career resources

Common ‘tricky’ interview questions and how to answer them

The job interview is a key part of a recruitment process, for both the hiring manager and the prospective employee. The employer wants to make sure they are hiring the right person and the candidate wants to make the right career decision.

For job seekers, the best way to approach an interview is with preparation. There will likely be some questions that may throw you off or perhaps make you feel a little uncomfortable answering. Here’s our take on common ‘tricky’ interview questions and how to answer them.

Q: Tell me about yourself?

This is your story, albeit one told in around 60 seconds. Like any good story, it needs an engaging beginning, a solid middle and ending that leaves the interviewer with an understanding of what you bring to the table and how that matches what the company is looking for. Make sure you are the hero in your story! This is a good icebreaker question at the start of the interview. It’s easy to talk about yourself and helps start the conversation.

  • Prepare your response based on the role description
  • Start with your current role
  • Elaborate on your background (not too far back) or area of expertise
  • Highlight relevant experience and successes
  • Provide an insight into your ‘outside of office’ self
  • End with how you fit this role

Q: Why did you apply for this role?

Regardless of whether you are actively looking for a new role, keeping an occasional eye on the job market or happily employed and not thinking about making a career change, employers want to know what led you to apply for a role. They are also looking for reassurance that you are committed to making a change.

  • Provide a clear (and honest) explanation
  • Highlight what excites you about the role/company
  • Demonstrate some understanding of the company
  • If your answer includes a reference to your current/past employer, avoid making any negative comments

Q: What are your weaknesses?

Avoid anything disingenuous or cliche – “I work too hard”. How you answer this question says a lot about you behaviourally, it’s also a great opportunity to show your own self-awareness, being authentic is key!

  • Choose something you have already made steps to improve on
  • Avoid anything critical to the role you are interviewing for
  • Frame your answer in the positive

Q: Are you applying for other roles?

Answering this question can be a bit challenging, remembering that the employer wants to make sure you are serious about making a career change but without appearing to be desperate or having proven unsuccessful in your job search to date.

  • Keep it short and vague
  • Don’t elaborate or mention company names
  • If you have received an offer from another employer, be honest with the interviewer
  • Show some enthusiasm for this opportunity

Q: What are your salary expectations?

Pre-interview, you should have some idea of the salary for the role you have applied for – if it hasn’t been shared already, there are lots of ways you can research this. If asked, remember this isn’t a salary negotiation, that comes further down in the process. It’s simply an opportunity to make sure both parties are aligned in their expectations for the role. Be prepared for this question (it will be asked) and don’t feel uncomfortable about answering.

  • Wait for the interviewer to ask the question
  • Offer a salary range rather than an exact figure
  • Base the range on your background and understanding of the current market, against the responsibilities of the role
  • Keep your response concise, it’s a one sentence answer
  • You do not have to share your current/previous salary
  • If you are not comfortable discussing, ask the interviewer for the salary range for the role

Q: Do you have any questions?

Chances are you’ve had the opportunity to ask questions throughout the interview process or maybe the interviewer has simply touched on the topics you had on your list. So, when this question comes up, you’re left stuck with nothing to say?!

  • Don’t ‘save up’ your questions, create a good flow and conversation throughout the interview and ask your questions as they arise
  • Have a prepared ‘list’ of thoughtful questions in your head that you can refer to
  • Don’t ask a question for the sake of it, simply let the interviewer know that you’ve enjoyed the conversation and learnt all you need to know for now

What to do when you don’t know how to answer a question

Maybe it’s a bit of brain fog or you simply are not familiar with the topic. The key is not to panic.

  • Ask the interviewer to elaborate, this gives you some breathing space as well as also potentially explaining what they are really asking
  • Still not sure, try to link your answer to what you think might be complementary skills and experience, relative to the question
  • Reframe the question and ask the interviewer for their opinion
  • Don’t assume that the interviewer (or panel) has actually read your CV from start to finish, so you can always refer back to your career journey which gives some insight that may touch on the question being asked

Still feeling some anxiety or stress in anticipation of an interview? Remember that you’ve made it this far in the process, so chances are you tick a number of boxes in terms of the skills, capabilities and experience that the employee is looking for. Now it’s time to let your personality traits and soft skills shine. You’ve got this!

what’s happening

Insights from
our experts

Looking for your dream job?

As individuals we often don’t spend time to truly think about what that “right” role actually looks like. Why does...
Read More

What to do if you find yourself unemployed

Our number one piece of advice for anyone who unexpectedly finds themselves unemployed is…don’t panic. When you are in the...
Read More

MPs got a pay rise this month, did you?

Based on recommendations from the Remuneration Authority, New Zealand politicians have been given a staggered 10 percent salary increase. Not...
Read More

When it’s the role, not the new hire, that’s wrong

Struggling to fill a role vacancy? Churning through new placements at an alarming rate? Perhaps it is the role that’s...
Read More

Quickfire tips for a LinkedIn profile refresh

Regardless of your current career aspirations (i.e., active or passive job seeker) do not underestimate the importance of a current...
Read More

Advice for answering, what are your salary expectations?

At some point in the recruitment process, you will be asked the dreaded question…what are your salary expectations? We’ve all...
Read More

How to Resign the Right Way

If your goal is resigning on good terms and maintaining professional relationships, then your approach requires thought and planning. We’re...
Read More

Exploring a Career in Civil Engineering in New Zealand

Explore career guidance for civil engineers in New Zealand. Dive into education, job insights, and expert advice to navigate New...
Read More

How to Conduct an Interview: A Guide For Employers and Hiring Managers

Sourcing and recruiting top-tier talent is a major challenge for businesses and a key area of focus for HR and...
Read More

How to Prepare for an Interview with an Executive Search Firm

You may find your experience with an executive search firm a little different to in-house talent acquisition teams, particularly when...
Read More

The Ultimate Guide to the Executive Recruitment Process

If you are looking to fill a senior level role, regardless of whether you choose to outsource the recruitment process...
Read More

Checklist for Hiring a New General Manager: A Comprehensive Guide

Regardless of the motivators for hiring, welcoming a new General Manager to your business has the potential to be transformational....
Read More

What Is An Executive Search Firm? Do You Need One?

Simply put, executive search firms provide a recruitment service to assist with hiring senior-level roles. It is however a specialised...
Read More

Highest Paying Jobs in New Zealand (2023 Updated)

Online employment marketplace SEEK has released its latest round of salary data, identifying the highest paying industry in the country...
Read More

What Does A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Do?

Now more than ever, the expectations of CEOs and senior leaders are immense. Adapting to this rapid transformation means that...
Read More

The Ultimate Executive Onboarding Checklist: Ensure a Successful Transition

The overwhelming majority of new hires have the required skills and competencies to perform their roles well. So why do...
Read More

How To Find The Right Executive Recruiter

Executive search is a specialised type of recruitment focussed on sourcing senior level executives and governance professionals. But like recruitment,...
Read More

How To Craft The Best Leadership Development Program For Long-Term Organisational Success

Put simply. Organisations that prioritise the growth and development of their leaders, either existing or emerging, are on the right...
Read More

New Year, New Role?

There are a multitude of reasons that motivate people to consider a career change in the New Year. Our advice....
Read More

What to ponder over the holiday season if you are quietly quitting or being quietly fired

Do you get the feeling that your manager has avoided engaging with you or perhaps you have noticed a prolonged...
Read More

what’s happening

Insights from
our experts

Decipher appoints new Chief Executive

Decipher Group has recently announced the appointment of a new Chief Executive.
Read More

Elise Elliott gains behavioural accreditation

Decipher Group recruitment coordinator Elise Elliott has recently achieved certification from leading talent assessment provider Talogy.
Read More

Insights: Today’s talent market

Check out the latest insights on today's talent market and what it means for employers and job seekers.
Read More

Celebrating 16 years of shaping futures

Decipher Group is celebrating 16 years of shaping the futures of talented people...
Read More

Porsche Presents: The Drive with Decipher Group

Decipher Group's co-founders were invited to share their story in The Drive - a video series from Porsche that features...
Read More

Decipher presents at CECC event

Decipher Group had the opportunity to present at Westpac Smarts - a Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce event.
Read More

Spotlight on Corporate Governance – November 2023

Join the Decipher Group team for this very special, one-off exclusive event featuring guest speaker Catherine O’Connell, a well-respected expert...
Read More

Leadership Forum – March 2023

In today’s rapidly changing environment there’s an expectation that our senior leaders approach uncertainty with confidence and decisiveness. And that...
Read More

The Leaders Guide to Performance Management – live and virtual

The Leader’s Guide to Performance Management is an online training course, teaching you everything you need to know to turn...
Read More

HR Leaders Forum – Talent scarcity in the new normal

Hear from our panelists, facilitated by Decipher Group’s Libby Brazier, who will share their experiences around talent shortages in their...
Read More