Preparing for an interview? Take a look at six of the most difficult interview questions and how to answer them
Let’s face facts: interviews are not fun. Spending the best part of 30 minutes upwards trying to convince somebody that they should hire you for a job, so you can earn money and build a career, can put you under a lot of pressure.
So how can you make interviews easier for yourself? While we don’t advise memorising answers and reciting them like a robot to future interviewers, practice DOES make perfect. It’s worth knowing what the trickiest questions are to answer and the best approach to take with them to impress your prospective employer.
Here are six of the most difficult interview questions and how to answer them:
1. What can you tell me about yourself?
Keep it succinct and avoid rambling. Keep to a structure of five things about yourself that you want to highlight and say a couple of sentences on each. Don’t repeat anything you have already explained in depth on your CV and cover letter. Give a positive insight into what you are like as a person. Discussing your interests and ambitions away from work can help humanise you and show your interviewer what kind of person you are.
2. Can you list your strengths?
Think of three skills you do well that you can back up with evidence. Have a concrete example of a time you have demonstrated a strength ready in your mind. For example: “I think I am a strong communicator, because my colleagues chose me as a representative to discuss introducing a rewards scheme with management and I was successful. I am able to put ideas forward clearly and politely.”
Don’t recite a long list of adjectives, e.g. I’m trustworthy, a team player, ambitious, hard-working, etc. While these are good attributes, they are attributes desired by every employer – you wouldn’t stand out from the crowd.
3. What are your weaknesses?
The cliché answers are that you ‘have no weaknesses’ or giving yourself a backhanded compliment (“I’m a perfectionist”, “I take over other people’s work”). This will not impress interviewers.
Focus on an area of work that needs to be improved and discuss your strategy for how you will improve it. For example: ‘My current weakness is my writing ability. I have increased the amount I read every week and try to teach myself a new word every week. I’m also looking into doing a business writing course.’
Alternatively, you can discuss how you overcame a potential downside of your greatest strength. For example: ‘My work ethic is praised lot and I often work overtime to get a job finished, however this sometimes impacts the quality of work that I do because I rarely ask for help or take breaks. Recently, I’ve started keeping a log of work I do every day, to keep track of how much I do and see if I need help with anything.’
4. Can you provide an example of how you’ve contributed to effective team working? What makes you a good team player?
Teamwork is a vague skill. There are many situations in the workplace that count as teamwork, such as building bridges between two employers that don’t get on, collaborating on projects, or giving training to a colleague.
Think about examples of your past when you’ve demonstrated strong people skills with your colleagues and management. Alternatively, you can choose an example that is not from your professional life. It could be from club or organization you belong to. Highlight the positions of responsibility you had and how you supervised others.
5. What has been your greatest achievement?
Your answer could relate to any achievement, but should show how you applied skills that are relevant to the job. Think about a time when you’ve won an award, organised an event, done something new or overcome a fear. For example: “I ran the London Marathon and planned a fundraiser, which contributed £1000 to my total. I organised a charity gig at my local pub, and had to source local bands, find a venue, plan food and a raffle, and order tickets for print.”
Avoid unspecific achievements that many people who are applying for the same job would have also achieved, such as graduating university or finishing college.
6. Describe an occasion what you had to adapt in the face of a difficult situation?
Choose a specific occasion to describe in detail that had a positive outcome. If you struggle with this, follow the STAR technique: Situation, Task, Action and Result.
- Present the Situation – what is the dilemma or problem that you faced?
- Explain the Task – what needed to be done to change the situation?
- Describe your Action – what did you do to complete the task?
- Show the Result – what where the consequences of your action?
- Sticking to these four points helps you structure your answer and keep focus on the question.
Mastering the technique of answering these questions should help you become more confident with interviews. All questions that you are asked try to test how you would handle the job. Make sure you know your CV and cover letter by heart and have plenty of examples to give to show that you would make a good employee. It’s just as important to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.