Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions

shelley-tilsonIn today’s candidate strong market when you’re up against some fierce competition, saying the right thing can mean winning or losing that dream job.

Be prepared with a little help from our Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions, by Ms. Shelley Tilson, Manager (Commerce division), Robert Walters.

Q: Why do you want this job?

Be honest with yourself: Why do you want this role? Are you really interested in what the position entails? Are you impressed by the company’s view on social and corporate responsibility? Or is it just a really impressive increase in salary? Hopefully it’s not just the latter!

Why do you want this job? Do you know exactly what will be expected of you? Have you seen a job description? Have you researched the company’s website? Do you know people who work there who’ve recommended them as an employer?

Be prepared and do some research! Avoid being on the defensive with answers that begin with because such as: ‘Because I think I’d be good at it’, ‘because it seems like a good opportunity for me’ or ‘because it pays well’.

A recommended answer to this could be: ‘Having read the job description and having looked at your company website, the role attracted me as I feel that I have the suitable skills but I am also very interested in what additional responsibility I will gain’.

Adapt your answer to suit the role. Will you have increased responsibility? Will you now be supporting one senior director instead of a team of 50? Will you have a more varied work scope with the opportunity to be involved in company projects and events?

Q: Why should I hire you?

This question is all about selling yourself. Why should someone hire you? Are you brilliant at organisation? Are you proficient at Microsoft Office with excellent use of Powerpoint and Excel? Are you creative and do you really think you could add value to the company?

By looking at the job description that was given to you, try to point out your strengths by using examples of work you’ve done in relation to the requirements for this role.

You could say something like: ‘I believe that I meet the requirements listed in your job description and I feel that I would really excel in this role as I particularly enjoy working for… (What industry are you going into/role type/seniority level). In my previous role I was responsible for… (Use exact examples of how you can prove your value)

Again, adapt this question to suit the role you are applying for! Be enthusiastic in your answer, be positive and confident. If you cannot convince yourself that you’d be perfect for the role – how are you going to convince someone else!

Q: What is your biggest weakness?

This is known as a negative question, one that interviewers love asking to test your ability to stay cool. We all have weaknesses, let’s face it, we’re not all perfect! But that doesn’t mean that yours should get in the way of your dream job. Think about how you can spin your weaknesses into something positive.

Look at the job description to hand and choose one required responsibility you feel you could improve on. Are you shy to make public presentations? Does your time management need a little work? Do you feel you would benefit from Microsoft Office training?

A possible answer (depending on your weakness): ‘I am aware that my systems skills, Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint are not up to advanced level but this is something that I’m working on by teaching myself in my spare time’ or, ‘I think my time management is something that I could work on. I’ve been doing some research and planning and getting better at prioritising and writing to-do lists to help me’.

Avoid being a ‘perfectionist’ or saying ‘I have no weaknesses I know of’. This only makes you look arrogant and overconfident.

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Q: Why are you leaving your current role?

Whatever you say – be positive! This is not the opportunity for a rant about how unfair last year’s bonus was or how unreasonable your current boss is. For whatever your reason, make sure you turn your answer into something positive.

If you’re feeling undervalued in your role or have had a personality clash with your boss or colleague, think of how this would sound to a potential employer and make sure to word your answer to suit you favourably. Make sure you have a structured answer to this question before you attend the interview.

Simply stating that you would like a ‘new challenge’ or ‘change of environment’ can sometimes also send out warning signals to employers so be careful. Be prepared for counter questions! If you answer: ‘I’m looking for a new challenge.’

Why are you looking for a new challenge? What would you describe as a new challenge at this stage in your career? Why did you not approach your current employers about gaining such a challenge?

Focus more on why the new role is perfect for you and less why your current role is not.

Q: Tell me about yourself?

Be careful. This is not the opportunity to tell the interviewer your life story.

‘Well, I’m from a family of six and I live with my eldest brother near the East Coast Park and have recently just returned from a family holiday to America’ is probably NOT the answer they were looking for. When interviewers ask this question they’re interested to know about how you work, what you enjoy in your career and as a person how well you’d fit in with the culture of the company. What they really want to know is, what interests you, how skilled are you and what strengths you would bring to the organisation.

Cater the answer to the role you are applying for! Don’t express your enthusiasm to work as part of a team in a busy noisy office environment if you are aware that you’ll be a one man band sitting behind a wall in a very secluded room.

A good answer to this could be something like: ‘I’m a very dedicated worker; I enjoy being part of a team and working in a challenging and dynamic environment and I also work well independently. I like meeting new people and particularly enjoy being involved with administration for projects and events’.

Q: Where do you want to be in five years time?

This question is a favourite amongst interviewers! Lets be honest – does anyone know where they want to be in five years’ time?

A suggested answer for this could be: ‘I’d like to think I will be working for a successful organisation such as this but in a role with increased responsibility’.

You could also tailor your answer to suit the specific role that you are applying for. If you are being interviewed for an Administration or Personal Assistant’s role, succession to that would be to become an Office Manager or Administration Manager. If you are aware of the company structure and know that administration staff are likely to be promoted to Business Executives, mention it!

A lot with this question is in the way you answer rather than in what you say. Be positive and confident rather than defensive and unsure. Don’t give the interviewer the idea that you’re still trying to ‘find yourself’ and you could make the discovery two months after joining the company.

Always remember that the interview is a two-way process so have a list of questions you can ask your interviewer at the end!

These could include:

What two/three key competencies are you looking for in a successful candidate? How long have you been with the organisation? What motivated you to join the organisation? What are the team like to work for? What are you like to work for? Have you had an assistant in the past that you’ve got on really well with and what particular qualities would you insist on for your next hire? Do you have any reservations at this point about my skills or experience?



Robert Walters is one of the world’s leading professional recruitment consultancies, specialising in the placement of permanent, contract and temporary positions across all levels of seniority.With international offices spanning five continents, we have the global coverage and expertise, as well as local insights and knowledge, to meet any recruitment need.