While you can’t know exactly what you’ll be asked at interview, you can make a reasonable guess. So you can at least prepare for those common but nonetheless tricky interview questions. Being prepared in advance will help you deal with potentially awkward questions. Read on if you’d like to know how you can come up your own answers to four common but difficult interview questions.

Tell me about yourself?

This can throw people as it’s such a broad question, but remember that you’re in a job interview. The the interviewer doesn’t want to hear your life story. You can talk briefly about your relevant qualifications and work history. But be sure to  focus on the qualities and experience that will be really useful in the job you are applying for. Keep it short and to the point. If the interviewer wants to know more, they will ask a follow-up question.

Be careful about hobbies and interests, if you added these to your CV. Make sure they are genuine! You never know when an interviewer will be passionate about something you mentioned and the follow up question could be about that.

Why is there a gap in your employment history?

In this case you should also be truthful. Many people have gaps these days, as job contracts are often temporary. If you were laid off or sick, you should say so. Both of these situations can happen to anyone and did in fact happen to a lot of us during the pandemic. If you were sick and have recovered, reassure them by explaining that you are back to full fitness.

In the case of chronic or recurring illness or a disability, this is a bit trickier.  It’s a good idea to get advice from the job centre, or specialist agencies whose job is to enable people with disabilities to find work. And  who can help you find understanding employers. They can also advise you how best to answer questions like this one, relating the answers to your specific condition. And of course, they can help you to deal with discrimination.

Dealing with Periods of Unemployment

If you’ve had a long period of unemployment, show how you used the time. For example,  to do voluntary work, study for qualifications or gain new skills. Or perhaps you used the time to travel and broaden your horizons.

Perhaps you spent your time mainly applying for jobs and you had little money or energy for much else. But you can consider how you developed your soft skills during that period. Communication skills are really important in most jobs and you’ll have been using them frequently. For example, when writing applications and giving presentations. And you’ll have been improving your knowledge and use of technology to search for jobs and take part in remote interviews.

If you were at home looking after children or sick or older relatives, don’t put yourself down. These are incredibly important activities, and so you should put a positive spin on the situation. You will have gained plenty of skills in the process and developed invaluable experience. Sit down and think about what you learned, for example organisational skills and time management with a busy family routine. Or patience and listening skills with an older relative or children.

What is your greatest weakness?

This is one of those questions which can land you in hot water. And it can creep into an interview in different ways, for example, “Describe a situation in which you failed at work”.

Some books say use something which an employer would consider a strength, like I’m over-conscientious or I tend to stay late to finish things. However, since interviewers have heard these answers over and over again,  it’s probably a good idea to find a real weakness, but one that isn’t too bad, can be easily corrected and if possible, doesn’t matter much in this particular job. For example, you may have struggled with Excel worksheets and got a bit behind as a result. But you went on a course and now you are much faster.

No-one expects you to be perfect and they will know you are lying if you claim to have no weaknesses. However, if you can show that you did take steps to deal with the problem, you’ll go up in the interviewer’s estimation.

What is your greatest strength?

This one can be almost as difficult to ask as the previous question. After all,  a lot of us find it hard to talk about things we are good at. And there are two sides to this – what you think you are good at may not be the same as what you are actually good at!

A good way to resolve this possible conflict, is to use examples that other people have given you. So take a look at the things which previous bosses and colleagues or teachers or university lecturers have said. What has your supervisor complimented you on during an appraisal? Or what did a previous boss say in a reference?

You should also make sure your strengths relate to what the employer is looking for. And that you can give some good examples of times you have used those strengths.

View Common but Difficult Interview Questions as an Opportunity

Don’t see these tough questions as a means to catch you out, but rather an oportunity to show that you can do the job.

Always prepare well for an interview and check out some other answers.