The trickiest interview questions and how to answer them

I’ve been to my fair share of interviews over the years, maybe even more than my fair share, and some of them came with whacky questions while others were genuinely tricky to answer. Today I will cover some of the more challenging ones and share advice on how to approach answering them.

Why are you leaving / have you left your previous job?

I used to dread this question because like most people, I leave jobs in which I am unhappy with, in which I no longer grow and which are just frustrating. Unless you have been made redundant or the business folded, you will want to find a way to put a positive spin at your departure from the previous workplace. This can be done by pointing out how much you have grown in your previous role, leading to you outgrowing it or, if accurate, pointing to changing life circumstances – either the company being unable to offer you promotion, fair pay or you wanting to change environment, reduce your hours or whatever other reasons you might have.

Why do you want to work here?

‘Because I have bills to pay’ usually doesn’t cut it. Over the years I’ve interviewed with companies I had no interest in working with, did zero research on and frankly had no idea if they would be good or bad to work for, other than their financial performance. Which is why, I tend to spin this question around and respond by ‘I have plenty of reasons but before I disclose them, would you mind telling me why you like working for this organisation?’. Once they answer, you can either offer some less-in-depth level of their own response back to them as your own, or if their response does not resonate, move on and consider if you really want to work there.

If I asked your colleague to describe you in one word, what would that word be?

Personally, I find this question clever as it checks both your self-awareness and your perception skills. To answer it, it might be easier to actually talk to some of your colleagues before you leave your employment to see what they have to say about you. But if you are not in position to do so, you’ll need to pick an adjective yourself. Consider something professional and in line with the job requirements, but not self-indulgent. If you happen to be privileged and be coming into an interview recommended by someone within the company, you might also approach it with some sense of humour and suggest asking the colleague who recommended you.

What’s the minimum salary you would be comfortable with?

Believe it or not, this question is a common one despite just how offensive it sounds. I usually respond by raising my eyebrows and sitting back, to allow the interviewer to reword their question to something more palatable. However, if the person you are in the room with is past the point of self-reflection, the easiest way to answer this is by validating the budget you have been advised by the recruiter/HR/whoever booked your interview. Once the person comments on said budget, you can follow by a general answer about the research you have done and what similar roles seem to be paying where you are and stating your expectations.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am always tempted to say that I see myself in their job, but that might be a little (just a little…) impolite. The truth is, only lucky few amongst us know where we want to be in five years professionally. To divert from the fact that you might want to be at a beach with a cocktail in hand…The cleanest answer, unless you are going into a field with defined progression path, is that you see yourself in this field, but with greater skills and experience. This is also a good time to talk about your desire to learn and find out how the business supports employees training and progression opportunities.

Do you have any questions for me/us?

Even if this is your fifth round with the company and you are seeing the same person for the fifth time, you must remember that an interview is supposed to be a conversation. A person good at conversing has questions, always. Go prepared. If you find it hard to remember your questions under stress, have a notepad and pull it out when needed (it’s fine, trust me, just tell them that you’re getting it out). Some of my favourite questions include those which show genuine interest not just in the business, but in the interviewers and include asking them about their experience with and perception of the company, projects they are proud off and things they’d do better next time and the direction the business is taking. If you happen to have a C-level person in your interview, ask them about the next five years and growth strategy.

Honest story here as to why – I once interviewed with a company and the team loved me, but after I asked CEO about the plans for the business over the foreseeable future, he blocked my hire against the rest of the team’s advice. They ended up hiring somebody more junior and have since been acquired and ripped up for parts, with majority of staff let go.

I hope this article helps you overcome some of the challenges associated with interviews and job hunting. If you had any tricky interview questions recently, share them in the comments!

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