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How to tackle tricky interview questions

By Hannah Nicholas
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How to handle tricky questions

  • Be prepared.
  • Use the questions to your advantage.
  • Don't answer anything you feel you shouldn't have been asked.
  • Sell yourself wherever you can.
Related articles

Remember freezing up during an interview after being asked a difficult question? It's happened to most of us, but in order to win at interviews you have to learn how to play the game — and part of your strategy has to be how to handle those tricky questions. Here's how.

*Slideshow: Make-up do’s & don’ts for the interview room.
*Slideshow: Guys! Look your best for your interview.

The top tricky questions

Salary talk: how much money are you after?
Most recruiters advise that you shouldn't initiate any talk of salary at the first interview. Rather, let them come to you with an offer. But if you are asked the question by the interviewer, there is little you can do to avoid it. You could try deflecting the question by giving them a salary range (of what you're expecting) or put the question back to them and ask what they can offer.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
This might seem like one of those "pie in the sky" questions to you, but interviewers use this type of question to see whether you have specific career goals and a genuine enthusiasm for this career path. So make sure your answer shows a real passion for your chosen career (even if you might be having second thoughts) and be sure to keep your answer relevant to the job you are applying for. It should relate to career plans only, not your personal life.

What are your weaknesses?
While most of us find it easy to come up with an answer when asked "what are your strengths?", many find it hard to answer the sister question, "what are your weaknesses?". In answering this question, you need to be honest without jeopardising your chances. One approach you can take is to relate your weakness to your enthusiasm for the job. For example, if you're an aspiring journalist, confess that you are an incurable news junkie. The last thing you want is to appear like a "big noter" by saying "I have no weaknesses" or by using a stock-standard reply like "I am a perfectionist".

Tell me the most difficult situation you have had to face and how you tackled it?
Here the interviewer is simply trying to see how you would handle a difficult situation in the workplace, what you consider to be a "difficult situation" and your approach to problem solving. In answering, your best bet is to choose a situation (preferably one that wasn't caused by you and which had a positive outcome) and explain what you did to overcome the problem.

Why should we hire you for the position?
Here you need to sound confident enough to do the job without being cocky or boastful. Praising yourself can be hard, but here you'll really need to in order to get yourself over the line. Practise this question over and over again, highlighting your top career achievements and skills.

Tips for handling tricky questions

Be prepared
Don't be put on the spot, rehearse your answers to the questions above and any others you suspect might come up. Preparation is the key to winning at interviews.

Keep it short
If you're hit with a tricky question, keep your answer short and succinct, be sure to relate your answer to the job in question and always try to paint yourself in the best light possible.

Watch your body language
If you're thrown by a question, make sure your body language doesn't give away your discomfort. Try to appear confident at all times.

Read our body language and job interviews guide.

Don't answer personal questions
Remember, you have no obligation whatsoever to answer personal questions regarding your martial status, sexuality, number of children, religion or age. Be careful about general chit-chat before and after interviews as some interviewers use this time to gain information around these topics without the interviewee realising that's what's going on.

Other tricky issues

If you have been made redundant from your current position, there is nothing to be ashamed of. These days, redundancies are common and don't present a big problem when it comes to job searching and interviews. If you are asked a question regarding your redundancy, answer by telling them you "took a package". It's best to make it look like you jumped rather than were pushed.

I will survive: dealing with redundancy.

Long career gaps
If you have taken time away from the workforce due to illness, study, overseas travel or any other reason, don't let this get in the way of your chances, but be prepared for the interviewer to ask why such a gap appears on your résumé. Simply tell the interviewer as much as they need to know and try not to sound defensive or apologetic.

Last of all, remember to use any tricky questions to your advantage — make sure the answer you give sells you as the right person for the job!

Tools and resources:     > Find your dream job     > What are you worth?     > Interview confidence boosters

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