Handling tricky interview questions
Interview questions may vary but in essence they are all trying to establish the following: Your skills and experience to…
Article by:Corinne Mills
Interview questions may vary but in essence they are all trying to establish the following:
- Your skills and experience to do the job
- Your enthusiasm and interest for the job
- Whether you will fit in
If you have thought through convincing answers to the above, ideally illustrated with real-life examples, then you should be able to answer most of the questions that arise.
This section looks at some of the typical questions which arise and how to handle them.
Tell me about yourself?
This question or something similar usually starts every interview. This is your opportunity to make a great impression right at the start of the interview and it needs to be well-prepared and confidently delivered. Your answer should:
- Focus on the areas of most relevance to the job in question
- Include some impressive achievements e.g. an award, contracts you won
- Convey your enthusiasm for the job
- Avoid personal or irrelevant information e.g. your children, un-related jobs
Your answer should be about 3-5 minutes long delivered in a clear, punchy, confident manner e.g.
“I’m a Marketing Director with over 20 years experience running successful marketing campaigns predominantly in the technology sector. Last year our key campaign grabbed an additional 15% of market share worth £25 million and we launched 2 new products which are on track to generate over £60 million over the next 5 years. I’m interested in this role because I know your products and think they have great potential.”
What do you know about our organisation?
You should be able to answer the following:
- Company facts e.g. size of company, turnover, main locations
- Key products and services, target customers, key accounts
- Market trends and challenges
What are your key skills/strengths/ or why should we hire you?
Focus on what you know they are looking for, even if it has been a smaller part of what you have been doing to date. Your answer should include:
- Technical knowledge e.g. supply chain processes
- Sector experience e.g. retail
- Job-related skills e.g. project management
- Management skills e.g. people and financial management
- Interpersonal skills e.g. handling conflict
- Personal qualities e.g. work ethic
What are your weaknesses?
Interviewers love this question because the majority of candidates are completely honest in confessing their worst failings. Avoid this trap by preparing in advance at least two to three answers just in case the interviewer decides to really push you on this.
- Choose something that doesn’t matter for the job e.g. languages for a UK firm
- Identify a “weakness” that is a positive e.g. “I like to make things happen and get frustrated if too long is spent sitting around discussing it without action”
- Choose a weakness that you have improved e.g. “I used to worry about presentations but I went on a course and it helped me enormously”
- Where there is an obvious gap in what they are looking for, use this question as an opportunity to show how you intend to bridge that gap e.g.
“I’m aware that I don’t have direct experience of this type of product so I’ve talked to your sales team and some of your competitors to find out more. I’ve researched market trends and discussed this with some key people within the sector who’ve given me their personal view. As a result I feel confident that I can get up to speed in this role very quickly”.
Why did you leave your last job?
Your answer should be positive and upbeat e.g. needed a new challenge, career progression etc. Never criticise a previous employer as it will make the interviewer query your loyalty and effectiveness as an employee. It may also resurface some negative emotions which can very easily throw you off-balance in a high-pressure interview situation.
If the circumstances were difficult, then keep your answer short and find a way to talk about the situation in a depersonalised way e.g. “The company needed to downsize which meant a number of redundancies including my own role”.
Why do you want this job?
Your answer should reinforce why you are such a good fit for the job and then convey your enthusiasm for the role e.g.
- good match between your skills and their requirements
- interested in the product/market/sector
- company’s excellent reputation, exciting challenge etc
Do not say (even if it’s true) that you just need a job, or you want it because it’s local. They want to hear that you have a genuine interest in working in that particular job.
Describe a problem situation and how you solved it?
The interviewer is looking for a real-life example to understand more about how you tackle problems, in particular your thinking style, your ability to act under pressure and your communication skills e.g. dealing with a difficult customer.
Tell me about an achievement of which you are proud?
This should ideally be work-related e.g. streamlining work processes that helped improve the efficiency of the department. However, if there is something from your personal life which is either impressive or shows relevant skills for the job then mention these e.g. running a marathon or fund-raising
What are your career goals/career plan?
Show how this role is a good fit in terms of your longer term aspirations e.g. “I want to have a successful management career and this role gives me the great opportunity to head up a department that has many immediate as well as longer-term challenges” .
Do not talk about career aspirations which could cause the interviewer to doubt your commitment to the role e.g. “I want to start my own business” or “I see this as a stepping stone to working in Finance, which is where I really want to work”.
What are your salary expectations?
If the salary is not on the job advertisement, then try to find out before the interview what kind of salary range they are looking to offer. Also research the salaries of comparative jobs so you have a benchmark.
If possible, try to avoid a salary negotiation at the interview to give yourself more room for manoeuvre once you’ve been offered the job e.g.
- “money is important but not only factor … “
- “would depend on the whole package, bonuses, benefits, pay reviews etc”
- “could range from X to Y depending on the rest of the package”
Are there any questions you would like to ask us?
Good questions to ask could include:
- What do you think the major challenges for the post-holder are?
- How will success be judged in this role?
- What are the key things you are looking for?
- What is it like to work here?
- Fully research the job and company
- Prepare answers in advance
- Avoid negative criticism of yourself or others
- Use real-life examples to illustrate your point
- Show your enthusiasm for the job
You may also be interested in the following articles; Handling stressful interviews and How to prepare for interview
Corinne Mills is Managing Director of the UK’s leading career management company Personal Career Management and author of the UK’s no. 1 bestselling CV book “You’re Hired – How to write a brilliant CV“.
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