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Tackling difficult interview questions

Interviews can be daunting and sometimes, even if you have prepared well by researching the organisation and the role and practicing competency based questions, the interviewer can ask a question that is completely off the wall. With more candidates available now, employers are finding it harder to distinguish between people and decide on the best candidate to hire. Therefore unconventional and unexpected interview questions are becoming more popular. Here we take a look at how to tackle these to ensure you come across as professional and help land you that job.

These questions are designed to see how you can think on your
feet and can show your personality to the interviewer. Sometimes standard questions, such as your strengths and weaknesses do not distinguish the good candidates. With many of these types of questions there is no right or wrong answer, they just give the interviewer an idea about the type of person you are.

Before attending an interview, ensure you know what type of interview it is; informal, formal, panel interview, one-to-one etc. This can help give you an idea of the types of questions they may ask. You should always be prepared for a question you might not have heard before.

For example, a question that has been asked in the past is ‘How many ways can you get a needle out of a haystack?’
You might suggest one way, or you might suggest several. If the role is for a Creative Director, they are probably expecting you to come up with some creative answers. If the role is for an Accountant, where you follow a lot of processes and formulae, they may expect a more logical answer. Be sure of your strengths and achievements and explain the thinking behind your answer.

Some employers have been known to ask, ‘how would you sell a product to me?’
This can be a tricky question, one which is more common for sales roles. The interviewer wants to see your ability to be persuasive, going beyond listing the features of a product. If you need more information, then don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer a question or two; it is a two way process. Questions can show your understanding and intelligence on a subject.

Questions might be asked to find out more about your personality, such as ‘if you could be an animal what would it be?’.
Some people go for safe options, while others think of wild animals. If you need time to answer a question, ask to take a minute, this just shows you are thoughtful in your approach.

Rare, especially for not for profit organisations, but some organisations have been known to ask very random questions with regards to statistics, such as ‘How many salons are there in Japan?’.
No one would expect you to get this kind of answer right. They want to see how you would tackle it, The main point to remember is to keep calm, don’t get flustered and take your time in answering.
Think out loud and tell them how you are working it out. If it helps write figures down. Remember an interview is for you, just as much the employer. Think of it as a conversation and explain your thinking in your answers, this will help show your personality.

Sometimes employers may ask inappropriate questions, often by accident. If you are asked your age for example, you do not need to respond with how old you are. Instead say, ‘if you are asking how much experience I have for this job, well, I have x number of years’ experience’.

Research your panel or interviewer before the interview. LinkedIn provides detailed profiles on people’s career and sometimes hobbies. This can give you an indication of what they might be like and help in your thinking when answering questions.

You can find more information on preparing for interviews on our career advice section on our website.

If you are a hiring manager conducting interviews, you can find interview advice, including illegal interview questions on the recruitment advice section on our website.

Useful links
10 weird ways to beat interview nerves - Guardian