How to answer the difficult interview questions that keep cropping up.

We all know how important it is to prepare for an interview. No matter what type of job you’re interviewing for, certain questions crop up without fail and some of these are particularly tricky to answer. Employers are inundated with great applicants these days, pushing them to ask particularly tough questions and to expect even more from candidates. Asking the same questions repeatedly of course means that interviewers are likely to hear many similar answers. With so many people on the hunt for a job these days, how can you ensure that you stand out from the crowd, while still sounding genuine?

A good first step is to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and consider what they’re trying to find out from a job interview. When they say “tell me about yourself”, a savvy interviewer does not simply want an open-ended description of your life. They’re really hoping to listen closely to who you are as a person and read between the lines to work out whether you are suited to the job at hand. So make a mental note of interview questions that come up a lot or that you find particularly difficult. Think about these questions – and what the interviewer is really trying to find out by asking them – so that you can prepare your answer accordingly. The key is to know what they want and work out how to show that you have it.

Tell me about yourself.

A standard interview starter, answering this question seems simple. Talking about yourself is easy, so you can just tell them about your life in general until they tell you to stop, right? Well while that might be an easier option, you would be missing out on your first opportunity to sell yourself. By asking this question, your interviewer doesn’t really want to know your life story. They want to know what you have to offer that is relevant to the job. This is your opportunity to talk about strengths, skills and experiences you have that equip you for this job. The opportunity to prepare this answer in advance therefore is a valuable one and should not be missed! What is the interviewer likely to want from a candidate for this particular job? Plan how you can show that you have these qualities by giving the interviewer a short snapshot of who you are as a person and what relevant experience you’ve had.

What is your weakness?

Thrown in with the obvious interview goal – to sell yourself – talking about your weaknesses understandably goes against the grain. We are programmed to take every opportunity to accentuate the positive in an interview. This question therefore offers a tempting opportunity to dress a positive up as a negative. Saying that your weakness is that you “work too hard” however may well do more harm than good. A smart interviewer will see straight through such fake weaknesses and you will have lost an opportunity to tell your potential employer a bit more about yourself. This question gives you the opportunity to show awareness of yourself, understanding of the importance of working on weaknesses and the ability to work to improve them. A great answer to this question therefore will state a genuine negative and then discuss steps you are taking to work on this problem.

Why should I hire you?

This famous last question sums up everything you have discussed in the interview so far. The interviewer’s aim with this question is simple; they want to know what you’ve got that the other candidates haven’t. Preparation is vital here. This is not preparation that you can do at home however, but rather requires attention throughout the interview. Really listen to the interviewer, so that you can build up as good an idea as possible of a day in this position, what they are looking for in a candidate and the company’s methodology in general. It is only once you have worked out exactly what they want that you can tailor your answer to show that you’re the very best fit that they will find. Show that you understand the job by running through what the job entails and explaining why you’re equipped for these tasks. Prove that you are motivated by discussing the company’s mission and underlining why it interests you. The employer will see that you are interested, dedicated and would fit well into their company.

Did the above questions ring a bell from past interviews? Maybe others crop up over and over again for you. Whatever the common questions may be, it is clear that the key to great answers is preparation. Think about the questions from an interviewer’s point of view. Work out what other questions they are implying with the question that they actually ask you. To show that you’re better suited for the job than all the other applicants, you need to work out what they want and be able to prove that you have it. It’s impossible to prepare for all interview questions, but you’d be a fool not to prepare for the ones you’re bound to get!