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How to Tackle Difficult Interview Questions

How to navigate difficult and probing questions with ease.

Having read your CV or application form, the interviewer will almost certainly have queries about the details. They are most likely to want to know more about:

  • Employment gaps;
  • Frequent job changes;
  • Unusual career moves;
  • Reasons for leaving jobs;
  • Being over- or under-qualified for the post;
  • Poor matches with the job requirements.

It will pay to plan your response to the sort of questions that, if you are unprepared, can put you on the sport. You can be sure they’ll want to probe these areas more deeply to fill in the details.

Read through your CV carefully with an employer’s eye and organize your responses well in advance of the interview. As well as being fully prepared about everything you’ve put down, ask yourself what questions you would least like to be asked, and plan your answers accordingly. If you think the interviewer would worry about something, your task is to allay their anxiety and show them why it’s not a problem. Look on the bright side- things can’t be that bad or you wouldn’t be invited to the interview. Don’t forget to demonstrate your integrity, adaptability and positivity in your answers.

A Useful Outline for Answering Difficult Questions

  1. Agree with the interviewer- don’t argue or tell them they’ve read your CV the wrong way. If the interviewer thinks there’s a problem, there’s a problem. Appreciate their point of view, then add your ‘however…’

  2. Give your reasons, explanations and/or mitigating circumstances in a brief anecdote underlining your case.

  3. Above all, confirm it’s not a problem that will affect them.

Examples of Answers to Difficult Questions

‘You were in your last job a long time. How do you think you’d adjust to a new post?’

You need to reassure the interviewer that you haven’t become a stick-in-the-mud. If there are good reasons why you stayed on, give them- that you needed to stay in the same town, or were loyal to the firm. Explain that you still had to be adaptable, flexible and learning all the time on the job.

‘You’ve been in your current job a rather short time. Why are you changing so soon?’

Acceptable reasons include: relocation- yours or the company’s; redundancy or reorganization; a genuine mistake (the job wasn’t what you thought it was going to be); or that this new role is too good an opportunity to miss. If you have changed jobs frequently owing to a genuine run of bad luck, tell them; firms do close down, reorganize and relocate, now more than ever before.

‘This job/your last job was a bit of a step down for you. Is there a reason for that?’

Show how the jobs you’ve had fit in with your overall career plan. If you’re comparatively young, you may have been promoted ahead of your time and consciously took a step back to use the time to mature. Your interests may also have taken you in a different direction, or you might have reached the top in one field and want to bring your skills and experience to a new area, even if that means retrenching.

What are your career plans?

This question asked of any female between 20 and 50 could mean ‘Are you planning to have a baby?’ As this would be an illegal question, you can ignore any subtext and simply answer the question as asked, outlining your career strategy and underlining what you can bring to the job. There is a time and a place for discussing maternity leave, but this isn’t it.

For more advice covering all the background information you need and essential practice in answering questions, Lynn Williams’ Ultimate Interview is a must-have for all serious job hunters.