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Advice on how to respond to challenging interview questions

At Khatala Staffing we consistently aim to provide relevant advice to assist job hunters in their job search. To find out exactly what advice is most needed we recently asked our Facebook fans what interview question they found most challenging. From the responses we received we identified five common questions:

  1. What are your weaknesses?
  2. How do you handle criticism and conflict, give examples from your working experience?
  3. Why should this company hire you; what contribution will you make?
  4. What makes you think this job is right for you?
  5. Where do you see yourself in five years time?


1. What are your weaknesses?

This question is a traditional interview question designed to see if the interviewee has a clear understanding of their areas of weakness and what and how they have done to work on these.

No one is perfect, everyone has weaknesses and if you are unable to mention any in your interview your response will simply be too good to be true so do some self-analysis before your next interview and list your strengths and weaknesses in preparation for this question.

Be careful in how you answer this question too. It is not good enough to simply say ‘I am really bad at admin’ and then offer no further explanation and action plan on how to compensate or combat that weakness. A better answer would be “I am a natural communicator and a very good sales person. However the detailed routine of admin does not come as naturally to me. To ensure that I keep adequate records I dedicate specific time to these tasks and if possible request assistance.”

2. How do you handle criticism and conflict, give examples from your working experience?

An interview is about more than the obvious questions relating to the information on your CV and an explanation of your experience and skills. The primary reason for interviewing you face-to-face is to uncover what is not evident in your CV or through reference checking. The interviewer wants to see how you represent yourself in person; how professionally you handle yourself and how quickly and confidently you are able to give relevant responses. Most of the questions identified by our Facebook fans form part of behavioral interviewing; an interviewing technique that goes beyond traditional interviewing. It is based on the logic that past behaviour gives insight into future behaviour. Questions are pointed and probing, designed to uncover the key skills and behaviours the employer is looking for.
To demonstrate let’s analyse this example:

Interviewer: Have you ever disagreed with your superior and if so how did you handle it?

Interpretation: The interviewer wants to uncover any or all of the following:

  • Your independent thinking and willingness to stand up for what you think,
  • Your confidence,
  • Your communication skills when representing a differing opinion,
  • Your conflict resolution skills and whether you required assistance and
  • Your respect for the ultimate decision.

Interviewee: There was an occasion after a particularly difficult initial presentation to a potential new client that my boss wanted to discount our rates to ensure we secured the business.  I strongly felt that their hard negotiations were tactical and I believed that by discounting our costs so early in the negotiations we showed a lack of confidence and conviction; something that may do us more damage than good in the process.
I requested a meeting with my boss at which I challenged her thinking and convinced her to let me have another meeting in which I clearly demonstrated that our costs were justified based on the services we offered.  I took responsibility for the next meeting, prepared well, presented well and successfully negotiated a deal on our original rates.

Example showed:

  • Independent thinking
  • Self-belief
  • Effective communication skills
  • Confidence
  • Willingness to take on responsibility
  • Clear commitment to the success of the company

The same thinking is then applied to the question relating to criticism and conflict. Think of various examples from your working life (and if you are applying for your first position, school or life experiences can be used) that demonstrate your strengths, times when you overcame difficulties, motivated or encouraged others, recovered from a mistake or bad experience etc. and build answers around those stories.

3. Why should this company hire you; what contribution will you make?

This is a loaded question indeed. The interviewer wants to see if you have done your homework; how well you know their company – what they do and more importantly how you will fit into not only the job you are applying for, but also the company as a whole. When answering this question, be sure to address the specific value you will add to the position you are being interviewed for AND the value you will add to the company, hereby demonstrating your research into their business.

Here is another example to demonstrate:

“I work quickly and accurately; so the company will benefit from my productivity in both the rate of my work and no time wasted on corrections. I also believe that I represent your company’s brand values of service and care; I demonstrate these values in my personal and professional life every day and am most happy when helping others.”

4. What makes you think this job is right for you?

This question gives permission to speak personally and honestly, explaining why ou have chosen to apply for this specific position. Your answers must be sincere and although they are communicating your perspective be careful not to ignore how the interviewer will perceive them.

It is OK to say you are looking for security and want to be able to provide for your family, but that could be answered at any interview with any company, make it relevant to the specific company you are applying at by adding something specific about the position in your answer i.e. “I am looking for security and growth potential and because of the recent success and growth of your business, I believe that this opportunity will offer me both of these things. I also believe that my creative ideas will be recognised which is something I am looking for.”

5. Where do you see yourself in five years time?

There is a careful balance that must be demonstrated in this answer. The interviewer needs to be convinced that you are going to be committed to the position and the company and not simply using it as an interim plan in your quest for better brighter things but they also want to be convinced that you have goals and want to constantly improve yourself and your career.

When applying for a personal assistant position you should not answer this question with “on stage under the spotlight” as there is obviously no potential partnership between you and the company required to achieve this goal.

The interviewer wants to see a shared future. They want to know that they will get a return on the money and time they will potentially invest in your training, coaching and service.
They are also realistic and know that this works two ways so there is nothing wrong with an answer such as this “I want to continue my career in this field and can see a long-term relationship with this company as long as I am learning and growing. Ideally I would like to be promoted within the organisation and in five years possibly be in a position with more responsibility and higher rewards.”

Can do will do