Tough interview questions: a guide to tackling them

Posted 02.04.14 by prhcareers

We’ve all been in an interview where someone has asked us a question which made us freeze up – either because we didn’t see it coming, or because we don’t even understand it! We’ve picked out a few that some candidates have struggled with below:

Q1: What motivates you?

Q2: Where do you think your weaknesses lie?

Q3: Talk us through a time you feel best demonstrates your use of initiative

It’s useful to take a step back for a moment and think about what these questions are really asking you. Motivation is around what makes you get out of bed in the morning, come to work and do a great job. If we ask you for a weakness, we’re asking you to reflect on yourself and where you think you can improve – it’s never a trick question – we all have development areas. With initiative, we want to hear where you’ve had to think on your feet or outside the box to solve a problem or perhaps where you’ve been proactive and made an improvement to something.

Q4: How do you think Penguin Random House could improve?

Q5: What areas of our market do you think we are missing out on?

Q6: Talk us through something our competitors have done which has impressed you.

Particularly if you are new to publishing, these can potentially be intimidating questions. How are you supposed to know? Well, the answer is, you’re not – we might ask you a question we don’t even know the answer to! All we want to know is that you’ve got some commercial awareness, you know what we do and what our competitors are up to, and you can use what research you’ve done to come up with some informed thoughts. We also like to be challenged, so please feel free to say if you think something we’re doing could be better!

It’s impossible to predict exactly what you’re going to be asked in an interview, but you can prepare for your interview in a way that equips you to address the core competencies you’re likely to be asked to demonstrate. A good place to start is looking at the job advert, and if you have it, the job spec. Look through the skills asked for and think about examples of where you have demonstrated those abilities.

If you do draw a blank, or aren’t quite sure what your interviewer is getting at, you can ask for clarification, don’t be afraid to pause and think, or you can even come back to that question at the end.

So the next time you’re asked a seemingly impossible question; stay calm and remember that there is no such thing as the perfect answer.