detail’, and a customer service advisor might state ‘excellent communication skills, people person and friendly demeanour’.

What didn’t you like about your last job?

Don’t fall into the trap of talking about how bored you were or your issues with the person stole your paperclips!

Use this question as an opportunity to highlight areas where you would have liked to gain more experience or exposure to certain procedures. Particularly focus on skills which would be useful for the role you’re interviewing for and career progression. Never mention anything negative about the people you worked with as the interviewer may think you aren’t an easy person to get along with or you will gossip about them too when you choose to move on.

Tell me about a project that went wrong.

Admitting your failures always feels like the wrong thing to do in an interview, but the interviewer is looking to see how you dealt with the situation and what you learnt from the outcome. They want to find out if you pass the blame or if you can take responsibility for your actions. Are you able to lead a situation and try and turn it round, or do you let it run to the ground? Say what you would have done differently in retrospect, how you would pre-empt problems if you did the task again and how you would ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated.

Do you prefer to work by yourself or in a team?

In most cases there isn’t a correct answer to this question. Ensure you do good research about the role and the company structure as you may find you are working as part of a large team or independently, and your answer will need to reflect that. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to mention that you’re happy and capable of working both by yourself and in a team, but express an opinion and justification for one side. The interviewer wants to see if you can motivate yourself and create your own work when working independently, or if you thrive when bouncing ideas off of other members of your team or working together for a common goal.

What value would you bring to the business?

This question is asking “why should I hire you?”. The employer wants to see if you fully understand what the job entails and what particular aspects of the job spec you excel at. They are looking for your unique selling point and if you are prepared to go above and beyond your duties to get a good result. Have a think about your positive qualities and skills and how they could benefit a business. For example, a teacher may say they continuously explore their area of expertise to remain up-to-date on information which could be passed onto pupils in relevant situations.

Tell me about a colleague you didn’t see eye-to-eye with. How did you resolve this?

This question may not be applicable to everyone, but sometimes personalities clash and conflict may rise as a consequence. Common responses to this question may include you feeling your ideas were being block or undermined, or you were being picked on or treated unfairly. The employer wants to know how you handled this situation (and hopefully that you weren’t the one instigating the problems!). Did you keep calm and cool-headed whilst remaining respectful and professional? Did you invite your colleague into a personal meeting and let them know how you felt, or possibly mention to your manager or the HR team? This question may raise a flag about personalities already at the business; ask your interviewer what work relations are like in the office!


For more help with interview prep, why not talk to one of our experienced recruitment consultants?

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