Do you know how to answer these 12 tricky job interview questions?
You have worked on your CV and your LinkedIn profile. You have searched the internet for weeks for the right job and have applied for many. Finally, you get a positive response and are invited for an interview! You really like this job and, therefore, feel that the stakes are high. So, how do you prepare for this interview?
Some recruiters will make it relatively easy for you and will ask you the, more or less, standard set of questions. Others will try to make your life pretty difficult and come up with questions that make you stumble over your own words.
I spoke to many of these recruiters in my professional circle and I know it is not their intention to make you feel miserable. They only try to make their lives easier and avoid making a bad decision by hiring the wrong candidate. So, put yourselves in their shoes and get prepared to answer any question they might have.
Why is being prepared so important?
Because you can only make a good first impression once! Imagine what a difference it would make if you felt 99,9% confident that you could answer any question they might have. Imagine that you actually enjoy the interview. Imagine that you feel that you and the recruiters are more like partners, trying to find the best match for the job. And please remember, practice makes perfect!
Now, let’s focus on those questions. Some of them might sound simple to you but you better think twice before you give your first answer. In general, I always say to my clients that there are two golden rules that are key for any answer to any question: the “intention rule” and the “relevance rule”.
Before you speak up, ask yourself what intention lies behind this question: what is the recruiter trying to find out? In the case of the “relevance rule”, before giving an answer, think about how relevant it is to the job that you are applying for.
Questions about you, your personality and your qualities
The following questions employers usually ask to find out more about you and what makes you tick:
1. What are your strengths?
Yes, the strengths question. This is when the “relevance rule” becomes key. Think which of your strengths are the most relevant for the job and mention those. Focus on your top three core strengths and tie them to the key responsibilities you will have in the job you are applying for.
2. What are your weaknesses?
We all hate this question. At least I do. And I am pretty sure you know what the trick is. Do not mention ones related to the key skills you would need to possess for the job you are being interviewed for. Instead, look for weaknesses that can be also seen as strengths in certain situations. And remember to always mention situations in which you knew how to overcome these weaknesses.
An example that I often gave during interviews was that because I wanted to do my work as best as I could, I sometimes had difficulties delegating. I would always mention that since I realised how important it is to collaborate, I would learn how to deal with that. Please keep in mind not to give this as an example if you are applying for a managerial position where you have to manage a lot of people.
3. Tell me about the most stressful situation in your life (professionally). How did you deal with it?
The answer to this question very much depends on whether you are going to be put in a position where you need to deal with a high-pressure job daily. The recruiter is testing your way of dealing with stress and setbacks.
When answering this question, do not focus on how stressed you were in a given situation, but on how you handled it. You can also tie it to your strengths. If your strength is leadership, you can say you knew how to direct others in that situation, or if your strength is staying calm, you stayed calm and influenced others to do the same.
4. What has been your biggest failure and how did you deal with it?
We all have failures in our lives and careers; including the recruiter who is interviewing you. What you need to demonstrate here is how you deal with setbacks. Again, do not mention things that will be very relevant to your work, and focus on how you dealt with failures and not so much on the failures themselves.
5. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be?
We all have parts of ourselves we like less. Think of the one that will be the least harmful for your job and mention that one. Answer the question similar to the way you do with the weakness question.
Questions about your current / previous work
Be prepared to answer the following questions about your current and previous jobs:
6. Why were you fired? (If you were)
There could be different reasons for that. Similarly to answering the weakness and failure question, do not dwell on the negative. Just state the reason, remember to be honest, as the company might do a reference check. End your answer on a positive note. You can mention that you are actually happy it happened, as you were able to discover a job that matches your profile much better, being the job that you are applying for now.
7. Why do you want to leave your current job?
Think about the relevance and intention first. I know that many of my clients are leaving their jobs because one of their core (work) values is not being met at their workplace. Think about your core values and how these can be represented in the job you are applying for.
For example, if your work value is cooperation and in your current job you are working alone, the future job you are applying for could offer you that - working with colleagues and collaborating.
Questions about your future career
These questions about your future career may be tricky to answer:
8. What is your career development plan for the coming 5 – 10 years?
Although it is quite a standard question, it requires some strategic thinking. What is the natural career path for the type of job you are applying for? You do not want to mention that, actually, in 5 years’ time, you see yourself somewhere completely different.
So, first think about where you see yourself in five to 10 years and then try to tie it into the job you are applying for. All jobs have growth possibilities.
9. How much do you want to earn?
The money question. Sometimes they will make it easier and you will know the salary range from the start, but that is not very common. The better option is to wait until the recruiter mentions the salary first. In some situations, you will be caught off guard. If that happens, turn the question around and ask what they are offering.
Also, always do your research first. Use your real friends, but also the internet or social media groups, to find out what similar positions are paying.
Furthermore, ask yourself, honestly, how much you want to earn. My rule is to always mention an amount at least 15% higher than that. This leaves you with a negotiating margin.
10. Is this job a step down for you and if so, why are you interested in it?
Many of my clients are actually switching their careers, sometimes it means switching parallel, but sometimes it can be a step down (in a hierarchical way of looking at a career). Companies do not like to hire overqualified people, as they are scared you will run away very quickly.
When answering this question, always mention that it is actually not a step down as you are going to learn new things. Mention your passion for the given job and your commitment to stay there.
Questions to catch you off guard
Don’t get caught off guard by the following questions:
11. Have you applied for other jobs recently?
This is a tricky question to answer, as you do not want to appear desperate by saying that you haven’t, but you also do not want to reveal too much about other opportunities. It could also be that recruiter poached you. In this case, just admit that you are not actively looking. You will appear even more attractive.
If you haven’t been poached, mention that you are looking around and that you are considering other options at the moment, without revealing too much.
12. Would you hire yourself and why?
Of course, you would! Otherwise, you wouldn't be applying for this job, right? What is important here is that you show your passion for the job and illustrate how your talents, experience and expertise are a great match for the job.
Have I missed any tricky questions? I am sure I have. Please mention your favourite one in the comments below and I will do my best to answer how to handle it. Don't forget to read How to nail a job interview in the Netherlands and Are you a STARR in your job interviews? for more tips on how to land that dream job!
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