The questions asked in job interviews can vary significantly depending on the position, type of company and who is conducting the interview, and it’s difficult to anticipate what curveballs a recruiter or potential future manager might throw at you.
No matter how well you prepare, there are always certain job interview questions that catch you off guard.
Some of these questions are used purely to gauge how an interviewee reacts when they’re taken by surprise or put under pressure.
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Here are five of the trickiest interview questions out there, and recruitment specialist Hays explains how to answer them.
‘Where do you see yourself in five years from now?’
Why interviewers ask this question: To gauge your career ambition and whether you have long-term interest in both the field and the company.
Not only do they want to ensure that you’re not going to go elsewhere in a few months' time, they also want to hear that your goal is realistic.
How to respond: Most people have at least a vague idea of the career path they’d like to take and if you’ve researched the role and company appropriately before the interview, you’ll also know how the particular role could evolve.
The trick to answering is linking these two - prove that not only do you have realistic expectations but that you have done your research and understand what is realistic for that particular role and business.
The Hays example: “In five years’ time I’d like to be seen as a valued employee who has deep expertise in XYZ. I believe I’d have the opportunity to develop such expertise over time in this role.
“I’d also like to assume people management responsibilities – I read that your organisation has a great leadership training program, so in five years’ time I’d like to have completed it and be further developing my skills to eventually take on a leadership role.”
‘What are your weaknesses?’
Why interviewers ask this question: To gauge your self-awareness and see whether you have a plan or system in place to overcome the ‘weakness’.
How to respond: Make sure you’re prepared with an example of a real-life weakness for a skill which isn’t a job requirement then explain how you overcome (or plan to) the problem.
The Hays example: “I have been afraid of public speaking for a long time, but I recently completed a Toastmasters course and gave a presentation last week to my boss, which I’m really proud of. I have another presentation scheduled for next week, and I’ve asked a trusted colleague to critique my delivery afterwards so I can continue to develop my skills in this area. ”
‘Can you tell me a bit about yourself?’
Why interviewers ask this question: To find out your relevant education, experience, key skills and get a gauge of why you applied for the role.
How to respond: You’ll need to talk to these key points. Starting with a brief overview of your education and professional experience, you’ll then need to mention any relevant skills and then explain why you want to work for that business in particular.
The Hays example: “I am a Business Management graduate with a Masters Degree in Digital Marketing. Since leaving university I have enjoyed a two year marketing career within the sports industry.
“During my time in this industry, I have been able to build upon my digital marketing expertise even further. I believe that my digital marketing skills are best showcased by an email marketing campaign I recently led, which increased our conversion rate by 10%.
“My previous organisation has helped me develop the digital skills I have today, however, I believe that for the sake of progressing my expertise further, it’s time to move on. Therefore I’m looking for a more challenging role within a fast-paced global organisation, where there’s plenty of room for me to grow as a marketing professional. That’s why I was so pleased to be invited to interview for this role.”
‘Why do you think you’re the best person for this job?’
Why interviewers ask this question: To give you the opportunity to make yourself shine out from the rest. Recruiters and hiring managers generally interview several people, and they want someone who stands out.
How to respond: Focus on your strengths, experience and relevant skills - or anything you can think of which means you could excel in the role.
The Hays example: “I have experience successfully managing projects through to completion, thanks to my stakeholder engagement skills and business acumen. I have the years of experience you require and thanks to an innovative approach to problem solving I increased our customer satisfaction scores by 25% year-on-year.
“My strong worth ethic and ability to go the extra mile have been recognised through promotions. I’m genuinely excited about this opportunity and the possibility of working here.”
‘What is your salary expectation?’
Why interviewers ask this question: To find out how you price yourself.
How to respond: This is the trickiest question of them all, and it’s where a lot of candidates fall down.
Go too low and you’ll end up working for too little, or too high and you’ll price yourself out the role altogether.
You need to do your research - think about your value, not how much you’d like to earn.
Then confidently tell the interviewer and support it with evidence. This allows room to negotiate further down the track if needed.
The Hays example: “Based on my research of similar jobs as well as data from the recent Hays Salary Guide, I understand that comparable roles are currently offering between X and Y. My expectations are in line with this range.”