How to Answer These 10 Tricky Interview Questions

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If you have an interview lined up, you’re probably feeling a little anxious. That’s natural, and can be a useful motivator to get both practically and mentally prepared.

No two interviews are the same, so you can not fully predict how your meeting is going to go. But you can make sure you have some ideas at the ready. At the very least, be prepared to the most answer common interview questions, such as those below.

Simply investing some time now will put you ahead of the game and give you confidence in your interviews down the line. Don’t let your nerves tie you up in knots -- put that energy to good use, motivating your interview preparation. Let’s get started!

Understanding competency-based questions

The vast majority of interviews are competency based. This means that the interviewer will ask questions to determine whether you have the ability to perform the job in question. This will often involve asking you for examples of the skills and experiences you have.

To predict the questions that the interviewer might ask, you’ll need to know the competencies required for the role. Sometimes, these are spelled out in the job listing. Other times, you will need to brainstorm and do some digging. Examples of common competencies are below, along with the sort of questions a recruiter will use if they want to understand a candidate’s strength in this area.

Competencies can be both technical or behavioral. Technical competencies vary widely from role to role, but behavioral competencies tend to be more standardized. The ability to work in a team, influence others, or solve problems, for example, are useful in many industries and positions.

Competency one - Demonstrating leadership

  • Give an example of an instance where you had to make a difficult decision.
  • Can you tell me about a time that you have had to show leadership at work?

Many roles will require candidates to demonstrate their ability to manage a team, or take a leading role in projects. Even if you are not moving into a managerial position, this might be an important competence if you ever have to inspire, encourage, or organize a group.

Competency-based questions will always ask for an example, so don’t give a theory-based answer. You will look evasive and the interviewer is likely to probe further to get more details from you. When answering a question about leadership, the recruiter wants to see that you are confident, you acted decisively, and you were able to work sensitively through a complex problem or situation. Explain the challenge you faced and why it mattered, before describing your actions and their impact.

Competency two - Teamwork

  • Describe a situation in which you were working as part of a team. How did you make a contribution?
  • Give me an example where your listening skills proved crucial to an outcome.

In questions about teamwork, you still need to show what you were able to personally deliver. Think about giving examples where you helped to bring a team together, and where you can clearly articulate your own contribution.

When talking about a team, think carefully about how you use the words we and I. If you refer to the actions we took throughout your answer, it can sound like you were being carried. This doesn’t demonstrate your contribution. If you only ever say, I, it can sound as though you dominated the actions. This doesn’t equate to teamwork. Balance the use of both words, and be clear on what you contributed versus what was a true group effort.

Competency three - Influencing others

  • Tell me about an occasion when you have had to overcome objections from your boss and coworkers, in order to get things done?
  • What types of people do you find difficult to get along with?

Interviewers will be looking carefully at your answers to see how your influencing style resonates with company culture. Some businesses (and national cultures) highly value collaborative decision-making. Others prefer a more direct and open debate, in which influence takes a firmer form. Precisely who you will need to influence will also matter -- matrix organizations rely heavily on influence through expertise, while more traditional top down businesses tend to use status to push through decisions.

It can help if you have an idea about the company culture when preparing your answers here. Find out what you can by reading company websites, talking to current employees, and reading reviews on sites like Glassdoor. Choose your answers to show off your best side, while matching the company culture you discover.

Competency four - Creativity and innovation

  • Can you tell me about a time you’ve had to come up with a completely unique approach, in order to solve a problem?
  • How do you generate new and creative ideas?

Working through problems creatively is something all businesses value -- it is a practice that can not be automated, but is also quite difficult to teach. Your ability to think innovatively is, to an extent, an innate talent, so choose your examples well to show this.

Outside of the genuinely creative sectors (design-based companies, for example), innovation for innovation’s sake is not necessarily viewed as valuable. When you answer this question, you need to think about the problem that you were actually solving, in order to show the impact you had. Using the STAR interview technique can help here.

Competency five - Managing stress and challenges

  • Give me an example of a project you've worked on that has failed.
  • How do you manage competing priorities?

To sound out your resilience, interviewers will often ask you to describe a time that you have failed. This is an unnerving question for anyone, as it is tricky to phrase without undermining yourself.

Related: Definitive Guide to Legit Work from Home Jobs

Don’t worry though. Interviewers are actually less interested in what went wrong, and more in what you did to recover. Focus your answer on explaining how you turned the situation around, either by fixing the failure or by learning from the experience to ensure that it would not happen again. This ability to bounce back is absolutely what the recruiter wants, and needs, to see.

Now Go Get Ready

When preparing for an interview, first find out what you can about the style of questioning you can expect. If you will have a competency-based conversation, start by identifying the key responsibilities of the job. Then, brainstorm the type of questions that might come up related to these.

If you struggle, look for ideas online -- articles like this one help to generate the types of questions for which you should prepare. Spend time thinking through ways you can respond, and the specific examples that you would be proud to share with the recruiter. By doing this in advance, you will go into the interview feeling energized rather than anxious. Good luck!

Claire Millard

Claire Millard

I am a writer and coach, focusing on helping people achieve their goals in careers and financial wellness. With ten years experience working in HR and Leadership roles in some of the biggest corporates in the UK, I am a qualified coach and member of the UK Institute for HR Professionals (CIPD).

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