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Tackling tricky interview questions 06/06/2012

What questions can you expect at your interview? Maggie Berry reveals her tips on handling tricky questions.

Tackling tricky interview questions

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  1. Be prepared
  2. Tell me something about yourself
  3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Why are you looking to move jobs?
  5. Tell me five words that best describe you
  6. Describe a difficult situation you have faced
  7. Do you have any questions?

Be prepared

If you've secured yourself an interview, your CV and covering letter have set yourself apart from the crowd. The next hurdle, of course, is shining at the interview stage and demonstrating to the interviewer that you are the obvious choice.

This stage of the application process is where many fail because they have either not done enough research about the organisation or they are not prepared for the tricky questions so often thrown at them. So how can you best prepare, and what sorts of questions can you expect?

Tell me something about yourself

While this may seem like an easy question – often used at the start of an interview as an ‘ice-breaker’ – if you haven’t prepared you may very well say something irrelevant if you are put on the spot.

Before the interview think about the areas you would like to cover – this should include qualifications and academic history, career experience to date, achievements and a few personal touches – things that you can talk about which not only demonstrate more about you, but also relate to the job in question.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

This is a question that is asked time and time again at interview, yet it is often where a candidate is left lost for words because they haven’t prepared in advance. This question is meant to test your ability to analyse yourself and others so focus on a couple of strengths such as technical ability, or communications skills and ensure you demonstrate how they have directly benefited past employers and could, in the future, add value the interviewer’s organisation.

Weaknesses are a little trickier. Many candidates wrongly believe that the answer here is to deny they have any. Wrong. Try and come up with a weakness that, when expanded on, turns itself into a strength. For example, ‘Sometimes I think I am too hard on myself’, or ‘I have a low tolerance for colleagues that do not pull their weight in a team’, which both suggest you have high standards of yourself, and others. By preparing a weakness in advance you will not be tempted to say you don’t have any, or worse still come up with something that portrays you badly.

Why are you looking to move jobs?

If confronted with this question, keep your answer short and positive. Focus on the fact that you want to move because you relish new challenges, want to take on more responsibility, or want to develop your existing skills.

Even if it’s true, don’t be tempted to say that it is because your current employer doesn’t recognise your true potential or doesn’t pay you enough.

Tell me five words that best describe you

Ensure that you can come up with five by preparing these in advance, and that they relate back to the job description. For example, if you think ‘independent’ sums you up well bear in mind that this may also insinuate that you don’t work very well in a close knit team. Perhaps something like ‘ambitious’ is a better option which works well in all scenarios.

Describe a difficult situation you have faced

Choose something here that has happened recently, is easy to explain, and certainly doesn’t infer that you were at the root of the problem. Be sure to illustrate how you identified the problem, how you acted decisively to overcome it, and finally what the outcome was.

Do you have any questions?

Don’t be tempted to say no when asked this. It is always a good idea to have a couple of questions up your sleeve to finish off the interview that will serve to show your interest. For example, ‘What is the next stage of the application process’ or ‘What structures are in place to develop an employee’s skills and experiences?’ are good options. Don’t be tempted to ask questions that will set off alarm bells such as ‘What is the sick-pay scheme like’ or ‘When do staff receive their first pay appraisal’.

While interviews may appear daunting, spending the time beforehand preparing some answers will pay off. And always remember, the interviewer is never trying to catch you out and no matter how the questions are phrased they all boil down to the same thing: ‘How will this individual fit in at the company and will they do a better job than the other applicants.’

Maggie Berry, owner, Women In Technology

Maggie Berry, owner, Women In Technology

Maggie runs Women in Technology, a leading networking forum for women working in the technology profession in the UK.