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The five toughest interview questions - and how to answer them

Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick

During a job interview, you might find yourself being asked some tricky questions which put you on the spot. Anticipating them and preparing your responses in advance will help you to manage your nerves and stay composed on the day. So, here are some of the most common questions that trip up interviewees and our top tips on answering them.

‘Tell me about yourself.’

This seems like a very straight forward question but many candidates fall into the trap of thinking this is just a warm-up question to put them at ease and end up telling the interviewer all kinds of irrelevant things that don’t relate to the job. This is an opportunity for you to give a brief outline of your current role and state the personal and professional work experiences that relate to the position you have applied for. One way to prepare for this question is to plan and rehearse a brief statement - a paragraph or so - that quickly describes who you are and what you can bring to the company. Don’t focus too much on your childhood, school life, early career, personal likes and dislikes or hobbies, unless they are relevant to the post.

‘What is your biggest weakness?’

This is tricky because the point of an interview is to present yourself positively. The best way to approach this is to identify a gap in your knowledge or an area where you are seeking to improve yourself, which can be addressed through training or learning. For example, you may need to refresh your skills at using certain software. If you can’t think of anything, look at the person specification before the interview and identify a ‘desirable’ skill that you don’t yet have but are willing to work towards. Whatever you do, don’t tell them about a character weakness such as being continually late or forgetful.

‘What do you like least about your current job?’

The interviewer is looking to see how you speak about your existing employer and role. Be utterly professional and never criticise any individuals that you work with. The best bet here is to mention an aspect that's far removed from the job you're seeking. Finish by explaining that, despite the unappealing element, you have learned something useful from it or achieved something fulfilling. This shows that you have resilience and a positive attitude.

'What has been your biggest failure?'

This is a tough question because it asks you to go over something that you’d probably rather forget, and at a time when you are already feeling under pressure. It is designed to find out more about your previous job performance and anticipate how you might behave in the future. Most importantly of all, the interviewer wants to know what lesson you learned from your failure. The number one rule here is to keep focused on your career: don’t talk about a divorce or anything similar. Equally, don’t mention something minor from years ago, like not passing a school test. Some candidates avoid the question and claim never to have failed at anything, but that also suggests that they’ve never taken any risks.

A top tip is to use the STAR framework (Situation/Task, Approach, and Results) to explain what happened. For example, you had to pitch to an existing client to win £10,000 of additional business. You approached it casually because you felt certain that the work was a dead-cert. Unfortunately, the client felt that a rival went the extra mile and gave the work to them. You have learned to treat every pitch with equal attention, regardless of your existing client relationship.

‘Where do you expect to be in five years’ time?’

This one is so common that we have written a blog specifically on answering this question.

Remember that employers just want to get a better idea about your background, your communication skills and how you'll perform if they offer you the job. If you rehearse answering tricky questions and frame your responses so that you present yourself in the best possible light, you will impress interviewers, even when talking about your mistakes or weaknesses.

 For more job interview advice from the team, check out our other posts here.

If you are looking for a new role check out our current jobs or if you want some career advice get in touch today.


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