top nine tricky graduate interview questions

The top nine tricky interview questions and how to answer them

Here's an overview of all our guidance on how to tackle specific tricky interview questions that you might come up against in your graduate job interviews.

Forewarned is forearmed, which is why we've compiled a list of the key tricky interview questions that recruiters love to use and candidates sometimes stumble over. Here it is in full, so read on to find out what employers are really asking and pick up tactics for giving answers that show you in the best possible light.

‘What is your biggest weakness?’

The problem with this question is that you’re being asked about your shortcomings, when your instinct, in an interview situation, is to keep your flaws as well hidden as possible. What you need to do is to frame your answer to as to give it a positive spin.

Strengths and weaknesses can be different sides of the same coin, so another way to approach this question is to think about how you overcome the potential downside of your greatest strength. For example, if you’re a natural teamworker, is it difficult for you to cope with conflict or assume leadership abilities? How do you cope with this?

‘Why do you think you will be successful in this job?’

This isn’t an invitation to boast – you are being asked to match your strengths to the qualities needed to do the job. Don’t forget, it’s a very specific question. Why are you suited to this job, as opposed to any other? Thorough employer research will save the day, as it will enable you to match your skills, interests and experience to the job role and the company.

‘Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?’

Graduate recruiters use some questions as much to see how you cope when you’re put on the spot as to elicit a truthful answer. This question is a test of your ability to think on your feet and come up with a diplomatic response. Whether you sidestep the question by saying you’ve always got on well with your employers, or describe a tricky situation you’ve experienced that highlights your potential, you need to avoid attacking your previous employers. Also, take care not to incriminate yourself.

‘Give an example of a time when you handled a major crisis.’

Feel free to reframe the question. This is similar to asking ‘Can you give an example of a time when you had to cope with a difficult situation?’ or ‘Give an example of a time when you had to cope under pressure’. However, ‘crisis’ is a much stronger, more emotive word. You may find it easier to give an example if you think back through your work experience, study, extracurricular activities and travel and come up with a time when you had to cope with an unexpected problem.

‘Where do you expect to be in five years’ time?’

This is another question that allows you to show off your employer research and your understanding of your chosen career path. You’ll want to come across as enthusiastic, but not arrogant. Tailor your response to reflect the nature of the organisation, the sector, and your own experiences and skills. Specific details will impress.

‘What motivates you?’

You are particularly likely to be asked about your motivation in a strengths-based interview, which focuses on what you enjoy doing and what you do well. Your answer should draw on an example from your extracurricular activities, work experience or studies that suggests you would be strongly motivated by the job you are applying for.

‘How do you manage your time and prioritise tasks?’

When a recruiter asks how you manage your time, don’t just give an example of a time when you did this successfully. Your interviewer wants to know your tactics and strategies for getting yourself organised, so whatever approach you use to prioritising and listing your tasks, you should be ready to describe it.

‘Give an example of a time when you showed initiative.’

If an interviewer asks you to describe a situation in which you showed initiative, avoid giving an example of an idea you had but never put into action. It’s much better to talk about a time when you not only came up with a solution to a problem but also acted on it. Then you can explain the effect your decision had when you put it into practice.

‘Give an example of your lateral thinking.’

Lateral thinking is the ability to use your imagination to look at a problem in a fresh way and come up with a new solution. Companies prize employees with lateral thinking skills because without them, they can’t innovate and create new products. Think about times when you’ve been faced with real-life problems and have somehow managed to overcome them. Chances are your solution involved an original, creative approach, and that’s what employers want to find out about.