Career Clinic: Dealing with "difficult" questions at interviews

This is a guest blog post from Jeremy I’Anson, professional career coach and the author of You’re Hired! Total Job Search 2013

Jeremy I'Anson Photo.jpgIn addition to the questions that are typically asked at either traditional or competency interviews, you can also expect interviewers to focus on any areas of concern that they may have about your background, for example if you have changed jobs frequently or if there are any gaps in your career.

Here are some examples of these sorts of difficult questions with suggested responses.

‘You’ve changed jobs quite frequently. How do we know that you are going to stay in this job?’

Well, this is a promising question. If the interviewer wants to be sure that you want to stay in the job then presumably they are thinking of actually offering you the job. But beware! Why have you been changing jobs so frequently? You need to reassure the interviewer with your answer.

‘Yes, I have changed jobs several times but that has been a deliberate strategy. I wanted to gain experience in a number of different areas. I’ve come to the end of that process now and I can bring that experience to your company. I’ve also recently married and I want to settle down in a stable job. I’ve done a great deal of research on this company and I know that you can offer me job security and a long-term future.’

‘Why should we offer you the job?’

Think back to the job description and then take each item one at a time. Work through the job specification pointing out that you have the required qualifications and experience. Where appropriate provide examples of some of your achievements that match the role. For example:

‘You asked for candidates with good experience of Project Management.  In my current job I’ve managed a number of very successful projects. In each of these projects I’ve consistently delivered on schedule and within budget.  I’ve been nominated for an award from the CIO twice in the last 6 months.’

‘What are your weaknesses?’

A very difficult question to answer. Everybody has weaknesses and I can recall one candidate who answered this question by saying that he ‘didn’t have any weaknesses’ being turned down for a senior job! Much better to own up to some weaknesses but make sure they are ‘good’ ones!

For example:

‘I have a sharp eye for detail and a tendency to try and do too much myself. I’ve recently completed a two-day course on delegation and this has really helped me to let go of some of my responsibilities and trust colleagues and members of my team to take on more of the workload.’

 Notice how in this answer the candidate has admitted to a weakness but has recognised it and has already taken steps to remedy the problem by attending a course in delegation. Always try to use this model to answer this type of question. Admit to a weakness but make it clear that you are taking steps to rectify the problem.

‘You’ve been unemployed for quite a long time. What have you been doing?’

Try to give a detailed reply to this question. Remember that the average time to find a new job is 3-6 months. There are plenty of people in the same position and everybody knows that the job market is tough. You might also want to point out any personal projects that you have undertaken during your period of unemployment.

If you were made redundant then you may have received a tax-free payment that enabled you to take some time off to travel or spend time with your family. If you have done any voluntary work then mention this and also mention any personal projects where you were able use your professional skills, for example acting as project manager for a property renovation or organising a charity event. Also mention any training that you have undertaken that will be relevant to the job.

Jeremy I’Anson is a professional careers coach and the author of You’re Hired! Total Job Search 2013 published by Trotman Education. For further details visit


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Jeremy I’Anson is a professional careers coach and the author of You’re Hired! Total Job Search 2013 published by Trotman Education. For further details visit


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