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How to answer difficult interview questions without panicking

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Photo Taken In Bangkok, Thailand
'Preparation is key to any interview, anticipating difficult questions in advance will help ensure you don’t panic,' say careers experts. Photo: Getty

You spent hours updating your CV, found the position you want to apply for and you’ve perfected your cover letter. Finally, you’ve been asked to come in for an interview.

The process of finding a new job is not easy — and more often than not, meeting a potential employer is the most difficult part, particularly if they throw some tricky questions your way.

“Preparation is key to any interview, anticipating difficult questions in advance will help ensure you don’t panic if they get asked,” says Jo Cresswell, careers expert at the job site Glassdoor.

“Interviewers won’t deliberately try to trip you up or make you feel uncomfortable, they are usually just seeking to uncover how you deal with certain questions and understand your experience.”

READ MORE: How to get time off work for a job interview

So how can you answer these challenging questions without panicking?

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

The interviewer may or may not be trying to understand how long you’d intend to stay at their company, Cresswell says.

“To avoid this line of questioning, don’t mention job titles or responsibilities and instead speak more generally about the type of work you see yourself doing and the work environment you would like to see yourself in,” she advises.

“For example: ‘I see myself continuing to learn and develop new skills, working alongside intelligent, enthusiastic colleagues who support one another to reach their career goals.’ This way, you can also weave in some of your values and reiterate to the interviewer why you might be a great fit for the company.”

READ MORE: What are the pros and cons of 'blind hiring' for a job?

Why are you leaving your current job?

With this question, it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of talking negatively about your current job or employer.

“Instead, reframe this question into what you have learned from that experience, why it’s the right time to move on and why you’re interviewing with this specific company,” Cresswell says.

For example: “I joined my current company with the intention of achieving x. Since I have achieved x, I don’t feel there is further room to progress and was very impressed by the career opportunities that this company provides...”

Do you have any questions for me?

This question often comes towards the end of an interview and it can be tempting to say “no” and wrap it up as quickly as possible. However, this question will very quickly tell the interviewer how much homework you’ve done on the company.

READ MORE: What not to do when you're serving out your notice period at work

“Don’t ask questions that you can find the answers to on the company’s website, but questions that show a deeper level of thinking and perhaps relate to information you’ve seen about the company in the news or in its Glassdoor reviews,” Cresswell says.

“For example: ‘How would you describe the company culture?’, ‘When you were recently acquired by x, has that changed your strategic priorities?’ and ‘How long do employees typically stay with the company?’ This way, you’re showing that you’ve done your reading and, at the same time, you can use these questions to figure out whether or not the company is a good fit for you.”

What is your biggest weakness?

For many, this is one of the worst questions to be hit with in a job interview. However, the last thing you want to do is admit to a weakness that would prevent the employer from offering you the position.

READ MORE: What should you do if you are asked about your relationship status in an interview?

Instead, it can be helpful to mention skills that aren't critical for the job, discuss skills you have improved on or are working to improve on, or turn a negative into a positive. Even though the question is about weaknesses, your answer should focus on your skills and abilities.