Interview questions
‘So, Megan, where do you see yourself in five years?’ Image:

How to answer the toughest interview questions

16 Dec 2016

The most common job interview questions are also probably the toughest. Do you know what you’re going to say when you’re inevitably asked where you see yourself in five years? What are you going to say is your biggest weakness?

‘Tell me about yourself.’ The four words that strike fear into the hearts of most candidates when they sit down for their job interview.

You probably have so much advice swirling around your head. Don’t just rattle off your CV, give them eye contact, add some personality, but not too much.

It’s one of the vaguest questions you will get but also one of the most common, and how you answer it could be a deciding factor in your interview.

The introductory question isn’t the only common question candidates dread. Interview questions such as, ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ or ‘Why do you want to leave your current job?’ can put a knot in your stomach if you’re not prepared for them.

Luckily, with the help of James Milligan from Hays Recruitment, we’re here to help you prepare for those questions and nail that interview.

Tell me about yourself.

Like we said, it’s the dreaded first question and it could make or break you. What are employers really looking for here?

Milligan says, “This should be brief overview of your experience to date, focusing on the areas that are most relevant to the job description. No longer than five minutes in total.”

Why do you want this job?

‘Why should we hire you?’ can be difficult enough, but at least you know that to be a roundabout way of asking you to sell yourself. You probably know ‘the fantastic salary’ is not a good reason to want a job, but what is a good answer?

Unsurprisingly, this will depend on the job. “It should be an honest answer – it may be that you don’t know if you want the job yet,” says Milligan. “The interview is a two-way process for both parties to evaluate themselves.”

If you do want the job, make sure you articulate your reasons, from career progression to strong company values.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This one can be awkward for a number of reasons, not least because your honest answer might be ‘not here’. With 75pc of the workforce planning to move jobs in the next two years, the era of five to 10 years in one role or company is on its way out.

So, if you don’t want to lie, but you don’t see yourself in the company you’re interviewing for in five years, what should you say? “If you do have a plan, then articulate it,” says Milligan. “If you don’t, then outline what might influence where you could be in five years. You don’t have to nail your colours to the mast, especially if it is an entry level or intermediate position.”

What’s your biggest weakness?

No, the answer to this question is not ‘I don’t have any weaknesses’, nor is it ‘I’m a workaholic/perfectionist’.

“My personal opinion is that this is lazy interviewing,” says Milligan. “Most people fall into the trap of answering the question with a weakness that doesn’t impact on your ability to do the job.”

Employers can usually see through this and when they value honesty, you should exercise candour if you are unfortunate enough to be faced with this question. However, Milligan says there are limits to this honesty. “There is no point in saying you don’t like working with people in an interview for a customer services job.”

Why do you want to leave your current job?

For some, this might not be the professional minefield it is for others. You might have a very good, solid reason for leaving that you’re confident about explaining. But for many, there are reasons that would require bad-mouthing your company, were you to be completely honest.

How do you explain your needs/desires honestly without sounding like you’re bitching about your current employer or jumping ship? For this, rule number one is never, ever use a negative reason, even if you feel it’s reasonable.

“It will create unease with an interviewer about what you might say if you work for them,” says Milligan. “Instead, focus on the opportunities that the new job brings that might not be available with your current employer.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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