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How to answer the three toughest interview questions

Don’t be caught off guard by these tough interview questions.

1. What is your greatest weakness?

This question is tough because it asks you to reveal something negative about yourself. Say something too negative and you risk costing yourself the job. Lie, and you risk looking like you’re hiding something. Plus, interviewers will be very familiar with ‘clever’ responses such as, ‘you’re a perfectionist’, or ‘you’re overconfident’.

So how should you answer?

The trick with answering this question is to be honest and to show that you are willing and able to work on your flaws or mistakes. Choose a small, authentic and applicable weakness and outline how you have already addressed it, or are currently addressing it. For example:

Nervous when public speaking – “I went to a free workshop, which helped, and I try to volunteer as much as possible for presentations so I can practice and improve.”
Delegation – “I used to put too much pressure on myself as I thought delegation made me look incompetent. I have now learnt that delegation is a sign of good leadership, and am learning to prioritise tasks and delegate to the right people.”
Time management – “I used to find it difficult to work on different projects at the same time, preferring to finish one task before starting another. This meant I was often working very late nights. I have since taken a course in time management and am now much more productive and less stressed.”

2. Why did you leave your last job/why are you looking for a new opportunity?

Interviewers ask this question because they want an insight into your professionalism, loyalty, attitude to work and honesty.

How to answer if you’re making the decision to leave:

There a lots of good reasons to leave a job – you may want an increase in pay, a promotion, to work for a different kind of company, a more challenging role, or have personal reasons.

The key to answering this is to be positive and focus on the future. Emphasise that you are moving towards a better opportunity, not that you are leaving a bad situation. This is not a chance to vent about everything you hate about your current job, but to let your potential employer know what attracts you about their company, and how you can benefit them. So your answer might be: you want to work for a company that fosters development and growth; you want more creative freedom in your work; you want to work for a company with a more solid future; or the chance to work on more exciting projects.

How to answer if you were made redundant:

Don’t let the fact that you were made redundant affect your confidence – it’s not you that’s lacking, it’s your position or role that’s really being made redundant here. If you see it that way, so will your potential employer.

Use it as an opportunity to show you can turn a difficult situation into a positive one. Say that it’s an opportunity to think about what you really want to do and who you want to work for, and a chance to do some training or get some more qualifications.

How to answer if you were fired:

If you were fired, you need to be honest about what happened, as your potential employer may find out from other sources. Don’t blame anyone else or badmouth your old company, as this suggests you could do the same to your new company and makes you seem untrustworthy. Admit the job wasn’t a good fit, and emphasise that this new role is perfectly suited for you. Show you’ve learnt from your experiences by saying how you could have handled the situation differently. Keep it brief and move on.

3. What are your salary expectations?

Negotiating your salary for a new job is a difficult balancing act. If you ask for too much, you could lose out to a more affordable candidate. Ask for too little, and either you do yourself a disservice or the employer may think you’re not senior enough for the job.

Before you go into the interview, do your research and have a figure prepared. Payscale.com lets you look at the average salary for your role based on your experience, qualifications, location and other factors, so you can get a better idea of industry standards.

Be prepared to justify your answer. Say something like ‘My research indicates that positions similar to this pay in the region of x and y. With my experience and what I can offer to the company, I would accept a salary of x.’

Think about a best and worst scenario. What’s the lowest salary you would be prepared to go for? And what would you walk away from? Be prepared to negotiate if necessary, but be reasonable. Consider other benefits that hold value to you, such as extra holiday time, flexible hours, health insurance, bonuses and gym memberships. Don’t rush – it’s acceptable to ask to go away and think about it.