Careers advice: 5 killer interview questions

13 February 2019

Whilst the majority of interview questions are designed to test your motivation and suitability for the role, other questions test your ability to think on your feet and are more likely to throw you. Interviewers are interested in how you answer these questions as much as the answer itself; Careers Coach, Donna Walker shares her advice on how to combat these killer questions.

Anticipating what questions you might be asked in advance will allow you to prepare and help you to be more confident in the interview. When answering questions use a framework to structure your reply, for example CARE (Context, Action, Result, Evaluation), as this will ensure you include important elements in your answer and prevent you from giving a long, unfocussed response.

Killer or surprise questions include:

1. Tell me about a time when you failed

Interviewers may ask this to test your resilience and creativity: when something goes wrong do you remain calm and find a solution to the problem? It is important to give a real life example and explain what you learned from the experience. 

2. What is your biggest weakness?

Identify an area for development that is not an essential part of the job you are interviewing for and outline the steps you are taking to improve. For example, you may not like speaking in front of large audiences and have joined Toastmasters to build your confidence. This shows that you are sufficiently self-aware to recognise that you, like everyone else, have areas you can improve on and are proactive enough to make these improvements by yourself.

3. What are your salary expectations?

Prior to the interview, research the typical salaries for the role; during the interview avoid naming an actual salary for as long as possible, if you are pressed do not name a specific figure and opt for a range, e.g. £60k - £70k. Recruiters will already have an idea of how much they can pay and are testing how realistic your expectations are.

4. Where else have you applied?

Recruiters want to see how focussed you are and if you really know what you want to do. You do not need to name specific companies but indicate that you have also applied to similar roles in organisations in the same sector. Listing a wide variety of roles across numerous sectors will raise doubts with the recruiter on your genuine motivation for this position.

5. Surprise Questions

These are deliberately designed to throw you and test your response to an unexpected question. Recruiters want to see what you are really like as a person and get an authentic response.

 Examples include:

  • Explain your last job to a ten year old
  • If you were given £1M to set up a business, what would you do and why?
  • If your life was made into a film what would the title be?

Don’t panic; ask the recruiter if you can have a few seconds to think and consider what the purpose of the question might be. Any link you can make to the core values and culture of the organisation will help.

Remember that it is fine to pause before answering any questions (this will help you avoid rushing in with a long, meandering response); ask if you can take a few moments to think of an example and explain your reasoning where you can.