Interviews are nerve-wracking at the best of times, but when you get hit with difficult questions then your anxiety levels can go through the roof, making your chances of getting the job go through the floor.
So, what should you do when you’re faced with difficult questions at an interview? What should you say? How should you physically react? What should you definitely not say?
Let’s find out…
How to handle the unexpected
Hopefully, you won’t get asked any just plain weird questions like ‘If you were a bird, what would you be and why?’ kind of weird, but chances are high that you’ll get asked some questions that are designed to put you on the spot to see how you’ll react.
A classic example of this is ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’. We all have them but will telling it to your potential new employee put you out of contention for the vacancy? There are lots of difficult questions like this that you might have a good answer for, but you also second-guess yourself that by giving it to your interviewer you might actually be dropping yourself in it.
It’s a tricky one, to be sure.
Hint: Keep reading to find out the answer…
In the meantime, let’s explore some more examples of difficult questions that you might get asked at the interview stage.
Frequently asked difficult questions in interview situations
- ‘What’s your greatest achievement?’ – Wow, talk about throwing you in at the deep end! The easiest thing to do here is to talk about something that you’re genuinely proud of but gives a deeper insight into you as a person. That’s why common answers include my kids, buying my first home, travelling solo, learning a new language, training for a charity race and volunteering for a homeless shelter. These are all examples of getting out of your comfort zone to achieve something, which also says something about your character – something your interviewer will be taking notes on.
- ‘Give me an example of a time when you showed initiative – This needs to be an example of something that you’ve seen through to the end rather than just had an idea on. Your answer to this question will be used to determine how capable you are of thinking outside of the box, whether you are a self-starter, and if you’re comfortable taking charge in any given situation. Give an example of a problem you encountered – personal or professional – what you did to resolve the situation, and what the (positive) outcome was. Whether it was researching car insurance deals and getting a better price than what was originally offered or finding a more cost-efficient way to tackle stock replenishment at work, the formula stays the same.
- ‘How would you handle a difficult customer?’ – This also takes the form of ‘Give me an example of a time when you had to cope under pressure’. Whatever form the question takes, the interviewer wants to know they can count on you if the going gets tough. They want examples of initiative, problem-solving skills, and decision-making processes. It could be an illustration of what you did to calm down a particularly irate customer and by the time they left, they were happy. It might be an example of being stranded somewhere and what you did to get out of the situation. Just be sure to include the details of how you resolved the situation in a positive way and you’ll show off your best side to the interviewer.
- ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?’ – A lot can happen in 5 years (hey, a lot can happen during the interview process), but your interviewer wants to know that you have plans for the future. Never say that you don’t know, you haven’t considered it! Unless you’re applying for a temporary position they generally want to know that those plans include them. Whether you’re a graduate or not, having some idea of what direction you want your career to go and that you’re committed to it is always an attractive trait to an employer. Personal goals are a great answer here too, but if you can reference the company, where you think it’s going and potential opportunities for you on the horizon, then this will earn you serious Brownie points.
- ‘What can you bring to this company?’ – How many times do you think the response to this is ‘I’m a hard worker/I can work well as part of a team or alone/ I’m punctual/I’m passionate’? While there’s nothing wrong with these answers they’re also very generic, so try to think of something that will make you stand out from the crowd. Bring up the company’s charity work and say you’d like to be involved in it, tell them how you think that they can strengthen a skill that you already possess and that will be valuable to them – make yourself memorable to them.
- ‘How do you prioritise tasks and manage your time?’ – They’re asking if you can manage your time effectively here. Your answer should include examples of how you are organised. This might take the form of lists, post-it notes, calendar reminders, alarms on your phone, sending yourself an email, Trello boards, or how you structured shift patterns for the workforce at a previous position. The more super organised you appear to be, the more attractive you’ll be as a prospective employee.
- ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’ – We couldn’t leave this one unanswered. It’s important to remember that, although it may feel like it, the interviewer is not trying to catch you out. They’re trying to determine if you’re self-aware or not – whether you have the confidence in yourself and the analytical skills to identify where you could improve. It also displays humility and honesty – and who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that? That being said, own your weaknesses. Tell them what you’ve done already to try and change and what you intend to do in the future to turn it into a strength, both for you as an individual and them as a company.
You’ve got this!
The important thing to remember about any interview is that it’s your opportunity to sell yourself; your skill, your knowledge, and your personality. Keep this mindset when you get asked those difficult questions and you won’t go far wrong.
If you’re looking for a new job opportunity and the chance to put these questions to the test in an interview situation, head over to our job vacancies page to view our current vacancies.
As for the bird question? You’re on your own with that one!