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How to answer difficult interview questions

By David Brown, CEO of Hays U.S. on January 7th, 2020

Preparing for difficult interview questions and taking the time to adjust your answers to a company can go a long way in helping you stand out. Some of the toughest questions are common and push you to think creatively about your responses. Here are some of the trickiest interview questions candidates face today.

Can you tell me more about yourself?

This is likely to be one of the first questions you are asked and can set the tone for the rest of the interview. Since its vague nature, this question can prompt an all or nothing response. Either the candidate tells their entire life story, or simply recites their current job title and company. The interviewer wants to know how you got to where you are and how suitable you are for the role and the company. Make sure to tell your story up until now, but focus on what you can bring to this opportunity.

What do you do to ensure your skills are up to date?

This question has a similar objective to the above. Not only does the interviewer want to know that you have a keen interest or passion in the field, they also want to know that you are always eager to learn and develop within your role.

Can you tell us about a time when you failed?

The word “fail” typically puts candidates on the defensive, which is understandable. However, the worst thing you can say in this situation is that you have never failed. Remember that by asking you this question, the interviewer isn’t trying to catch you out. They know even the most diligent and promising candidates would have experienced setbacks.They want to know how you overcame them and what you learnt.

Your failure doesn’t don’t have to be massively detrimental. You could mention a time that you simply missed a deadline or didn’t meet one of your Key Performance Indicators. When you answer this question set the scene, paint a clear picture of where you went wrong, what you learnt from it and what you would do differently next time.

Can you describe your ideal job?

This isn’t a trick to check you have read the job description properly. The interviewer will have asked you this question to determine whether you would actually be happy in this role, therefore, likely to stay and progress within the company.

When preparing this answer, think about what your core responsibilities be in your ideal role, and how you would apply your key skills to these. Now think about how this can tie into the role that you are interviewing for, and highlight both what you are looking for, what you can offer, and why you are a good match for them.

What are your salary expectations?

Your interviewer should know the industry standard for your role and level of experience. Make sure you do, and if not, then check out our salary guide. Having this information will allow you to answer this question with a lot more conviction, and will put you in a much better position should you need to negotiate. If you are still in the early stages of the interview process and don’t feel that you want to negotiate just yet, you can always say that you want to better understand the company and the role before commenting on salary.

For more career advice visit the resources section of our website.

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