How to answer the toughest interview questions

An interview is a bit like a dating site: the questions asked are designed to figure out if you are compatible with that company. In a job interview, this will be from a skills point of view as well as from a cultural point of view.

You should expect questions to be based very much on your skills and your opinions, and some of those questions will be pretty tough, such as:

1. Why should we hire you?

Nothing left-field about this question, it gets asked a lot, but how you do answer without sounding arrogant, or conversely, under confident? The answer is to do your homework. Scrutinise the job advert ­– what are the skills that the employer wants? Answer using your experience so far. There’s no need to rely solely on employment experience, if they’re asking you to manage a team you could also talk about your work with the local rugby team at weekends, or that time you coordinated a large fundraising event.

2. Tell me about yourself

Where to start? You don’t need to list your entire educational history, instead, focus on where you are now and where you think you are heading. Keep it relevant to the job spec – I’m an experienced ‘X’ who enjoys a challenge/managing a team/thrives in a target-driven environment.

3. What would people you don’t get on with say about you?

This is a twist on the “what would your friends say about you?” question. Be honest without being overly-negative. For instance, if the answer is “they would say I am too pushy” you could say that this is because you are a stickler for deadlines or because you don’t like it when people don’t pull their weight.

4. How many cricket bats are there in the world?

This kind of question isn’t designed to find out if you actually know the answer, they’re designed to find out how quickly you can think, how you problem solve and how you react under pressure. Do you take a wild guess or do you try and break down the question? Don’t be afraid to ask further questions in your quest to solve the problem or to take your time to answer it.

5. What’s the least favourable element of this job?

You can be honest (but diplomatic), but make sure you outline how you would tackle the fact that it’s not your favourite part of the job.

6. Who are your heroes/role models?

Steer clear of really obvious ones, such as Nelson Mandela, not because he isn’t a good choice, but because it shows a lack of imagination. It could be your teacher in secondary school – it doesn’t have to be someone famous. The key is to think about why they are your hero/role model.

7. Asking something specific about the company

“What do you think of our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy?” This tests your knowledge of the company. A good answer might be: “I think your policy on reducing carbon emissions works well, but I think perhaps more focus on recycling within the office would also be a benefit.”

8. What is something that you wish you had never done?

This belongs to the “tell me how you got out of a tricky situation/how you handled a difficult colleague/when you made a terrible mistake at work” school of questions, i.e., how you respond to something negative. Your response should include lessons learned from the experience, and how you moved forward from it.

9. What do you think is at the heart of our culture?

Or you could be asked: “Is there anything you don’t like about our culture?” the end result is the same; the company is looking for how well you know it and how good your research has been into the role. In addition, they want to know if you’re a cultural fit.

10. How do you think this interview has gone?

This is a departure from “do you have any questions?” at the end of the interview and is designed to see if you think you did not perform well on the day (but think you would have on another day). It also gives the interviewer an opportunity to look for arrogance or self-doubt, your answer needs to be somewhere in the middle. It’s also an interesting question to ask the interviewer themselves… good luck!

Are you hiring without bias?

16 Feb 2023

It’s human nature to make quick judgements and snap decisions but these are often informed by unconscious bias. We examine how it can affect hiring managers’ recruitment choices and share some expert advice on how to reduce it.

How to develop inclusive cultures for contractors

31 May 2023

We look at how to develop blended workplace cultures that are truly inclusive for contractors and why it’s important for business.

Where would we be without the unsung engineering heroes?

08 Nov 2022

In honour of STEM Day, we salute all the specialist professionals having a huge impact on the many corners of engineering.

Keeping people engaged and innovative when part of the workforce is remote

24 Oct 2022

We share some top tips on how to keep your workforce engaged and innovative in a hybrid working world...