Difficult Interview Questions – How to Answer Them

December 07, 2011  |   Career Coaching Blog,Featured   |     |   0 Comment

This guide looks at difficult interview questions and how to answer them. In our career coaching practice often clients have not been for an interview for a long time. So they can be nervous about them, particularly about what they term difficult questions.

When involved with career coaching we encourage clients to prepare as much as they can for interviews. By doing this it really is possible to anticipate many of the questions that will be asked and to have an answer ready. However there are questions that arise that may not be directly related to the competencies and skills required in a job. It is this type of question that is the focus of this article.


Interview Preparation

Preparation for any interview is critical. This article on Interviews explains how to make sure you prepare properly. It covers how to make sure you can run through your CV fluently highlighting experience that is relevant to the job for which you are applying. If you can do this you can easily answer questions like ‘why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?’  Or ‘can you run through your career to date please?’  The article also includes great advice on how to work out the kind of questions you will be asked, and how to answer them well. It has helped many of our career coaching clients to be selected for the job that they wanted.


The Difficult Interview Questions

In this group of questions are those which are hard to anticipate and prepare for beforehand. These are much less likely to be based on the competencies for the job. They are often questions that the interviewer has been asked before and found difficult. Alternatively they might be questions that are a favourite of the interviewer. From a candidates perspective they seem to act to create a black hole in the interview, but they do not need to. I have listed below some of the questions career coaching clients have reported back to me as being tough. Beneath each is a guide to providing a good answer which is unlikely to risk your prospect of getting the job.


Q: If you were doing this interview what question would you want to ask next?


A: Find a question that allows you to highlight your strengths and not one designed to reveal weaknesses. For example ‘What strength do you think would be most valuable to our company?’


Q: What has been your biggest mistake at work and what have you learned as a result?


A: This is both a test of your self-awareness (nobody is perfect) and a way of finding out if you learn from and avoid repetition of your mistakes. Find an example of something that allows you to use your answer to demonstrate a current strength. For example, ‘In my early days of making a project proposal I once assumed because I had been asked by the board to do it that I didn’t need to brief them on my proposal prior to the meeting. After a lot of hard work and research the proposal was turned down. There were aspects of it that some board members were unhappy about. I would have known about these if I had consulted them. I now make sure that prior to making any proposal I have talked the key decision makers through it before the meeting itself.’


Q: What do you see as the five greatest successes in your life?


A: Give an answer that has at least three work achievements, an educational achievement or one related to an interest and one related to family and friends. This demonstrates your achievement orientation and a balance in your life.


Q: What is your greatest strength and weakness? (Or a version of this)


A: This is a chance to shine, as well as show self-awareness. Give a positive strength that is related to the requirements of the job. For the weakness I’d advise you to find a real one that will not ruin your chances of getting the job. Interviewers tend to be wise to candidates who come up with a weakness that may be seen as a strength, for example, ‘I can be a bit of a perfectionist so my drive for top quality can sometimes irritate others’.  The key in whatever weakness you choose to use is

  • don’t pick a weakness that will devastate your chances of getting the job. So for example don’t say interpersonal skills for a sales job! So avoid weaknesses that are a key competency for the job
  • in your answer say ‘sometimes I….’ so it’s not a permanent weakness but one that occasionally shows itself
  • in your answer say that you are aware of the weakness and you are working on overcoming it. This shows self-awareness and a desire to develop yourself – very positive characteristics


Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?


A: With this type of question you need to balance your ambition with the expectations of the interviewer and reality. Firstly do not say you see yourself in a job outside the company. Do not say you see yourself as a Director if you are 18 and taking a role at the first level in the organisation. A safe answer would be ‘I would hope to have demonstrated my skills and progressed to a level more senior to this job. This shows ambition and drive, as well as a realistic level of career aspiration.


Q: Are there any questions you would like to ask us?


A: Some candidates see this question as a kind of trap – it isn’t. It may be an idea to ask a question to show an interest in the job but you don’t have to. A good one that shows you are motivated to succeed would be ‘can you tell me about the training and development I can expect to receive?’ Alternatively you could ask a question designed to show you have done your research on the company, for instance, ‘I noticed on the internet you are planning to open new offices in France. Does that mean you are looking to expand more widely in Europe?’


There will be a lot of other questions similar to the ones listed here that come up in interviews. But by following the principles given here you will be able to answer them and give yourself the best chance of getting the job. If you want help in preparing for an important interview you can find more details of the services we offer on our career coaching page.




Tony Goddard




Keywords; Career Coaching, Career Coaching Company, Career Coach, Career Coaching Clients, Career Coaching Services, Career Coaching Provider, interviews, interview questions, tough interview questions, difficult interview questions, strengths and weaknesses

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