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How to Answer Tricky Questions during Job Interviews

2 months ago by Luigi Muscat Filletti
People speaking at the desk

Preparing for a job interview may be rather nerve-racking for some candidates, whilst for others, a walk in the park. No matter one’s approach to a job interview, being able to prepare for answers to the basic questions is essential, and it is equally important to be able to do so in a composed and confident manner which is also honest and genuine. So much so, that the content of one’s answer is as significant as its context - in more basic terms, what one answers is just as important as how one answers.

This point begins to gain further consideration when employers throw in more challenging questions to candidates which may catch them off guard. From trick questions to on-the-spot style questions, to ones which may not even have a right or wrong answer, employers tend to ask such questions to gauge the reaction and response of candidates in an attempt to assess not only their interpersonal skills, but also their personal interests, views and ambitions.

 

Although tough and tricky job interview questions are diverse and plentiful, below we take a look at a handful of those asked by employers, and how to go about answering them.

 

1) What’s your biggest weakness?

Starting with the most predictable, employers tend to ask this question to evaluate whether the candidate is self-aware, honest and open about their weaknesses just as much as they are about their strengths. The ability to acknowledge one’s weaknesses is the first step towards improvement, this showing a mature and considerate professional who is serious about developing their skills.

A good way to answer this question would be to first identify a skill or characteristic of yours related to your professional life (or even personal traits, too) which you feel may be considered a weakness. Once identifying them, you may wish to give a reason which explains how they are considered a weakness - perhaps through past experiences or personal considerations. The next step would then be to suggest a practical way of addressing them in order to improve.

Examples of such weaknesses could be the inability to provide consistent feedback, being a great risk-taker, focusing too much on the details, insufficient knowledge of particular topics, being too patient or not very patient, or the lack of social confidence.

One should consider that although it is important for the candidate to be honest, as first impressions go, it is also important not to mention weaknesses which could be considered a deal-breaker - such as the inability to prioritise tasks, manage time efficiently or work under constant pressure - which are all essential skills needed in today’s fast-paced, results-driven working world.

Thus, providing an answer which is authentic and overall positive, and one which offers a valuable solution for a way forward is the best way to go when being asked such a question.

 

2) What traits do you think your previous colleagues would describe of you?

Employers tend to ask this question to assess how the candidate perceives themselves from another person’s point of view, and this is also usually an attempt to register the candidate’s sense of ego and persona. This question provides the candidate the opportunity to mention their best traits to the employer - and in so doing, it is important for the candidate to mention those traits which are applicable to the job.

The key here is to be honest, and rather than solely mentioning what the employer wants to hear, the trick is to mention aspects of yourself which you believe others value, and providing an example for each. This can done by looking back at past instances where colleagues praised you and provided positive feedback for your work or initiative. One could also recall past performance reviews, collaborations and team-building events as such instances. By providing an example to back up such quality traits, one would be adding credibility and trust to their response, helping structure a well shaped-answer.

 

3) Have you ever had a conflict with a colleague or manager? How was it resolved?

This type of question is usually asked for employers to form a more informed option on how the candidate deals with conflicts and obstacles at the workplace. This in an attempt to understand whether the candidate is a right fit for the workplace environment and if their attitude is one which is positive or negative.

The candidate should approach such a question by providing an example of a past, resolved conflict at the workplace, what actions were carried out to settle it out and what measures where taken to ensure or prevent it from happening again down the line. Once more, this is an opportunity for the candidate to present how they make use of both their hard skills and soft skills to constructively tackle any forms of conflict at the workplace.

The candidate should communicate a sense of reliability and responsibility to show the employer that they can be trusted. Thus, providing an example of a conflict and its solution in an honest and authentic manner would help the candidate maintain an image which is desirable.

 

4) What did you dislike about your previous job?

Such a question is usually asked once establishing what the candidate valued and liked about their previous job, so this provides a flip side to the same point of discussion. Interestingly, employers tend to ask this question to assess the tone and attitude of the candidate’s response, besides assessing whether the candidate is a good fit for the company culture.

The candidate should answer such a question by focusing primarily on the positives, explaining how their previous job provided them a fruitful and rewarding experience. The candidate should refrain from being too negative, despite the nature of the question. Employers want to know that the person they are hiring is not one to talk negatively about their job experiences, company and colleagues - after all, the employer wants their mind at rest that they would be recruiting an individual who upholds the company’s brand image.

The candidate should therefore mention situations, tasks and processes of their previous work experience which might not have been completely productive, efficient or practical, and by so doing, guiding the flow of the conversation towards how such instances would supposedly be better at the new company they are applying for.

 

5) What is the ideal job you are looking for?

Perhaps a follow up to the above question, this is one to catch the candidate off guard and especially asked to younger candidates, the objective of this question is for the employer to gauge how invested the candidate would be in the job in the long term, as well as comprehend better what the candidate is truly passionate about. Besides understanding whether the candidate is the right fit for the company, this question helps show whether the company is the right fit for the candidate.

The best way for the candidate to answer this question would be to first take an honest approach, this by asking themselves what their greatest career ambition is. Once outlining such objectives, the candidate should form a description which aligns their current skills and experience to these goals. This way, the candidate would be providing more context to their answer, contributing towards a more qualitative response. One should avoid answering this question by simply stating the roles they wish to achieve, but rather by providing a contextual answer which hints towards or supports the mentioning of this role.

For example, the candidate might be applying for a role as a Junior Software Developer, and their ultimate career ambition is to land a role as a Data Analyst. The candidate should tailor their answer to the job they are applying for, and in this case, perhaps explain how this job would allow them to sharpen their skills and gain valuable work experience which would help them progress their career in the right direction towards their personal career objectives.

Furthermore, the candidate could also mention how they understand and share the company’s mission, objectives and values, and how they feel this job would enhance their career.

Essentially, employers want to know that they are recruiting talented professionals who are not only serious about contributing towards company growth and success, but who are also capable of nurturing their development as well-rounded professionals with personal career goals.

 

All in all

To conclude, when faced with tough and tricky questions by employers, candidates should be honest and open and communicate in a genuine and considerate approach, tailored to the job they are applying for. Maintaining a calm and composed image and nature of response helps significantly in forming a great impression, helping candidates to gain trust with employers before they are recruited.