How to tackle the hard interview questions
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Have you ever attended an interview and found yourself caught off guard because you didn’t prepare for the trickier, more open-ended interview questions?
How do you answer these questions and why are they asked? Let’s offer some advice.
Tell me about yourself?
This is often one of the first questions that you are asked and can set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
What does the interviewer really want to know? The aim is to understand more about you, your professional career and what has motivated you on your journey. You can start at the beginning but quickly move to the more current and relevant points in your career. The interviewer wants to establish how you align to this role and are you suitable.
Deliver your story with confidence. This will also demonstrate how you will communicate in the workplace and why you would be a great fit for this job.
We suggest you prepare a career timeline and highlights. It should be no longer than 5 minutes. Specific to the job you are interviewing for, record some of the job's key requirements and revise your highlights to reflect your relevancies.
Can you tell me what your ideal job would look like?
This is not a test to see if you have read the job description. You have been asked this question to establish whether you will be motivated and happy in the role and therefore likely to stay and progress within the company.
When describing your ideal job, think about what aspects of a role really motivate you and what environment you are looking for in your next career move.
Example: “I would describe the ideal job as one that makes the most of my qualifications and abilities and gives me a chance to constantly challenge myself. One that offers a positive work culture and will inspire me to work at my best.”
Other good answers to the ‘ideal job’ interview question could be:
A job that provides opportunity to learn, progress and contribute to the organisation.
A teamwork-oriented environment in a company that empowers employees to create and take initiative.
A job where my skills are utilised to the maximum and allows me to grow within the organisation.
My ideal job would be – Open, supportive, entrepreneurial, stimulating, collaborative, inspiring, focused on fostering strengths.
I would love to work in a job in which I can work both by myself and with others to achieve the end result. I am very self-motivated so I am interested in working in an atmosphere where I can continuously learn new things and improve my skills.
My ideal job is – Friendly, fast paced, ability to learn new things, challenging and of course opportunity for career advancement.
I flourish in an environment that allows me to grow in my position and gives me learning opportunities.
A job where I can use my creative abilities to support, aid and mentor other professionals.
A workplace that gives enough space and helps employees to grow. There should be healthy team work, good communication, mutual understanding between each team member. A workplace where there is respect for individual’s ideas and always appreciate good work as well as knowledge
What are you looking for in terms of salary?
Answering the salary expectations question the wrong way can cost you a job offer. It can also put you in an untenable situation by forcing you to consider a job at a less-than-desirable salary. After all, in some circumstances, the only thing worse than failing to get a job offer after an interview, is failing to get an offer that’s sufficient to support you and/or your family.
Your interviewer knows the industry standard rate for this role and experience level so make sure that you do too. Knowing this will help you have more conviction and puts you in a better position should you need to negotiate. Understand the breakdown of remuneration package; does it include commissions, annual bonus, allowances, all of which will make a difference to quoting an ideal base salary.
If the interview process is at an early stage and you don’t feel comfortable negotiating, you can simply say that you want to understand more about the company or the role before commenting on salary.
Can you tell me about a time you have failed? / What would you say your weaknesses are?
This question typically puts you on the defensive and can often leave you responding with very cliché answers. Again, the interviewer is not trying to catch you out here. They want to know how you react to and face adversity. There is no need to bring up the biggest failure in your life to date - you could discuss a time that you simply missed a deadline or didn’t meet one of your KPIs. When you answer this question, make sure you address where you went wrong; what you learnt from it; and what you would do differently next time.
Do you have any questions for me?
Finally, this is your chance to end the interview on a high note and show your interest in the role. Try not to go into the interview with set questions and instead focus and comment on points that the interviewer has outlined to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions that you might have during the interview, it shows how engaged you are with what the interviewer is telling you.
What questions to ask in an interview – without sounding cliché
Asking questions throughout an interview is very important for a candidate trying to impress.
The questions you come up with will give an indication of your interest, your drive and your personality. Try your best to make the interview a discussion, rather than a monologue – this will leave the interviewer with a clearer impression of your character and how you would fit in in their office.
If you are ever asked a question where you are unsure of the answer, whether its technical, product based or market based – do not try and bluff your way through it. An answer like – “admittedly, I don’t know an awful lot about that. Can you explain it to me?” is your best option here. This demonstrates honesty and an interest in learning.
At the end of an interview, you will always be asked if you have any questions.
Only ask questions that you are genuinely interested in the answer to – examples below.
Where do employees usually move to from this position?
What do you find the most challenging part of this role?
Why has this role come about?
What would your ideal candidate be like and how would they succeed in the role?
Can you tell me about the team and manager I'll be working with?
How would you describe the culture in your office?
When the interviewer answers your question, make sure to comment on their answer and try and relate to it.
Q. How would you describe the culture in your office?
A. We have an open-plan, friendly, energetic and honest culture. We value trust and support and we try and ingrain that as best we can in our employees
Comment: That’s great, the culture in my current office is very similar. It’s an environment that I really enjoy working in, I love bouncing off of my colleagues’ energy and getting support/advice when issues come up. It’s good to know there is a similar energy here!
It is always best to avoid discussion of salary in an interview unless invited to. If you have specific questions in relation to salary, package or company benefits you should go to your recruiter or the company's HR department with these questions ahead of accepting your offer.
Finally – when you are at the end of an interview and have asked all of your questions, don’t forget to finish with a parting word to leave your final lasting impression.
This should include;
Thanking the interviewer for meeting you
Expressing that you thoroughly enjoyed meeting them, your excitement at the potential opportunity to join and seeing the offices
Emphasising in as few words as possible why you think you should be offered this position
Example: “After speaking to you, I am sure that I am the right fit for this role. I have the necessary experience and I will work very hard to succeed in the position if it is offered to me.”