Does anyone enjoy interviews? Well, I enjoy conducting them – but sitting on the other side as a candidate? This can often feel terrifying.
As a career coach, I help my clients prepare for interviews by focusing on three seperate areas: the content, structure, and delivery of their answers.
But what are the biggest interview fears? Everyone will have a different answer to this, there are certainly common themes.
Here, I address some of the biggest fears, and how you can approach them at interview.
“Help! How can I answer a question about my greatest weakness? I dread that question!”
This is a question that so many candidates fear, but it doesn’t need to be stressful to answer!
Here are some key pointers to help you answer this question:
- Tell the truth – It’s important to build trust with the interviewer, so you need to be honest and authentic by saying something that is a genuine weakness of yours.
- Don’t try and say a subtle positive – All interviewers have heard at least one candidate proudly say they are a perfectionist when answering this question. It’s important to answer the question without secretly trying to brag!
- Avoid stating something fundamental to the role – If you’re applying for a job as a proof reader, it may not serve you well to say that your weakness is attention to detail.
- Don’t pretend it’s all resolved now – Another trick candidates sometimes employ is by stating “I used to have X as a weakness, but now I’m all fixed!” If you are being asked about a weakness, you need to give a current weakness, not one that used to be applicable.
- State how you manage your weakness – Part of what the interviewer is looking for here is for you to demonstrate your emotional intelligence and self-awareness. You can also showcase professional maturity by explaining how you manage your weakness, for example by being aware of it, by seeking feedback, or by modifying certain behaviours in high-risk situations.
“Help! What if I get asked a question I haven’t prepared for?”
You can’t prepare for all possible questions. It’s not feasible and it’s not necessarily useful – you need to be able to deal with unusual or curveball questions in the moment, rather than trying to pre-empt every possible question you could ever get asked.
To help keep your composure when you get asked a tricky question you could try one of the following:
- Pause and take a sip of water while you collect your thoughts.
- Say “that’s an interesting question” (if it feels relevant!) and give yourself a few more seconds to think about it.
- Ask the interviewer for more detail on the question, or ask them if they could rephrase the question (only do this if you are really baffled by what they are asking!).
- If you feel you need to, you can ask for a moment to think things through (not always necessary, but can help fill a long silence while you reflect)
- Simply take a breath and pause to reflect how you want to answer the question.
The most important thing is to take deep breaths, and stay present and focused on the question, rather than going into fight or flight panic mode. Interviewers are just people, and will understand if you need a moment to collect your thoughts.
“Help! What if I can’t think of a relevant example for a competency question being asked?”
You don’t need to rush to answer the question quickly at interview. You can pause, take a moment to process the question, and ensure you have listened to the wording carefully.
Avoid thinking you need to create a perfect answer – which story from your different experiences could best fit what the interviewer might be looking for?
If you are genuinely stumped and can’t think of an example, one option is to say “I haven’t got a past example that exactly matches your question, but I could talk about…” and offer to share an alternative story that is related to the competency you have been asked about.
Alternatively, you could say “I haven’t been in that situation yet, but I am happy to talk about how I would respond if I were to be in that situation…”.
“What if I get asked a commercial or technical question that I don’t know the answer to?”
Firstly, don’t panic! It’s not unusual to be asked a tricky question at interview, and the interviewer may just be pushing you to see where your limits are.
Consider whether you could ask a clarifying question to see if any further details would enable you to better answer the question, for example “Would you prefer me to focus on X or Y for my answer?”
If this doesn’t help, you could try saying something like “That’s a really interesting topic. It’s not something I know a huge amount about yet, but I’d be interested to learn more about it” or “That’s an interesting question. It’s not something I know a lot about yet, but based on what I do know/my assumptions, perhaps it’s…”. You could also state how you would intend to find out more about the topic.
Again, it’s important to remain composed. Not knowing the answer to one question is unlikely to be an automatic fail at interview, and responding calmly can be an opportunity to show you can keep calm under pressure.
Want more advice on interviews?
This is an extract from my book, ‘Graduate Careers Uncovered: Tools and insights from a former recruiter to demystify your job search‘ – available now on Amazon.