It’s Halloween and there's a chill in the air, and it's not just from the autumn breeze. No, this cold sweat comes from an entirely different source: the prospect of facing scary interview questions. We've all been there, sitting in the hot seat, palms sweating, heart pounding, as the interviewer asks us to "tell us about a time when you failed." But fear not, my fellow job seekers, for I'm here to demystify these terrifying queries and equip you with the tools to tackle them.
Scary interview questions are those that, for one reason or another, send a shiver down your spine. They're often unexpected, probing, and designed to push you out of your comfort zone. These are not your typical 'tell me about yourself' or 'where do you see yourself in five years' questions. Instead, they delve deeper into your skills, experiences, and personal attributes in a way that can be quite unnerving.
However, scary interview questions are not meant to torment you (despite what it may feel like). Rather, they serve a purpose. They help potential employers gauge your fit for the role, your problem-solving skills, and your ability to handle pressure, among other things. The key to mastering these questions lies not in avoiding them, but in understanding their intent, preparing thoroughly, and responding confidently and genuinely.
At first glance, tough interview questions may seem like a cruel way for interviewers to assert their power. However, there's a method to the madness. These questions are designed to glean insights about you that can't be obtained from your CV or LinkedIn profile. They allow interviewers to assess your soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and resilience, which are just as important as hard skills in today's competitive job market.
Each scary interview question is a mini psychological test, designed to reveal something about your character or competence. For instance, when they ask, "What's your biggest weakness?" they're not trying to trip you up but want to see if you're self-aware and open to improvement. Similarly, when they ask, "Tell me about a time you faced a significant challenge at work," they're interested in your problem-solving skills and resilience.
So, rather than fear these questions, we should welcome them as opportunities to showcase our strengths, growth, and potential. Remember, the interviewer's goal isn't to intimidate you – it's to find the best person for the job.
There are countless scary interview questions out there, but some make more frequent appearances than others. Being familiar with these questions and understanding what they're probing for can go a long way in easing your interview anxiety. So, let's break down some of the most common scary interview questions.
"How do you handle criticism?" This question seeks to assess your ability to accept feedback and make improvements. It's crucial to demonstrate that you see criticism as an opportunity for growth, rather than a personal attack.
"Tell me about a time when you failed." This question is about resilience and learning. The interviewer wants to know if you can bounce back from failure and what lessons you've gleaned from the experience.
"Why should we hire you over other candidates?" This question is your chance to sell yourself. It's about demonstrating what unique value you can bring to the company and why you're the best fit for the role.
Some questions are not just scary; they're downright hard. They require deep thought, self-reflection, and the ability to articulate complex ideas clearly and concisely. Let's delve into some of the hardest interview questions and what they reveal about you.
"What is your greatest accomplishment?" This question goes beyond what's listed on your CV. It's about what you value and take pride in, which can shed light on your motivations, work ethic, and personal characteristics.
"Where do you see yourself in five years?" This question probes your career ambitions and commitment to the role and the company. It's crucial to balance ambition with realism and to align your answer with the company's goals and values.
"How do you handle stress and pressure?" This question is about resilience and stress management. The interviewer wants to know if you can perform under pressure and how you maintain your mental wellbeing.
The key to answering scary interview questions is preparation. Knowing your CV inside out, researching the company, and practicing common interview questions can go a long way. However, there are also specific techniques you can employ to tackle tough questions head-on.
The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a popular strategy for answering behavioural interview questions. It involves describing a situation you faced, the task you needed to accomplish, the action you took, and the result of your action. It's a structured way to share specific examples and demonstrate your skills and competencies. Here is a breakdown of the STAR stages and a an example for a Renewable Energy Project Developer:
Begin by setting the context for your story. Describe where you were working, your role at the time, and any other relevant details.
Explain the task you had to complete, highlighting any specific challenges or constraints.
Describe the specific actions you took to address the challenge or complete the task.
Share the outcomes of your actions. Emphasize what you accomplished or what you learned.
Example Interview Question: "Can you tell me about a time when you had to overcome a significant challenge on a renewable energy project?"
S - Situation: "In my previous role as a Project Developer at a Renewables IPP, I was responsible for overseeing the development of a large-scale solar farm. The project was critical for the company as it was one of the largest investments we had made in renewable energy."
T - Task: "Midway through the project, we encountered a significant issue. The soil analysis report indicated that the ground at the project site was not as stable as we initially thought, which posed a risk to the stability of the solar panels. This was a major setback as it threatened to delay the project and increase costs significantly."
A - Action: "I took immediate action to address this issue. I organized a meeting with the project team, including engineers, construction managers, and environmental specialists, to brainstorm potential solutions. I also consulted with external experts in soil stabilization. After extensive research and discussions, we decided to implement a soil stabilization technique using geogrids, which would provide the necessary support for the solar panels."
R - Result: "This solution proved to be effective, and we were able to stabilize the ground without causing any major delays to the project. In the end, the solar farm was completed on time and within budget, generating 50 MW of clean energy, which was enough to power 10,000 homes. This project not only reinforced my problem-solving skills but also taught me the importance of quick decision-making and collaborative teamwork in overcoming challenges in renewable energy projects."
Another useful technique is the 'bridge.' If you're asked a question that you're not comfortable with or that doesn't play to your strengths, you can 'bridge' to a related topic where you can showcase your abilities. However, be careful not to stray too far from the original question, or you may come across as evasive. The next section will breakdown the stages of the bridge method, and provides a worked example for a Sustainability Manager applying for a job with a real estate company:
The BRIDGE method is a strategy used to answer interview questions, especially when the question is challenging or doesn’t directly play to your strengths. It stands for:
Begin with a positive statement
Reiterate your strengths
Identify the issue
Describe how you overcome/compensate
End on a high note
Example Interview Question:
"Can you tell us about your experience in handling large-scale sustainable retrofitting projects for historical buildings?"
Assuming you haven’t had much direct experience with large-scale sustainable retrofitting projects for historical buildings, you could structure your answer like this:
B - Begin with a positive statement: "Thank you for that question. I have always admired the challenge of integrating sustainability initiatives into existing infrastructure, especially when it comes to buildings with historical significance."
R - Reiterate your strengths: "In my previous role as a Sustainability Manager, I have managed a variety of sustainability projects, primarily focused on modern commercial buildings. My expertise lies in developing and implementing comprehensive sustainability programs tailored to the specific needs of each property."
I - Identify the issue: "While I haven’t had the opportunity to work directly on large-scale sustainable retrofitting projects for historical buildings, I am familiar with the complexities and unique challenges they present."
D - Describe how you overcome/compensate: "To compensate for this, I have proactively sought out learning opportunities to deepen my understanding of this area. I have attended workshops and completed courses on sustainable practices for historical buildings. Additionally, I have built a network of experts in this field whom I can consult for guidance and best practices."
G - Give examples: "For instance, in a recent project, I collaborated with a team of architects and engineers who specialize in historical buildings to develop a sustainability plan for a 100-year-old property. Although my role was more of a coordinator and learner in this situation, it provided me with valuable insights and practical experience in handling the unique challenges of such projects."
E - End on a high note: "I am eager to bring my strong foundation in sustainability management, along with my recent learnings and network in the historical building space, to a role like this. I am confident that with my skills and the support of a knowledgeable team, I would be able to contribute significantly to large-scale sustainable retrofitting projects for historical buildings.
Using the BRIDGE method in this way allows you to acknowledge the gap in your experience while highlighting your strengths, proactiveness in learning, and eagerness to contribute to the role. It turns a potential weakness into an opportunity to showcase your commitment to professional growth and your ability to handle challenges.
When responding to tough interview questions, it's important to stay calm, take your time, and communicate clearly and confidently. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
Firstly, don't rush your responses. It's perfectly fine to take a moment to collect your thoughts before answering. This shows that you're thoughtful and considerate.
Secondly, be honest. If you don't know the answer to a question, admit it. It's better to show humility than to bluff your way through.
Thirdly, try to inject positivity into your answers, even when discussing failures or weaknesses. This shows that you're a positive person who can find the silver lining in any situation.
Lastly, always bring your answers back to the job and the company. This shows that you're focused and eager to contribute to the company's success.
Scary interview questions are not industry-specific; they can pop up in any job interview. However, some sectors, like renewable energy, have their unique set of challenges and, therefore, potential interview questions. For example, you may be asked about your understanding of the latest renewable technologies, your experience with project management, or your ideas for overcoming regulatory hurdles.
To prepare, keep abreast of the latest developments in the renewable energy sector, reflect on your relevant experiences, and think about how you can contribute to the company's mission. Also, consider the skills that are particularly important in this sector, such as problem-solving, innovation, and adaptability, and be ready to demonstrate them in your responses.
Similarly, in sustainability jobs, you may face questions about your understanding of sustainable practices, your experience in implementing sustainability initiatives, or your ideas for promoting sustainability within the company.
To tackle these questions, you need to show not just your knowledge and skills, but also your passion for sustainability. Employers in this sector value individuals who are genuinely committed to the cause and who can inspire others to embrace sustainability.
There's a reason the saying 'practice makes perfect' has stood the test of time – because it's true. Mock interviews are an invaluable tool for preparing for scary interview questions. They allow you to practice your responses, receive feedback, and build confidence.
Other preparation techniques include researching common interview questions and crafting your responses, reflecting on your experiences and how they demonstrate your skills, and studying the company and the job description to understand what they're looking for in a candidate.
Remember, preparation is not about memorizing your responses, but about knowing your worth and being able to communicate it effectively.
There is another category of scary questions, which here we will call “quirky” questions. Answering those quirky interview questions that leave you scratching your head, wondering, “Do they really expect me to know that?”
One classic example of such a question is: “How many airplanes are flying over the UK right now?” Now, before you start imagining yourself as an air traffic controller with a superhuman ability to count planes, take a deep breath. We’ve got this!
1. Keep Calm and Show Your Thought Process
First and foremost, stay calm. Interviewers often ask these types of questions not because they expect a precise answer, but because they want to see how you think on your feet. So, take a moment, gather your thoughts, and prepare to show off your problem-solving skills.
2. Break It Down
Start by breaking down the question into smaller, more manageable parts. Consider the factors that might influence the number of planes in the sky: time of day, season, weather conditions, and so on.
3. Make Educated Guesses
Now, it’s time to make some educated guesses. How many major airports are there in the UK? How many flights might take off and land in an hour? Don’t forget about the planes flying over the UK on their way to other destinations!
4. Do the Math(s)
With your educated guesses in hand, do some quick math(s). Remember, it’s not about getting the exact number; it’s about showing how you approach problem-solving and deal with uncertainty.
5. Showcase Relevant Skills
As you work through the problem, highlight skills that are relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. Are you applying for a position that requires strong analytical skills? Make sure to showcase that! Are you aiming for a role in communication? Talk about how you would communicate your findings to a team or client.
6. Wrap It Up
Once you’ve worked through the problem, wrap up your answer by summarizing your thought process. Emphasize the steps you took, the assumptions you made, and how you arrived at your final estimate. And most importantly, finish with confidence!
7. Reflect and Learn
After the interview, take some time to reflect on the question and your answer. What did you learn? How might you approach a similar question in the future? Use this experience as a learning opportunity, and remember, practice makes perfect!
In conclusion, scary interview questions are not to be feared, but to be mastered. They're an opportunity to showcase your skills, experiences, and potential. They allow you to tell your story and to demonstrate why you're the best person for the job.
By understanding the purpose of these questions, preparing thoroughly, and employing effective response techniques, you can turn these questions from a source of fear into a tool for success. You can walk into any interview with confidence, knowing that you're ready to face whatever questions come your way.
Remember, the goal is not to give the 'perfect' answer, but to give a genuine, thoughtful, and compelling answer that shows who you are as a professional and as a person. So, next time you're faced with a scary interview question, take a deep breath, smile, and show them what you're made of. You've got this!