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Understanding why interviewers ask the questions they ask, and how to prepare yourself accordingly

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Whilst you can’t prepare for every possible interview question, you can (and should) look to understand why certain questions are being asked and use our tips to help you through the trickiest of interviews.

Remain calm. There may be questions that stump you, so if you expect this in advance it will help you to remain calm. Try taking a deep breath to compose yourself. You want to appear calm and collected throughout.

If you do end up getting nervous, a great way to deal with it is to apologise to the interviewer and let them know that you’re a little nervous but only because you really want the job.  It’s a great way to address the elephant in the room, help to defuse your nerves and to get the interviewer on-side.

Use tactics to buy some time. It’s acceptable to take a quick pause if you do not have an immediate answer in mind. Don't be afraid to acknowledge that you are thinking on your feet - “that’s a very good question” or “interesting question” will give you time to think without leaving an awkward silence, and will help you to appear calm and confident.

Think about the job. Remember that interview questions are designed to determine whether you have the skills or personal attributes required for the job. As you answer a question, think about answering in a way that demonstrates a skill or quality you have that qualifies you for the job. Read through the job description point by point the day before your interview and think about examples of work scenarios which relate to those key competencies.

Come back to it later. If your mind is still blank, consider saying something like, “That is a very interesting question. May I take some time to consider it and get back to you later?” Hopefully, after a little time, you will be able to answer the question. I would advise using this only as a last resort.

Follow-up. If you leave the interview having not answered a specific question, or you realise that you may have answered something incorrectly, then include a response to the question in a thank you letter after your interview. This is usually well received by interviewers.

Why the strange questions?

Strange questions are designed to test your critical thinking. I would expect more of these types of questions if you are applying for positions that involve lots of problem solving - jobs like Data Analysts, Marketing Strategists and Creative Director roles. If you can explain your thinking and reasoning aloud, this will no doubt impress.

Example questions (yes, these are real!)

  • If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?

  • Do you believe in Bigfoot?

  • Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?

  • How does the internet work?

Why are they probing my character and values?

Being skilled and intelligent is often not enough, companies generally look to hire candidates that share the same morals and values as themselves. As such, hiring managers will focus on questions to uncover your personality and what you stand for.

Example questions

Who do you admire and why?

  • Tell me something about you that isn't on your CV

  • What do you most dislike about yourself?

  • Is it acceptable to lie in business?

  • Is it OK to spend time at work on non-work stuff, like Facebook or YouTube?


Why the competency-based questions?

By asking competency-based questions, your interviewer can discover more information about your work experience and how you would handle situations that are often relevant to the role.  This line of questioning is a popular approach for interviewers that want to find out exactly who a candidate is and how they may act if they hire them. Competency-based questions are often designed to test the following skills: leadership, teamwork, interpersonal skills, intuition, career motivation, decision-making, communication and customer service (account management).

Example questions

  • When have you worked as part of a team to complete a difficult task?

  • When have you taken responsibility for a difficult task at work?

  • Describe a time when you had to deal with a customer complaint? What did you do and how did you resolve the complaint?

  • What is the toughest decision you have ever had to make whilst at work? Why did you make the decision and what was the outcome?

Why do generic questions get asked in almost all interviews?

Companies hiring want to know that you have done your research on them and that you’re interested in working for them specifically. This is your opportunity to express how interested you are and to substantiate your reasoning. These questions often provide candidates with an additional opportunity to sell themselves.

Example questions

  • Why should I hire you?

  • Why did you apply for this position?

  • Why do you want to work with us?

  • What do you know about us?


If you are a hiring manager and are looking to put together a set of interview questions to help you identify the very best candidates, why not tap into our knowledge and experience to help you get it right. To set up a friendly, obligation free call, just drop Mark an email.