Knowing how to answer a difficult question during a job interview is a valuable skill. It's important to come across as both honest and confident without appearing too self-assured. You need to be ready for anything and be able to think fast.
As part of your interview prep, you should plan the answers to the standard questions and try to anticipate what you will be asked. With the right preparation, you can turn a tough interview question into a chance to show off your best qualities.
1. "What is your biggest weakness?"
This question can go one of three ways. Either you choose a weakness so perfunctory it doesn’t offer anything of value ("I really find it hard to stop working"), or you'll jeopardise your chances of getting the job by saying you don't know how to do it.
Ideally, take the third option: Identify a credible weakness, but elaborate specifically how you overcame it. This demonstrates your problem-solving skills and makes you appear optimistic and pro active.
2. "Give me an example where you completed X or give me an example when you did Y"
When giving examples in a competency-based interview, remember to be clear and detailed. Giving examples is like telling a story — you have a start, middle and end with a clear order. Focus on staying on track and don't get sidetracked during your explanation.
Most importantly, use "I" rather than "we". In competency-based interviews, interviewers are looking for your competencies, not your team's. Interviewers will fail candidates that don't demonstrate their direct input into a project.
3. "Why are you leaving your current job?"
This is a very telling question that reveals more about you than you might think. A negative response, like "I wasn't challenged" or "My co-workers and I didn't get on" doesn't tell the interviewer anything valuable.
Embedded in these responses is that someone or something in the company was wrong. These types of answers demonstrate a negative mindset.
Be positive about your current position and your future prospects. Talk about how a change will empower you and enable you to flourish.
4. "What sort of salary are you looking for?"
You want to aim high, but don't put yourself out of salary range? On the other hand, if your target salary is too low, you leave the employer room to go even lower.
During an interview, you could try to skirt around the question with a broad answer, such as, “My salary expectations are in line with my experience and qualifications.” Or, “If this is the right job for me, I am sure we can come to an agreement on salary.”
But if the interviewer is after a specific number, make sure you've done your research or discussed this question with your recruiter to get a feel for what the employer is expecting to pay.
5. "What is your most significant achievement?"
This question is designed to assess your values and attitude as much as your achievements. You're more likely to come across well if you choose to discuss something you're genuinely proud of, which could be because it involved leading others, overcoming obstacles or persisting in the face of the odds.
6. "Why should I hire you?"
To best answer this question, go back to your CV and look through it for the three to five things that make you outstanding. These qualities should accent your work ability, such as problem solving and tenacity. Remember, the notion is that past performance is always the best predictor of future performance.
7. "How would your friends describe you?"
This is another question that is best answered with an anecdote. Context for why you think your friends would describe you in a certain way adds credibility to your claim. But be humble, not arrogant. Telling them that you are amazing and loved by everyone is more likely to be a red flag to interviewers.
8. "Explain a complex database to your 6 year old nephew"
Explaining complex systems or processes shows the interviewer that you have a solid and adaptable understanding of what you do. Particularly in tech, where not only do you have to work with complex systems, you are often required to explain things to non-proficient stakeholders.
Make sure you are able to describe what you do in simple terms, using comparisons that most people can understand, and concepts that are easy to grasp.
9. "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Hiring managers want to know that you’re setting realistic goals for your career as well as gauge your ambition and whether or not the role aligns with your goals and your plan for growth.
It’s critical to have your own vision for where your career is going and how it will fit with the employers’ strategies going forward.
It's in companies' best interest to make sure they're making their workers' skills, experience, and interests a priority and to help them navigate and nurture a growth and development plan.
10. "Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person"
This question gets to the core of what you're like to work with. The hiring manager needs to know what type of co-worker you struggle to collaborate with and whether you know how to find a way to work together successfully with that type.
This is especially important for project work or short term contracts. You may be jumping into established teams or even leading them. You will be paid to do a job, and that means getting along with all types of people, even ones who don't work like you do.