The interview stage is one of the toughest parts of the job application process. Talking to a recruiter face to face whilst having to answer tough questions puts you under a lot of pressure - this is why preparing for an interview is essential. Being ready for curveballs before they’re thrown at you will mean your answers are miles better than they might be if you were thinking of a response on the spot.
We’ve explained how to answer the 10 most common tough interview questions and asked our own head of HR, Mónica, for some advice along the way.
Have a clear answer prepared - 3 skills that you are most proud of which you believe are most valuable to the company. Think about your track record and have a summary of this prepared.
If you are applying for a Sales position with an advanced level of French, you are going to explain about your experience dealing with customers, and all the years spent in French classes since you were little.
If you don’t have the experience, and/or it’s for an internship, you can talk about your communication skills and how you had to make presentations at your university.
This shows how self-aware you are and how good you are at self-reflection. Being able to rationally see where you’ve gone wrong and where you can improve is a valuable quality to have.
Using an answer such as “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard” is all too common and most of the time not very accurate. As Mónica points out “employers don’t believe that everyone works too hard.”
Recruiters will be able to sense how sincere your answer is, and this type of response doesn’t normally cut it. Nonetheless, whilst it’s great, to be honest, it’s important to also give an example of how you are working on that weakness to overcome it.
I can sometimes have problems with time management. To make sure this doesn’t interfere with my work, I make my own schedule for the day and am strict with myself that I don’t neglect one task whilst paying too much attention to another.
Gaps in employment can (but not always!) be a red flag for employers. It’s very likely that if you have a gap in your CV that an employer will ask you to explain why. This is to make sure it isn’t to do with a candidate's personal weakness, for example, lack of ambition or laziness. Mónica explains, “This one shouldn’t be so hard. You know the answer why.”
You quit your job because you felt you weren’t learning anything new, so you decided to leave to have more time to participate in a course that would help you progress in your career and explore your options. It’d be great to add that this position could be it!
Definitely avoid saying something like: "I didn’t feel like working so I didn’t work for a few months since I was able to get a job seekers allowance". This answer will never give you a job offer!
It’s important that you get the tone right when answering this question. Try to sound reasonably positive and don’t focus too much on the negatives. Perhaps mention how the negative aspects of your last job resulted in you applying to this current position.
Take the scenario where you are applying to a Customer Service Agent role with English, and your native language is French. Your previous job was as a Sales Assistant in a store in the city centre of Paris.
What you liked about the role: Having the opportunity of talking to different people every day and feeling you are helping them. Also using all of your languages, because you love practising your Italian and English, which are not your native languages.
What you disliked: Standing up all day. You now want a job where you can sit, while still being able to communicate with others.
This question can help an employer gain insight into your personality and how you may get along within a team. It can also give insight into what characteristics you need from a boss.
To me, the best manager I had was someone who was always available for any question or idea I had to share with him. He was open-minded and always tried to motivate me.
He also tried to help me to find a way to improve giving me his feedback any time he saw I was doing something wrong. These are things I really value in a manager as I think these allow me to grow professionally.
This question will help see where you are on the scale of being ready and willing to learn to be overly dependent on your manager. Have a clear idea of what you look for in a boss and a couple of things you would like guidance on.
Don’t explain yourself too much. You don’t want to look like a fussy person. Tell your interviewer two or three skills you would like your manager to have and explain the reason why.
For example, I think I would like to work with a manager whom I can talk to and share my ideas with. Ideally, that person would have very good communication skills and also would ask for his team’s opinion when making strategic decisions. I also value a lot when my manager gives me feedback on my work so I can improve and grow as an employee.
Employers want to know that your salary demands are reasonable. Ask for a range before you throw out a figure as if you are the first to state your expectations the number you state could be less than what an employer might be willing to pay.
Before your interview, get an idea of how much similar positions pay so you know what you’re talking about. To be safe, use this research as a guide and express your willingness to negotiate your pay scale.
It may sound obvious, but this should be answered with a focus solely on your professional life. You should let the employer know you would be willing to stay at the company for a substantial amount of time rather than “I’m not sure how long I’d like to stay here”.
You don’t have to promise you’ll stick around for 20 years, but on the same note, an employer who is only planning to stay a year might not be the most appealing either.
"Within five years, I would like to become the very best accountant your company has on staff. I want to work toward becoming the expert that others rely upon. And in doing so, I feel I'll be fully prepared to take on any greater responsibilities which might be presented in the long term. For example, here is what I'm presently doing to prepare myself…"
Many people make this mistake. Employers want candidates who are interested not just in the salary, but in the company and the particular role they are applying to.
It doesn't look good when someone asks “What role did I apply to again?”. Demonstrate your knowledge about the company by doing some research beforehand.
As Mónica says, “Explain what you understood the company does, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about it. The importance of this question is showing interest. That you actually cared to look at what they do. ”
“From what I’ve seen, you are a multilingual job board for candidates within Europe. You also have a blog featuring content about career advice and relocating abroad. Also, I am interested to find out as a company dealing with candidates from many different companies, are you an international company or are you just based in Barcelona? Do you have any plans for expansion?
This can be one of the toughest questions of all. Are you meant to have any questions? Do they think you haven't been listening? Will I seem disinterested if I say no?
The answer is that you should always have one or two questions to ask to at least seem interested. On the other hand, you should also make sure you listen to the information given during the interview so you don't ask something that has already been explained. Some of the most important questions that will also show the recruiter you're serious about the job include:
Questions about the role:
Through this question, you'll see how the company functions, what your day would look like and understand how much you'd enjoy the pace of the company and the tasks you'd be assigned.
This will help you understand the kind of goals you will be expected to reach.
This question is great for finding out the available growth and development opportunities. Any company that doesn't have these should be a warning signal that this might not be the right company to work for.
Knowing the size of your team and getting an idea of what your working environment will be like is a big part of measuring how you'll enjoy working at a company. This is important for both social and more introverted people alike.
Questions about you as a candidate:
Asking this question is a great way to show your enthusiasm for working at the company and eliminate any doubts the recruiter might have. Be prepared to come up with some quick answers though, as you want to be able to confidently reply to this question in order to prevent reinforcing these doubts in the employer's mind.
Question about the company
Again, having some understanding of what your working environment would look like is really important before you start at any company.
By asking this, you will hopefully get some insight into employee satisfaction. If the interviewer hesitates when answering this, it might not be the best sign.
If you're looking at staying at a company long-term, you'll want to make sure that you know that there are plans for growth.
Know what you're getting into. Although an employer would never explicitly tell you your team is falling apart, you'll be able to get the gist of how well your potential team is working by asking this.
Questions about the interview process
This is one of the most important questions, but also one of the questions that are most likely to have been answered already. We've included it because if this hasn't been explained to you, you should know so that you will be able to prepare for any following stages if the initial interview goes according to plan..
Whilst you want to make sure you’re prepared for an interview, don’t overthink it. You want to come across as natural and sincere rather than as if you’re reading off a flashcard. Be honest and smart. Know what type of answer the employer is looking for and adapt your answer around that.