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6 challenging job interview scenarios and how to handle them

7 Jun 2023

From addressing CV gaps to coping with quirky or open-ended questions and talking about yourself, job interviews present lots of challenges.

Job interviews are tough at the best of times – they are the stuff of many people’s nightmares. Sitting in front of a potential employer completely tongue-tied and racking your brains to come up with something intelligent to say is a fairly hellish experience, to be fair.

It’s not just the fact that recruiters ask hard questions, but the whole list of other things that can potentially go wrong in interviews that make them so nerve-wracking.

Read on for some practical advice on how to deal with challenging situations that can arise during job interviews.

Open-ended questions

It’s probably fair to say that most people fear the classic ‘open-ended’ job interview questions because a lot of your success hinges on how you answer them.

The open-ended questions – think ‘Where do you see yourself in X years’ time? Tell me about yourself? What do you look for in an employer?’ – pretty impossible to bluff your way through convincingly. You’ll do better if you have answers thought of for some of these. has plenty of tips on how to approach answering tough job interview questions, as well as providing insight into how they might be asked.

Addressing CV gaps

There are a couple of ways to approach this one, but most employers value honesty. Any lies you tell might catch you out in the future remember.

Different people have gaps for different reasons. Illness, bereavement and family responsibilities are the most common causes of CV gaps, but job shortages and unemployment can also be factors.

Explain your situation briefly to the interviewer while making it clear that you are firmly back in action now and ready to get going in a new job.

If an employer rejects you because of a gap even after you’ve been honest with them, they may not be the type of person you’d want to work for anyway.

Dramatic career/industry changes

Career pivots can be a tough sell, but they are becoming quite common. There is no such thing as a job for life anymore.

The unique thing about career pivots is that you may find yourself interviewing for another department in the same company you currently work for. If that’s the case, use your references to support your application.

If you are changing career paths completely, make sure you prepare your reasons so you can persuade the interviewer to take a chance on you.

Evaluating your own biggest weaknesses and strengths

Some people don’t like talking about their strengths; others don’t like talking about their weaknesses … and more just don’t like talking about themselves.

Well, unfortunately, the dreaded strengths and weaknesses question comes up a lot in interviews. And, not to be a smart-alec, but it’s a weakness if you don’t have an answer.

If you struggle with even deciding what your strengths and weaknesses are in the first place, it might be a good idea to cast your mind back to feedback your previous bosses and colleagues have given you.

With this information in mind, do a SWOT test to determine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Use these points to inform your answer in interviews.

Technical failures for remote interviews

With hybrid and remote working, some job interviews are done virtually. While that might sound like a good thing – you could do an interview from the comfort of your own home wearing a pair of slippers – it also presents its own set of challenges.

Technical difficulties can strike at the most inconvenient times and they definitely don’t stop because your call is important. Your internet could cut out, the platform you’re using for the interview might be glitchy or your sound or camera might be on the blink.

All of those things are potentially disastrous when it comes to making a good first impression, of course. But when issues do occur mid-interview, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. Stay calm, apologise for the difficulties – and keep in mind that it isn’t your fault; it’s the tech failing.

If problems persist, ask the interviewer for another way you might be able to contact them to continue the interview.

Quirky questions

Some interviewers like to add in eccentric questions to see how applicants respond to on-the-spot challenges and whether they can think creatively. At least, those are the most likely explanations for questions like ‘Who do you prefer, Batman or Robin?’ or ‘If you were an animal, what would you be?’

The moral of the story is sometimes you have to expect the unexpected.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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