Graduate job interviews can be gruelling and tough, so prepare for beastly and bizarre questions from potential employers.
If you've made it to the one-on-one interview stage – congratulations, you're nearly there! Interviews have changed dramatically over the last ten years and employers now adopt a more surreal approach to lines of enquiry. Large organisations like Google have been behind some of these transformations and chosen to use questions with no real right or wrong answer just to see your workings.
The 21st century surreal approach doesn't mean the questions are any less prying – here are 6 impossible interview questions and how to answer them!
1. What's your biggest weakness?
Employers want you to be open and honest about your shortcomings. We know that's not easy when you are on the charm offensive, but you should expect this question to arrive in one form or another. Employers, if they're feeling especially devilish, may ask for several weaknesses.
Firstly the interviewer will want to see self-awareness in your answer, you're not the perfect candidate and you shouldn't pretend to be. The key formula to help you answer this question is to find a weakness and follow it up with evidence of how you are working on it.
Example: "My biggest weakness has been managing different tasks, but I've recent adopted a strict time-table approach to help me manage my time during busy periods."
And never try the cliché "I'm just too much of a perfectionist" – it's glib and tacky.
2. Why do you want to work for us, not a competitor?
You should always undertake intensive company and competitor research before any application begins and you need to understand the subtle differences between companies. You can try and flatter your interviewer but try not to appear sycophantic.
The best answer to give here is to be genuine. Employers are not trying to trick you or fishing for complements, but want to know why this role and at this particular company. It's highly likely a question like this will be asked so have your answer well prepared.
Example: "I like your company's primary focus on customer care and building strong client networks - I prefer this approach to the strict focus on making money some companies operate."
3. If you were a chocolate bar, which one would you be?
Chocolate bar, kitchen appliance, superhero or whatever – employers like to be kooky and ask you to attribute your characteristics to inanimate items or fictional characters. It is just a bit of fun and your chances of clinching the role won't hinge on comparing yourself to a Cadbury's favourite.
However, it is nice to have something in mind that would play to your strengths without being kitsch.
(Cliché) Example: "I'd be a Snickers. A multi-faceted chocolate bar but a traditional classic. With a snickers you are going to get the job done!"
4. Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?
The crystal ball question will always be tricky, especially for graduates early in their careers. You will have a rough idea of where it'd be nice to be, but the honest is answer is you probably don't have a clue.
The best answers to this question align where you would like your career to go and the opportunities the company can offer. If you are interviewing for a structured graduate programme this question will be much easier to answer, but it is always to make your career intentions clear to an employer.
Example: "In five years I hope to have completed by ACA qualifications and be working towards specialising in Corporate Tax."
5. Tell us about your biggest failure.
Your interviewer will know you are human and will know you do not get through school, university and to your ripe old age without a few mistakes and failures on the way. It is only natural and the interview does not want to gloat in your downfalls, so don't be embarrassed.
What they do want to know is how you dealt with those failures. Employers want to see you have learnt from failures and come back fighting. Self-awareness and an awareness of your own limitations will make you an attractive employee because you are ready to improve yourself and work better.
Example: "I failed my GCSE Maths, but was still allowed to continue into sixth form. I knew this might hold me back in the future so I studied for the GCSE again in sixth form and passed with an A."
6. How many golf balls can you fit in a Mini?
Questions like this are designed not to have an answer. There is no way you could work out exactly how many golf balls you can fit in a mini, how many stacked pound coins it takes to reach the top of Big Ben or how many litres of washing up liquid are sold every year. The point of these questions is to show your working, calmness under pressure and logical thinking.
Make sure you explain your workings aloud to the employer so they can understand how you got to your conclusion. If you want clarification on an aspect of the question don't be afraid to ask – it will show employers you are thorough when problem solving.
Example: "Internal space includes five seats, the boot, glove box and foot wells. I'd estimate the size of a golf ball is about one inch cubed…wait is this a Mini Cooper or a Mini One?"
Some employers will be dastardly with their interview questions so you've got to be ready for the curve-ball. If the question seems impossible to answer it probably is, but don't get flustered just give it your best shot!
Image credit: Ben Neale
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