Tackling tough interview questions (and how to keep your cool)

By Robert Half on 17th August 2016

Job interviews can be challenging, nerve-wracking experiences. But at the end of the day, preparation is what makes the most difference to the outcome of the interview.

Hiring managers often develop their own style of questioning to assess a candidates suitability for a role. Over the year's we have heard employers ask our candidates a raft of interview questions and unifies them is the aim to qualify the candidates suitability for the role. The suite of interview questions an employer uses has the aim of either testing a candidates critical thinking skills, their confidence in their ability, their communication skills, or in some cases their technical competence on specific elements of a role.

To give you a sense of the full range of questions that you could possibly come up against (and the reason why they are asked) here are a sample of tough interview questions:

Questions to assess critical thinking:

While your CV may say you have critical thinking skills, it’s during the job interview that a hiring manager can critique how you apply these skills in practice. Some examples of unique questions that our recruitment consultants in London have heard a hiring manager ask are “How many cars are there are on the M4 right now?”, or “On a scale of 1 to 10, how competent are you with using XYZ software and why did you give yourself that rating”.

Questions to assess effective communication skills:

There are some questions that may feel like they have come out the blue that involve a high-level of communication skills, mixed with ability to think on the spot. A recent candidate that we put forward for a digital, marketing and creative role was asked: “What was the most recent app you have downloaded? Can you explain the purpose of the app and why you downloaded it?”

Questions to get a sense of you as a person:

Of course there are some questions that employers ask that are quite standard, but when asked the answer may seem tough to deliver. For me, questions like “Where will you see yourself in five years?” Or “Why do you want this job?” (for this question, we have pulled together some advice on the best way to prepare your answer)

Tough questions to test your technical ability

A candidate was going for a job that required knowledge of agile and was asked, “Can you tell me how a TDD development cycle works? If you were given a piece of work, how do you start?” There are several technical questions which you can expect, especially if there are key skills outlined within the criteria for a role. During you’re your job search, you can pick up clues on the areas that a hiring manager will be looking for by reviewing the job description or talking to your recruitment consultant.

It’s come down to your preparation for the role

The best way to tackle any of these tough interview questions really comes down to your preparation. If you have researched the company, read up about the role and asked your recruitment consultant any questions you had prior to the interview, you will have the insights to know why the hiring manager is asking these types of questions, so you aren’t stumped.

Rachel Stockell, senior manager of OfficeTeam recently offered her advice for keeping your cool and bagging the job in an interview with the Daily Mail. These were her four tips:

  • Do some homework ahead of time

Ask people in your network about the strangest questions they were asked in an interview, how they responded to them, and what – if anything – they would have done differently. The point is not to prepare for every question but to practice thinking on your feet. 

  • Ask for clarification

If you don’t understand a question, rephrase it by saying, 'Do you mean …?' or ask for more detail. This will put you on the same page as the hiring manager and enable you to provide a targeted response. 

  • Don’t let nerves get the better of you 

Feeling stressed during an interview is to be expected. Excessive stress, however, could cause you to ramble, or give only 'yes' or 'no' answers. If you need a moment to think about a question, ask for it. 

  • Don’t assume the worst

You may meet with many interviewers at a company, some less prepared and experienced than others. Be patient with each successive meeting, even when the same questions are being asked multiple times. Your calm demeanour will count in your favour in the final selection. 


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