The seven most tricky job interview questions and how to answer them

How to respond to 'Why are you looking to leave your current job' - and more.
How to respond to 'Why are you looking to leave your current job' - and more. Photo credit: Getty.

Job-seekers wanting to put their best foot forward should be prepared to answer tricky questions from prospective employers, a leading recruitment company says.

People made redundant due to COVID-19 are advised to be upfront about it, and those already employed should consider staying in a role for at least two years before jumping ship.

Official unemployment dropped to 4.9 percent in December 2020 and the number of jobs advertised in February was down just 2 percent year-on-year, according to SEEK. While the economy is still recovering from COVID-19, a rise in remote working and greater focus on areas such as healthcare and e-commerce is bringing fresh opportunities for job-seekers.

For job-seekers made redundant due to COVID-19, Hays Recruitment managing director Adam Shapley says it's best to be upfront with potential employers, communicating it on their CV and at interviews.

"Include any relevant and appropriate background information, such as the department or organisation needing to downsize, and ensure you highlight your key achievements in the role," Shapley says.

"In a job interview, focus on successes in your previous job and explaining how you've used your time proactively since your redundancy."

And for those considering a job change, being in a permanent role for two-to-three years shows stickability (doesn't apply to temporary or contract roles).  

"Generally, this is considered the minimum amount of time required to add value to an organisation, gain new skills, add quantifiable achievements to your CV and meet and solve the challenges of the role," Shapley says.

Job-seekers jump through a few hurdles on their way to gainful employment - and job interviews are one of them. For the best chance of success (and avoid being put on the spot), here are seven tricky questions employers ask at interviews, with guidelines on how to answer them.

1. 'Why are you looking to leave your current job'?

Employers want to understand a person's motivations, how they find enjoyment and fulfilment and whether they'd be a good fit for the company and role. 

Applicants are advised to steer clear of any grievances with their current role or employer.

"Frame your responses around the opportunities you see in the vacant position," Hays Recruitment says.

2. 'Why should I hire you'?

This question is often framed more gently, (e.g. 'Explain why you'd be a good fit'), but the reason it's asked is to understand why applicants think they're a good choice.

It's an opportunity for job applicants to promote their skills.

"[We] recommend you prepare three skills or capabilities that you could bring to the role and include a mix of 'hard' [measurable and teachable] and 'soft' [personal] skills."

3. 'How would your friends describe you'?

This question is asked to get an idea of a person's attributes and whether they're a good fit for the team environment. 

"[We] suggest you ask a friend, mentor or trusted colleague for their input, as they might provide a new perspective."

4. 'Why do you want this job'?

This question is an opportunity for applicants to talk more about their interest in the role - and show their passion.  

Hays suggests applicants frame their answer around four points: interest in the company, interest in the role, how they'll use the opportunity to move forward and why they're pleased to be interviewed.

5. 'Can you tell me about a time you failed'?

It's one of the more difficult questions interviewers ask.

Hays suggests applicants reply with an example showing their ability to think critically about their performance and learn from their mistakes.

6. 'What are your salary expectations'?

This question may be asked at a first (or second) interview - and sometimes just before a job offer is made.  

Hays suggests applicants research the standard salary or pay for their level of experience, and the role.  

"Having this information allows you to answer with more conviction and puts you in a better position should you need to negotiate."

7. Are you interviewing with any other companies'?

There are many reasons why interviews ask this question - and honesty is usually best.  

Hays suggests applicants show interest in the role, but also be truthful if they've been interviewed for others. 

But giving away too much information can be counterproductive - applicants should avoid listing specific companies and all the other jobs they've applied for.

The full interview guide is available here.