An interview (like driving lessons, awkward encounters with charity collectors and long conversations with ‘that’ neighbour) is a situation in life that we cannot escape. As much as we would like the world to swallow us up, interviews require us (and the world) to sit still and face some of the easiest people to hate.
Like a gruesome Bond villain dictating your fate, the interviewer will often attempt to bend and break you with a combination of piercingly intrusive stares and terribly devious demands. Now this horrific ordeal is something that, with experience, is something that can be tackled. Here we give you the top 5 difficult questions you may be asked in an interview.
1. "What do you like to do in your spare time?"
Now on the surface, this question is actually quite charming. It is the sort of question that your elderly and forgetful grandmother would ask you and, in almost all cases, the answer given to both the interviewer and your grandmother will be exactly the same. The amount of times I have told interviewers how much I love going to the theatre and aiding charities is ridiculous and – let me tell you – the only time I have ever been to the theatre was to ‘admire’ one of the backing dancers (and my charitable acts stop at a begrudging £2 a month to sick dolphins).
Basically 9 times out of 10, this question is met with a barrage of lies and tall tales that make you sound either like the next Jean Paul Sartre or Mother Theresa. The truth is, these interviewers do not want to know what you do in your spare time. What they are actually saying is, ‘let’s have a conversation about something other than work’. At the end of the day the people interviewing you will one day be your workmates and colleagues, so don’t try and impress them with pointless mumbo jumbo; be honest.
If you are someone who likes to watch chick flicks, then say so. If you really like the early work of George Michael, then admit it. At the end of the day, true honesty stands out above the same old thing these people hear every day. (Just to note, if your spare time is taken up by you dressing up in replica Nazi attire or inappropriately tight studded leather, then it’s best to keep that to yourself).
2. "Why did you leave your last job?"
This tricky, tedious question is one asked time and time again by interviewers and is one that plunges many unprepared souls into babbling and blurting out everything they should not be saying.
This question is, in a word, evil. It is asked in a way to trick you into admitting you were either A – fired, or B – uncommitted (sometimes there is a C, which is that you once spent a drunken night with the receptionist and you now cannot cope with getting your behind pinched every time you go to the coffee machine).
Whatever the real reason is, with a question such as this, your answer should always be something along the lines of, ‘I want to enter a more stimulating line of work’, or even ‘I want to be a part of such a promising and progressing team’. Interviewers love having smoke blown up their…well let’s just say, we all love an ego boost, and this is your chance to give them one. Big up their company, claim that you want to be exactly like them, whatever it takes to make them feel respected and liked by you.
3. "Tell us an example of when you have made a mistake in the past"
This intrusive, belittling comment is a classic weapon in any interviewer’s arsenal, and is one that leaves many an interviewee quivering with dread. This is a hard one to answer, because on one hand, you may be tempted to actually tell them of some big mistake you may have made, but this comes with the gamble of them holding it against you and dismissing your honesty.
On the other hand however, you would not want to simply deny any previous mistakes ever in your professional life. Like ‘£5 on black’ a middle of the road, semi gamble is in order in this situation; give them an actual example of a mistake, but then swing around with how you have learnt from it and how you can ensure nothing of the sort would ever happen again.
4. "What are your biggest weaknesses?"
This, like so many things interviewers say, is a trick question. Like a cunning leprechaun, this query is made to catch you out and force you into a corner that is difficult to get out of. But never fear: this question can be easily combated.
So many people fall into the trap here of reeling off brilliant things about themselves and trying to make them sound like a weakness. ‘I’m too generous’ is an example of this, along with, ‘I’m probably far too kind.’ This is baloney and should not be uttered from the lips of anybody being interviewed.
This isn’t to say that everyone who is asked this question must reveal their darkest vices. Like question number 3, the answer to this question should be a real weakness followed by how you use it to your advantage (e.g. I find it hard to stick to one narrow, mundane pattern, therefore I like to adapt my work and make it fresh and exciting).
5. "Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?"
This curveball of a question is one that is an alarm to many, and so it should be. It always comes out of the blue and like a poisoned dart aimed at the jugular, is a secret weapon wielded by many an interviewer. The trouble with a question such as this is that you don’t want to be too ambitious in your vision of the future, but then again you don’t want to seem unmotivated and dull.
If you’re going for a permie job it is probably safe to say that the correct answer to this question should be based on you being with the company you are being interviewed for. It is always best to aim high, but then again, not too high; after all you don’t want the interviewer thinking that you are trying to poach them and want to be literally sitting in their seat in a few years’ time. It is best to say that in 5 years’ time you want to be an established member of their team, one in a position of high regard and with changes brought about due to your expertise.
So there you have it, the 5 most difficult interview questions you can be asked (unless you are being interviewed by some love child of ‘Lord’ Alan Sugar and Margaret Thatcher) and it is on that note that you are left, so good luck on those all-important interviews, and remember, do not be intimidated, beat those interviewers at their own devious game!
Share your experience of difficult interview questions in the comments section below.