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Dealing with difficult interview questions

Here are some types of questions that candidates can find challenging.

  1. Questions you would rather not answer.
  2. These are the ones which touch a nerve or sore point. They usually relate to something you feel insecure about or which you believe will prevent you getting a job. The result can be that you become defensive when answering or else blurt out unnecessary information which weakens your case. It's important to think about the question and to have planned your answer, rather than just hoping it won't come up. Be honest, but also be aware you are selling yourself. So, don't talk at length about your horrible colleagues who made your life a misery. Instead aim to turn what you perceive to be a weakness into an opportunity.

    For example:

    "You were made redundant nearly two years ago. Why is it taking you so long to find another job?"

    "I made a decision when I was made redundant that I would be very selective and make sure I only went for jobs that matched my skills set and which I really wanted to do. So I've been very specific about the jobs I've applied for which means there have been less of them and so it has taken a longer time to find work than if I just took the first thing that came along."

    "Why did you leave your previous job?"

    "I felt I'd done as much as I could in that company and so I'm really looking forward to the challenges of a new job."

    "Would you say you're over-qualified for this role?"

    "I can see why you might think that, with my previous managerial experience. But this is a different and very exciting industry and I'm keen to get practical experience and learn as much as I can. I think it's worth emphasising that I am committed to this role and my previous experience would be useful but wouldn't prevent me delivering what this role requires."

  3. Questions you don't understand or don't know the answer to
  4. It's absolutely fine to ask for clarification or for the question to be repeated. Better that, than struggling on and answering a question you only half understand. You could also ask them to rephrase the question.

    Remember, the interviewer wants to get the best answer from you and will usually be happy to do so.

    You can buy yourself thinking time by saying: "That's an interesting question." "I've never thought of that before." "Can I have a moment to think of the best example?" Repeating the question before you answer gives you more time and also helps you to understand it.

    Remember it's never necessary to leap in with an answer straight away. It works better for you and for the pace of the interview if you take a few seconds to think before you reply. Giving yourself this time puts you in control of the speed of the interview so you are less likely to feel put on the spot and pressured.