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Answering tough interview questions

Given the high level of competition for jobs in the market at present, it is essential to answer every interview question you may be asked in a manner that will make you stand out.

 Our Dublin recruiters share their tips on how to ace tough interview questions.

Q: Why do you want this job?

Be honest with yourself: Why do you want this role? Are you really interested in what the position entails? Are you impressed by the company’s view on corporate social responsibility? Or is it just a really impressive increase in salary? We would advise that besides the pay package, you should always look at all aspects of a job such as cultural fit, management style, benefits, growth opportunities etc. before making a decision as these factors are equally critical to your career.

In order to tackle this question, you should know exactly what will be expected of you. Be prepared and do your research. Have you analysed the job description? Have you researched the company’s website? Do you know people who work there who have recommended the company as a good employer? How thoroughly have you researched the industry? Avoid being on the defensive with answers that begin with because, such as: ‘Because I think I’d be good at it’; ‘Because it seems like a good opportunity for me’ or ‘Because it pays well’.

A recommended answer to this could be: ‘Having read the job description and having researched your company thoroughly, I am convinced that not only would the role very much suit my career aspirations and current skill set, I would be able to bring great value in the areas of projects and cost savings (amend as appropriate). I want to work in an organisation where I can add value and contribute to the success of a company and I feel that this role is the perfect opportunity to prove myself.’

Adapt your answer to suit the role. Will you have increased responsibility? Will your previous work experience be a relevant stepping stone? Will you have a more varied work scope with the opportunity to be involved in company projects and events? 

Q: Why should I hire you?

This question is all about selling yourself. Why should someone hire you? What can you contribute and what examples can you give of past results? E.g. “In my last role I increased sales by 150%” or “I reduced the debtors ledger from €2 million to €400k in 3 months”. If you really think you could add value to the company, this is your chance to demonstrate how.

Use the job description as your point of reference and tailor this to your strengths by using examples of work you have previously done in relation to the requirements for this role.

You could say something like: ‘I believe that the job specification listed many skills which I currently could bring to the organisation. The opportunities for me in this role are great – I am excited at the prospect of developing my skills in project management (amend as appropriate). I am very interested in this industry and would relish a chance at proving myself in your department.’

You need to show enthusiasm for the role and be confident in your answers. If you cannot convince yourself that you would be perfect for the role – it will be even more challenging to convince someone else. 

Q: What is your biggest weakness?

This is known as a negative question, one that interviewers use often to test your ability to keep your cool. Let’s face it: we all have weaknesses, and no one is perfect but that does not mean you should allow your weaknesses to get in the way of your dream job. Instead, you should try to spin your weaknesses into something positive. Review the job description and choose one required responsibility you feel you could improve on. For example, are you afraid to make public presentations? Does your time management need a little work? Do you feel you would benefit from further training?

You need to show enthusiasm for the role and be confident in your answers. If you cannot convince yourself that you would be perfect for the role – it will be even more challenging to convince someone else. 

A possible answer (depending on your weakness) would be: ‘I am aware that my systems skills, Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint (amend as appropriate) are not up to advanced level but this is something that I’m working on by teaching myself in my spare time’ or ‘I think time management is something that I could work on. I am getting better at prioritising my work – I am resolute about my “to-do” list and am getting better at saying “no” to the tasks that are not going to add value.’

‘I don’t like it when I am not busy. I perform at my best when I have a constant workload. Whenever there was down-time in my previous job I used to assist in the areas of XYZ to keep myself motivated and challenged – this also gave me an insight into another area/ department within the organisation.’

Avoid being a ‘perfectionist’ or saying things like, ‘I have no weaknesses that I know of’. This only makes you come across as arrogant and overconfident. 

Q: Why are you leaving your current role?

Always remain positive when discussing your reasons for leaving. This is not the time to rant about how unfair last year’s bonus was or how unreasonable your current boss is. Whatever reason you may have for leaving, make sure you give your answer a positive spin. If you are feeling undervalued in your role or had a personality clash with your boss or colleague, consider how your reasons would sound to a potential employer, and make sure that your answer is worded to put you in a favourable light. You should have a structured response to this question before you attend an interview.

Simply stating that you would like a ‘new challenge’ or ‘change of environment’ can sometimes also send out warning signals to employers, as they may be concerned about hiring a job hopper who is constantly on the look out for something more challenging. If you do answer, ‘I’m looking for a new challenge’, be prepared for counter questions such as:

  • Why are you looking for a new challenge?
  • What would you describe as a new challenge at this stage in your career?
  • Why did you not approach your current employers about gaining such a challenge?


Focus more on why the new role is perfect for you and less why your current role is not. Be honest but professional. No employer will want to hire you if you are negative about previous employers and you will immediately be seen as unprofessional.

Q: Tell me about yourself?

You need to tread carefully on this one. This is not the opportunity to tell the interviewer your life story.

‘Well, I’m from a family of six and I live with my eldest brother near the city centre and have recently just returned from a family holiday to America’ is probably not the answer they were looking for. When interviewers ask this question, they are actually more interested to know about how you work, what you enjoy in your career and as a person and how well you would fit in with the culture of the company. They also want to know what interests you, how skilled you are and what strengths you would bring to the organisation.

Be mindful of the type of role you are applying for and adjust your responses accordingly. Avoid expressing your enthusiasm to work as part of a team in a busy noisy office environment if you are aware that you will be a one man band sitting behind a cubicle in a very secluded room. A good answer to this could be something like: ‘I’m a very dedicated worker; I enjoy being part of a team and working in a challenging and dynamic environment and I also work well independently. I like meeting new people and particularly enjoy being involved with new projects and challenges. I balance my passion for work with sport/music/family on weekends which enables me to lead a very challenging and enjoyable life both personally and professionally.’

Q: Where do you want to be in five years time?

This question is a favourite amongst interviewers. Unfortunately, many people are usually not prepared for this question, and few actually know where they want to be in five years time.

A suggested answer for this could be: ‘I’d like to think I will be working for a successful organisation such as this but in a role with increased responsibility’ or ‘I’d see myself leading a team and taking on a regional role’ or ‘Whatever I do, I want to be doing it to the best of my ability. I believe that promotion and salary falls into place if you concentrate on doing the job you have been asked to do well.’

With this question it is the way you answer rather than what you say that’s the most important. Be positive and confident rather than defensive and unsure. Try not to give the interviewer the idea that you are still trying to ‘find yourself’ as that can make you come across as indecisive.

Finally, always remember that the interview is a two-way process, so it is important to have a list of questions you can ask your interviewer at the end. These could include:

  • What two/three key competencies are you looking for in a successful candidate?
  • How long have you been with the organisation? What motivated you to join the organisation?
  • What are the team dynamics like? What are you like to work for?
  • Do you have any reservations at this point about my skills or experience?


An interview does not have to be a gruelling process if you are well-prepared and know exactly why you are going for the role. The key to a successful interview is to be positive and constantly market yourself by focusing on your key strengths and achievements, and most importantly how you can add value to the employer. Find out more about interviews with our complete interview guide.

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