How to answer those difficult job interview questions
A range of questions are generally asked in job interviews – and some of these can be tough to answer.
But why do interviewers ask difficult questions in job interviews?
The rationale for asking difficult questions is to learn about the type of person you are. The interviewer is interested in obtaining a well-rounded understanding of candidates they speak to and are keen to get a grasp of their strengths, abilities and limitations. Difficult questions provide an opportunity to hear about a candidates’ experience, how they have learnt to deal with challenging situations and their capacity to reflect on their capabilities.
Below are some examples of difficult questions that are asked in job interviews and some suggestions for how to answer these:
“Tell us about yourself”
Whilst this sounds like an easy question to answer at first, it can potentially be a bit of a minefield. Many candidates stray into personal territory when answering this question however, the interviewer is actually interested in learning about your relevant working experience and your training and skills in relation to the position you are applying for. When asked this question, keep your response brief – make it no longer than 2 minutes and use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills.
“What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?”
When responding to this question, connect your professional goals to the organisation you hope to work for and the job you are applying for. Avoid talking about your personal goals – whilst these are obviously important, the interviewer is more interested in understanding the alignment between your job aspirations and the position/company they are hiring for. In particular, interviewers will be keen to know if you have a long term interest in the sector – they don’t wish to hire and invest in someone and then have them leave after a short period of time.
“Why do you want to leave your current job?”
As much as you might want to, it is really important not to express frustration about an employer during a job interview. If you have had a bad time in your current job and this has spurred you on to find employment elsewhere, it is okay to touch on these experiences – but it is recommended that you keep your complaints to a minimum. Interviewers are looking for candidates who are optimistic and enthusiastic. Rather than giving a blow by blow account of your current or recent working environment, it is better to provide an answer that explains your interest in the position you are applying for and the role’s link with your career ambitions.
“What are your weaknesses?”
This can be a very tricky question to answer in a job interview – particularly when you are trying to sell yourself. The best way to respond to this question is to turn a negative into a positive. As a result, focus on one or two areas where you are challenged or need some improvement in and explain how you have overcome these weaknesses in a professional environment. To do this, provide an example using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) which demonstrates you are mindful of your shortcomings and as a result, have developed strategies that deal with these to complete a project or achieve an outcome.
“Tell me about a work situation where you have disappointed someone?/ where a project didn’t go to plan?”
This is another really difficult question to answer. What the interviewer is looking for here is your capacity to reflect on your actions and your learnings from the situation. Just like the previous question, the best way to respond is by using the STAR technique. Firstly, set the scene for the project you worked on and then move on to identifying the reasons why the project went off the rails. This should be followed by explaining what you did to recognise the problem, the steps you took to fix it and what the result was. When you are explaining this scenario, the key is to be realistic about your flaws but also confident about the strengths you can offer to your prospective employer.
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