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Top 9 toughest interview questions and how to answer them

Sarah Owens, managing director of Direct Recruitment, shows us some of the most common and toughest questions that regularly come up during interviews.

Top 9 toughest interview questions and how to answer them

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

This can seem a little daunting. Planning so far ahead when things change very quickly can be difficult for some people and easy for others. But, when answering this question in an interview, you need to remember to tailor your answer to the job that you are applying for. Research the progression routes in the company that you are hoping to be employed in and try picturing yourself working in that position later on in life.

Can you describe your dream job?

This is not an opportunity to brown nose your potential employer - be honest. If this really is your dream job then, by all means, say so. If this is the stepping stone towards your dream job, then you need to say that as well. It’s definitely a tough question - you can come across as not being very genuine or look like you would be dissatisfied in the position if it isn’t your dream job. Your best bet is not to mention a specific job title but to describe a work environment: "My dream job would be in a place where I would be able to use my creative abilities."

Why are there gaps in your employment history?

If you have gaps in your employment history - be prepared to answer this question. However, don’t be ashamed of it. Just make sure your answer is honest and direct. Employers are generally understanding about gaps - whether they are due to illness or because there weren’t many jobs out there. This is more a question of how you handle being asked about those awkward gaps. If your reaction is to immediately start blaming your previous employer for your lack of employment, then it sends warning messages to your interviewer. 

Are you interested in leading or managing others? Why or why not?

This is a question that has been circulating recently. It can come across as heavily loaded – should you say that you are interested in managing people even if you aren’t? Does that make you seem weak? Does admitting that you are interested in managing or leading people make you seem as though you may be bossy? Or, would admitting that you are interested in managing people show off your ambition? You need to be honest with the interviewer and yourself. Remember, you may not be ready to lead or manage somebody yet but possibly in a year’s time, after developing the skills needed, you may become confident enough in your abilities to manage others.

If you could change three things about yourself, what would they be and why?

This is the hybrid of  the "What are your weaknesses?" question. Straight to the point, it targets your faults and allows you to show the interviewer that you are able to self-evaluate and criticise yourself. Take this as the perfect opportunity to mention weaknesses that you’ve already begun to turn around. "I used to have a bad habit of taking on too many tasks at once and not focusing my time and attention on them properly. This meant that the work done was acceptable, but not my best. Now I have learnt to delegate tasks and effectively utilise my colleagues help." Don’t try to use ‘fake’ weaknesses like "I’m too much of a perfectionist" or "I work too hard" - it makes you look pretentious and unlikeable.

What do you expect from this job?

It’s one of those questions that, at first glance, strike you as so simple - but as soon as you’re asked- you go blank. Refer back to the job description if you need help. Your best bet is to describe the work environment you enjoy working in as well as the key skills and opportunities you would hope to gain by working there.

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Think about this question objectively, not literally. Try to relate it back to the job. "Being praised for a job well done motivates me to get out of bed in the morning because I know that I am appreciated and I know that the work I am producing is being recognised".
"Being able to do XYZ motivates me to get out of bed every morning because it’s something I’m passionate about".

Tell me about yourself?

This is your opportunity to talk about all your hobbies and interests that were relevant for your CV but not essential. It’s also a great platform to talk about your interests and display your personality outside of your work skills and abilities. Of course, if they correlate with the job that you are applying for, then that is a bonus as well.

Do you have any questions?

More often than not the interviewer has already covered most, if not all, the questions you had racked your brain to think of on the way to the interview. Or, if that is not the case, you’ve forgotten your questions due to nerves. Prepare at least five questions and write them down in a little note pad to bring in with you for the interview. It is a good idea to have a notepad with you any way to take key points down during the interview. Do ask about progression routes within the company, find out about up-and-coming projects as well as how your first three months with the company would be structured.  Ask the interviewer some questions about themselves - how long have they been working there and how did they start?

Remember that you cannot just give flat answers - you need to elaborate.

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