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How to answer challenging interview questions and land your dream job

Got yourself an interview for your dream job? Congratulations! Landing an interview is often the most difficult part of the whole job process, and now it’s your time to impress your interviewer. Most interview questions are relatively easy to answer, but there are a few that can trip you up. With this in mind, the University of Law Business School has put together a list of the most difficult interview questions you could be asked at an interview. Answer these well, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful career.

The ‘About You’ Questions

Many interviews will start with these types of question, to try and gauge more about you. The interviewer will want to see if you’ll be a good match for the company, and whether you’ll get along with the other team members. These types of questions are really important and help start the interview off on a good foot.

So, tell us about yourself…

This is a universally-popular icebreaker interview question, so you should always try preparing it before an interview. Some people may get confused with this question, so understand that the interviewer usually only wants to find out about your employment history and experience, and not all about you.

Avoid going into personal details and stick to the present - past - future structure. Start by revealing your most recent job or employment status, then talk a little about your job, or what you were doing, before that, and finish by speaking about what you want to do in the future. This gives a perfect summary of your employment history and is generally all the interviewer wants to know at this stage.

What is your biggest weaknesses?

This one is another popular interview question. The key is to be honest and solution-focussed and avoid any clichés – for example saying that you’re a ‘perfectionist’! Here’s an example. If you think public speaking is your biggest weakness, follow up by saying that you want to work on it in the future, and are interested in participating in some training or workshops. This will suggest to the interviewer that you are always willing to learn and better yourself.

Are you willing to fail?

This can be a difficult question to answer, but you should try spin your answer in a positive light. Acknowledge that sometimes failure can be a good thing, as it can provide a lesson to help you grow and better yourself as a person and employee. Try speaking about an instance where you did fail but learnt an important lesson from it. Don’t speak about any drastic failures you may have had, reel off a long list or pass the blame onto others as this will raise red flags for employers.

Why should we hire you?

With this question, employers want to clearly see your passion for the role and get an understanding of why you might be different from everyone else.

To answer this question, University of Law Business School Employability Manager Jo Lozinska advises: “Keep your answer short and professional, and make sure your personality and passion for the role comes across. Simply saying ‘because I want it more than anything in the world’ is not appropriate!”

The ‘Job’ Questions

The second part of an interview will usually be focussed around the job you’re interviewing for, and why you applied for the role. The interviewer wants to find out how much research you’ve done on the company, and to see how your skillset matches what is needed from the candidate.

What do you know about the company?

When you go for an interview, you should always take time to research the company you’re interviewing for. You don’t need to speak about who founded the company or any struggles they’ve had along the way, but instead focus on what the company does and any areas of specialism. Mention any memorable campaigns or awards if applicable too.

Why are you more qualified for this job than anyone else?

This can be a difficult question to answer, as you don’t know who else is interviewing for the role and if you are more qualified than them or not. The best way to answer the question is to start by acknowledging other candidates’ skills and strengths, but then talking about your biggest and most unique strengths and why these are most important to the role. You need to be confident in your own strengths but not bring other candidates down in the process.

What would you do if your boss was wrong?

If an interviewer asks this question, it’s because they want to know how well you work with others and cope with difficult situations. Of course, you never want to speak poorly about a former boss or company as this will make you seem like you’re negative or difficult to manage. Instead, speak professionally and positively and mention a past experience as an example if you can. Remember to always finish by speaking about how you would resolve the situation and move on from it.

Why did you apply for this job? What attracted you to the role?

With this question, the interviewer wants to see that you understand what the role is and that you’re excited and passionate about being part of their team. You should be familiar with the job specification before your interview, so make sure you look over it and are clear about what’s expected in the role. It’s also a good idea to do as much research as you can on the company before the interview.

Jo Lozinska adds: “Try to avoid responses such as ‘because the commute is easier’ or ‘because the salary is higher’ They may well be motivating factors for you, but not what your potential employer wants to hear.”

The ‘Future’ Questions

In an interview, many interviewers will want to know about your plans for the future and your potential longevity at the company. An employee won’t want to hire someone they think will leave a few months down the line, as they’re looking for someone who has a real interest in building a career in the company.

Why did you leave your previous job?

When answering this question, make sure you’re professional in your response and don’t start saying that you hated your last job and can’t wait to leave – even if that is the case! Your focus should be in the great new job that you’re hoping to get, and not on any conversations about how or why you’re not enjoying your current role. Saying something along the lines of career progression or new opportunities would be suitable.

What is your 5-year plan?

This is another question interviewers may ask to try and gauge your future hopes and certainty in their company. They don’t need to know if you want to be married with kids in 5 years – but what your professional hopes are instead. Maybe you want to become a manager or head of a department? Think also about what skills you’d like to develop and how the job you’re interviewing for could help you get them.

Why are you interested in taking a lower-level job?

If you are looking at switching careers, you will usually have to take a lower-level job to get your foot in the door. If you do get asked this question, make sure your passion for the new career is clear, and that you don’t mind taking a step down to get on the right path.

The ‘Competency’ Questions

Competency-based questions are apparent in most interviews and can be tricky for a lot of people. But they don’t have to be.

Try to be succinct, clear and outcome-based. Even if the outcome was negative, it’s important to spin this in to a positive – what did you learn from it and how will you adapt your behaviour in the future? If you don’t have like-for-like experience in the role you’re interviewing for, competency questions are a great way for you to demonstrate that your skills are transferable and relevant.

The questions will often begin with: ‘talk about a time where’, ‘describe a time when’ or ‘give an example of when’ and are all about structure. The key to answering them is to take on the STAR approach:

  • Situation: Describe the background
  • Task: Describe the task or challenge
  • Action: Explain the action you took and how and why you did this
  • Result: Explain how it was resolved and what you learned

Jo Lozinska adds: “Take 30 minutes the day before your interview to think about what examples you might want to use. Try to have a range of examples lined up so that hopefully you’ll have something at the forefront of your mind in the interview.”

Some examples of competency questions are:

  • Describe a time where you demonstrated initiative
  • Explain a time where you solved a problem
  • Describe a time when you took a risk, and did it pay off?
  • Explain a time where you did something your team did not agree with. How did you deal with any negativity?

The Other Tricky Questions

Here are some other difficult questions you can expect to be asked in an interview.

What do you expect to be paid?

This question can be a difficult one to answer. You don’t want to set your salary expectations too high, but you don’t want to cut yourself short either. If the salary is stated on the job specification, you shouldn’t stray too far from this, but if it is lower than your current wage then tell the employer that you’re not looking to earn anything less than you do currently. Be honest about what you’re looking for, and if the employer likes you enough, and thinks you’re well qualified, you’ll come to a decision together.

Are you interviewing anywhere else?

If you are interviewing at other companies, don’t lie and pretend you’re not. Interviewers understand the process, so tell them you are, but make it clear that you’re mostly interested in the job you’re interviewing for at the moment. If you’re not interviewing anywhere else, don’t say that this is the first place that gave you an interview. Instead, tell them you’re early on in your job search, but are excited about the opportunity and prospect of working at their company.

What is your preferred working environment?

As Jo Lozinska explains, this is an increasingly popular interview question: “Employers are keen to ensure that you’d be a good team fit and that you will respond well to the company's culture.”

When answering this question, it’s important that you’re honest when answering these type of questions – if flexible working and office dogs are a deal breaker for you then you need to be make this clear, otherwise you might be disappointed once you start your new role. Interviews are a two-way process so it’s important that you’re realistic about whether it’s a place you can see yourself working.

If you’re looking to kickstart a successful career in law or business, The University of Law Business School has a number of courses to help prepare you for the future.