How to handle tricky interview questions!

Posted in: Advice, Internships, Tips & Hints

OK, confession time! A long time ago, when I went for my first interview for a graduate scheme at a leading advertising agency - right at the end the interviewer asked me, "so, if you could be a vegetable; what sort of vegetable would you be?". I was totally thrown by this curve ball of a questions and mumbled, "a cabbage". Truth is, I don't like cabbages... (no offence to all you cabbage lovers!)

'You will find that my greatest strength is that I have no weaknesses...'
'You will find that my greatest strength is that I have no weaknesses...'

Then there is the inevitable "what are your strengths and weaknesses?" question or the "where do you see yourself in 5 years time". With the best preparation in the world, it'll happen. The employer will ask you a question that you just hadn't planned for or expected. TargetJobs have put together an excellent list of the common tricky questions and have shared strategies on how to answer them. Really worth a read!

In my mind, the employer isn't always interested in 'what' you say but rather 'how' you handle the situation.  How you cope with curve balls they throw your way is a strong indicator of your ability to work under pressure, remain calm and problem solve. So next time you are caught off guard in an interview, take a deep breath - smile and ask the employer to give you a few minutes to think. This approach conveys bags and bags of self-confidence.

That said, when it comes to interviews, there are certain questions that crop up time and time again. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail and all that. Yes, it’s a well-trodden adage and it might even sound worn, but if you want to wing it at a job interview then, well, you’re on your own. Below are the five most common interview questions and ones that we have found students and graduates find most challenging.

  1. Tell me about yourself: this is a tricky one, so much so that we have written a dedicated blog post about this.
  2. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Structure-wise, this is easy. Use your common sense and focus on sharing more strengths than weaknesses. Make sure the strengths you choose are a match to those required by the employer / role. When it comes to weaknesses avoid 'perfectionism' - we've all heard it before and points to lack of authenticity. Instead, check out the excellent advice from Warwick Careers on how to answer this most common question.
  3. Where do you see yourself in five years time? another infamous interview question, yet it's difficult to answer without resorting to dreaded cliches like "I just want to be doing something I enjoy", or "I want to be at the top of my game". The advice from the Guardian totally nails how to answer this question and is very much worth a read.
  4. If you were a vegetable, what sort of vegetable would you be? these sorts of questions are testing to see how well you react. Some great advice by  Darren Kaltved; if only I had read this piece years ago.
  5. Do you have any questions for us? just as you think, the end is near the interviewer now puts the ball in your court and expects you to ask questions. In my mind, this is an opportunity for you to shine even brighter. Ask questions that convey motivation and help you build a rapport with the interviewer. Check in tomorrow for our final blog post in the interviews series, where we will share with you do's and dont's and crucially provide examples of good questions to ask.

Don't forget: practice makes perfect, so do book an interview with one of our careers advisers!

Posted in: Advice, Internships, Tips & Hints


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