Ace the Interview: How to Handle Even the Most Difficult Interview Questions

Written by Gabriella Howard
Woman attending interview

Interviews can be daunting, even for the most experienced candidates. How can you fully prepare when you never know what you’ll be asked?

Fortunately, although every interview is different, the majority of questions asked will fit into one of four categories; personality, competency, motivation and curveball.

Below, we share our tips on how to recognise and answer each type of interview question and understand what it is exactly that the interviewer wants to know.

1. Personality questions

Above your skills and experience, the most important thing that an employer will be trying to look for is how well you’ll fit into their team. The interview gives a chance for the hiring manager to learn what differentiates you from the other candidates, including your values, work ethic and how well you work with others.  Personality based questions are particularly important for customer facing roles, where you may encounter difficult situations that require excellent communication skills.

Examples of personality based questions:

  • What are your strengths
  • Give me an example of a time you dealt with conflict and how did you handle it?
  • How do you deal with pressure at work?

How to answer:

The aim of these questions is for the interviewer to get to know more about you, so it’s important to be honest. However, remember that your ultimate goal is to impress the employer and prove that you are a good fit for the company. Focus on positive outcomes that demonstrate how you perform well in difficult situations.

Always remember to demonstrate your awareness of the company values and focus on your own values and strengths that align with these.

If asked about your weaknesses, only mention things that won’t directly affect the job you are applying for and show the interviewer what you have done to try and improve.

2. Competency questions

Competency based interview questions are there to evidence your ability to do the job. These questions are primarily focussed around the practical aspects of the job and will assess things such as your communication, leadership, decision making and problem solving skills. Whilst these types of questions are important in all interviews, answering them correctly can be crucial for technical roles where practical ability is key.

Examples of competency based questions:

  • Describe a time you solved a difficult problem at work.
  • Tell us about a time you had to think outside the box.
  • When did you feel the greatest sense of achievement in your work?

How to answer:

The key to answering competency based questions is to keep your response clear, concise and well structured. It can be too easy to get carried away in a story and diverse from the main points the interviewer is looking for.

The STAR technique that looks at the situation, task, action and result is a great way to structure your competency based answers to ensure you give a good response.

Situation – Describe the where you were and the situation you were in.

Task – Explain the task you were expected to do.

Action – What did you do?

Result – What was the outcome?

Remember, the interviewer will be looking at how you dealt with a situation. Focus on the positives, take ownership and don’t place blame in order to make the best impression.

3. Motivational questions

Motivational questions are focussed on your reasons behind choosing a job. Recruitment can be an expensive process for employers, so it’s necessary that they hire someone who is genuinely interested in the role at hand. These questions are a great way for a potential employer to understand your career goals and find out if you’ be a good long term fit for the company.

Examples of motivational questions:

  • Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What do you enjoy most about your current job?

How to answer:

In these career based questions the interviewer will want to see your plans for development and your future potential. Avoid clichés that don’t provide any real information such as ‘In five years’ time I see myself in this job’ and focus on how skills gained in this role can help you develop in the company. Do your research of the business and show how your future development goals can align with those of the company.

These types of questions may be less common in interviews for temporary jobs. However, an employer will still want to see that you have an interest in the field. Temporary jobs are also often in place whilst an employer looks to recruit permanently. If an employer can see you’re longer term goals are associated with a similar role/field they may be more willing to invest in you becoming perm.

4. Curveballs

Sometimes interviewers will throw in a curveball question to try and catch you off guard. These questions can appear to be extremely unusual or difficult to answer but are becoming a more popular way for an interviewer to assess your problem solving skills and how well you deal with unexpected situations.

Examples of curveballs:

  • If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?
  • If you owned this company, what would you change?
  • Have you ever told a lie?

How to answer:

Curveballs are often the most feared questions by candidates, simply because they are almost impossible to do any real research for. The great news is though, that the majority don’t have a “right” answer.

The best thing to do when faced with a curveball is to take a few seconds to think about why the interviewer is asking the question and what exactly they want to know. Always try to show some reasoning in your answer to demonstrate why you have given it.

Don’t forget, not all curveballs are set to catch you out! They are sometimes just a great way for the interviewer to break the ice and make you feel at ease.



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Written by Gabriella Howard