Tough interview questions and answers
‘What is your most significant achievement?’
This tricky interview question is designed to assess your values and attitude as much as your achievements, and employers often want you to talk about your activities outside education. You’re more likely to come across well if you choose to discuss something you’re genuinely proud of, which could be because it involved leading others, overcoming obstacles or persisting in the face of the odds. Read the full guidance to find out about answers that graduate job hunters often give to this question, but which should be treated with caution because they might not help you to stand out.
‘What motivates you?’
You are particularly likely to be asked about your motivation in a strengths-based interview, which focuses on what you enjoy doing and what you do well. This is an approach that graduate recruiters are increasingly using alongside or instead of competency-based questions.
Your answer should draw on an example from your extracurricular activities, work experience or studies that suggests you would be strongly motivated by the job you are applying for.
‘Give an example of a time when you showed initiative.’
If an interviewer asks you to describe a situation in which you showed initiative, avoid giving an example of an idea you had but never put into action. It’s much better to talk about a time when you not only came up with a solution to a problem but also acted on it. Then you can explain the effect your decision had when you put it into practice.
‘What is your biggest weakness?’
The problem with this question is that you’re being asked about your shortcomings, when your instinct, in an interview situation, is to keep your flaws as well hidden as possible. What you need to do is to frame your answer to as to give it a positive spin.
Strengths and weaknesses can be different sides of the same coin, so another way to approach this question is to think about how you overcome the potential downside of your greatest strength. For example, if you’re a natural teamworker, is it difficult for you to cope with conflict or assume leadership abilities? How do you cope with this?
‘Are you innovative?’
Graduates are sometime asked to give an example of when they were innovative, ‘thought outside the box’ or used creative thinking to solve a problem. Many graduates are concerned that their examples are just not innovative enough, but worry not: the interviewer won’t expect you to have given the prime minister tips on handling Brexit! Instead, talk about times when an idea from you had a positive impact: for example, if you came up with a fundraising idea for charity or found a way to save time on an assignment.
‘Give an example of a time when you handled a major crisis.’
Feel free to reframe the question. This is similar to asking ‘Can you give an example of a time when you had to cope with a difficult situation?’ or ‘Give an example of a time when you had to cope under pressure’. However, ‘crisis’ is a much stronger, more emotive word. You may find it easier to give an example if you think back through your work experience, study, extracurricular activities and travel and come up with a time when you had to cope with an unexpected problem.
‘What can you bring to the company?’
The simple answer to this question is that you bring with you the sum of your skills, experiences, achievements, values and enthusiasm for the company. Conducting some thorough employer research will allow you to shape your answer to help you prove you are the perfect fit for the company. The trick is to neither oversell yourself nor undersell yourself, but keep to the facts: sprinkle your answers with evidence of your achievements and details about the company.
‘Give an example of your lateral thinking.’
Lateral thinking is the ability to use your imagination to look at a problem in a fresh way and come up with a new solution. Companies prize employees with lateral thinking skills because without them, they can’t innovate and create new products. Think about times when you’ve been faced with real-life problems and have somehow managed to overcome them. Chances are your solution involved an original, creative approach, and that’s what employers want to find out about.
‘Where do you expect to be in five years’ time?’
This is another question that allows you to show off your employer research and your understanding of your chosen career path. You’ll want to come across as enthusiastic, but not arrogant. Tailor your response to reflect the nature of the organisation, the sector, and your own experiences and skills. Specific details will impress.