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Dealing with tricky interview questions

With only one chance to impress at an interview and jobs being hotly contested, it is important to prepare for tough questioning as best you can.

The gruelling interview stage of The Apprentice show is probably familiar to most of us as one of the most cringe-worthy episodes on TV. It’s when Lord Sugar’s tough-talking advisors try to catch the remaining candidates off guard by asking tricky questions that leave them with nowhere to hide. And the bad news is that it doesn’t just happen on TV, employers are increasingly turning to tough or ‘killer’ questions like these as a shock tactic to weed out unsuitable candidates.

Their purpose is not so much to catch candidates out but demonstrate your ability to think on your feet and give an indication of how you might react in pressurised work situations. The way in which you respond to thorny questions such as ‘what qualities don’t you have that this role demands?’ or ‘tell me something you’ve never told anyone before?’ could make all the difference between you securing the job or not.

Ready for anything

It’s impossible to predict everything an interviewer is going to ask but thorough preparation is key. As well as conducting background research on the company, set aside time to reflect on your own emotions and personal qualities as killer questions often seek to probe a candidate’s self-awareness about their skills, strengths and weaknesses.

“Besides technical killer questions, I think the most difficult are those that encourage the candidate to self-analyse,” says Marcus Roberts, team leader of electronics software and communications systems at engineering recruitment consultancy Matchtech.

Keep your composure

The manner in which you respond to an interviewer or panel’s difficult or killer questions is equally important as what you say. Although you’re in a stressful situation and may feel intimidated it’s essential that you come across as relaxed, focused and in control. Should a question faze you, never get emotional or defensive. Try to think about the aim of the question and calmly take a few moments to reflect before answering. If you’re struggling to come up with a response, buy yourself more time by asking the interviewer to restate it. “Remember, if you don’t understand the question, ask for clarification,” says Roberts.

Make sure your story will stand up to scrutiny

If there is anything in your career history that might lead to uncomfortable questioning, make sure you are able to come up with a plausible response.

Maybe your qualifications aren’t as good as they could be or perhaps you didn’t stay long in a role or there’s a gap in your employment history. “Look through your CV and think about what areas you would question, if roles were reversed,” says Roberts.

Consider how to present this information in the best possible light, citing any mitigating factors. Ensure your response is concise and don’t try to fudge things as any discrepancy in your account will most likely become known at some stage. And avoid resorting to airing grievances or blaming a current manager or colleagues.

Get your own back

Finally remember that it’s entirely valid for you to turn the table on the interviewer with a few choice questions of your own.

“Do you see me fitting in with the company? is a great last question to ask,” says Roberts. It might also just give them something to remember you by.

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