5 hard interview questions to master

By Robert Half on 19 August 2022

If there is any moment in the job search process when candidates trip up the most, it is the interview phase.

That’s why if you have a job interview lined up, you need to prepare answers to potential questions before you even enter the hiring manager’s office.

Warning: Some of these will be trickier than others.

To know how to answer hard questions, it helps to understand why they are asked in the first place. Basically, interviewers need to determine quickly whether you have the following three qualities:

  • Technical expertise to do the job
  • Interpersonal skills to get along with co-workers
  • A desire to join the company

To ensure you have the right temperament for the work environment, managers must go beyond the first quality.

To find out how you may fit (the second two qualities), they will ask general questions, behavioural questions, as well as the occasional curveball.

This is true whether you’re going for a full-time position or a temporary job, because employers might have a temp-to-hire strategy in the back of their mind.

Related: Common job interview questions in Hong Kong

5 hard interview questions to prepare for

As noted earlier, interviews are no walks in the park.

To succeed, you should research the company and rehearse your answers to many potential questions. Here are five favourite queries interviewers have today:

1. What salary are you looking for?

This is a hard interview question. Aim too high, and you could put yourself out of the running. Shoot too low, and you might be leaving money on the table.

You could take one of two approaches. Research current starting salaries for the position you are seeking, customising it for your city.

The Robert Half Salary Guide is an excellent resource. Then either give hiring managers a salary range you can live with or say you would like to find out more about the job responsibilities and non-wage benefits before naming a number.

The point is, you never know when a salary negotiation might begin, so always be prepared with current averages in your mind.

2. What can you tell me about yourself?

This is a common way for hiring managers to kick off interviews.

When answering, keep the above bullet points in mind. Give an overview of your skills, work experience, qualifications, and personal traits.

Your goal is to pique their interest in what you can do for the company. Consider this question the first step in making a positive impression.

Note: This is not the time nor place to mention your children, marital status, political activities, religious affiliation, health issues, hobbies, pets, or favourite Netflix show.

Related: Five interview techniques and skills

3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The key to nailing this hard interview question is preparation. Do not be caught off-guard if an interviewer lobs you this grenade.

Listing positives is easy — you are great with numbers, excel in several financial platforms, have a stellar work ethic and so on.

But naming your Achilles heel or personal kryptonite? That is another matter. Mention a real but not deal-breaking weakness.

Perhaps you are slightly introverted, find it difficult to take criticism or would rather do things yourself than delegate. Then immediately follow up with how you are addressing the shortcoming.

For example, if you have subpar networking skills, tell interviewers you plan to talk to more people during the next conference you attend.

Related: Questions to ask in an interview in Hong Kong

4. Why did you leave your last job or why do you wish to leave your current company?

No gossip, please. The business world is surprisingly interconnected, and the last thing you want to do is badmouth mutual acquaintances.

If you are currently working, highlight what you enjoy about the job. Then segue into your desire for professional advancement or another challenge.

Are you unemployed because of a mass layoff or recent move, or did a temporary assignment end?

Be more cautious if you were let go for performance reasons. Your goal here is to explain the circumstances.

Perhaps, you did not meet expectations because your job description changed or because you did not get along with a new supervisor.

Reassure interviewers of the lessons learned and highlight how it was an isolated incident because you have an otherwise stellar work history.

5. Where do you want to be in five years?

Your answer to this question gives hiring managers an idea of your motivation and drive.

Saying you love the status quo is not a good response. Instead, lay out professional goals you hope to achieve and how you plan to get there.

However, mention your adaptability and openness to whatever comes your way.

For best results, keep your ambitions in-house, as few employers set out to hire job hoppers.

The goal of any job interview is to demonstrate your talents, initiative, and suitability for the role. Since you do not know exactly what hiring managers are looking for, it is not always your fault if you do not come away with a job offer.

But do your prep work, and you will greatly increase the chances of landing the job you want.

Related: How to read body language in an interview

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