5 difficult common interview questions – and how to answer them

Worried about answering interview questions – especially the tough ones that always seem to crop up no matter the position?

This article is for you. Here you will find five of the most common and difficult interview questions along with example answers and a little hint about what your interviewer really wants to hear:

How to answer interview questions (difficult and common)

Q1. What interests you about this job?

On the surface, this seems like an easy question. Great benefits. Great hours. Great salary. What’s not to like about the engineering job you’re going for?

But that’s not really what your interviewer wants to hear. You’re much more likely to get a positive response if you:

  • Focus your answer on something to do with the company’s mission or values – and then tie them to your own.
  • Consider the skills and qualifications this job calls for – and then match your own up with them.

You might say something like:

I’m really interested in your mission to {improve peoples’ lives by creating the best product}. That’s something I’m also really interested in because {reasons}.

Lots of people tend to use the word “passionate” in their answer to this question. It fits well, but do be sure you’re not describing the secret, burning passion you hold for something really unlikely.

Q2. What is your greatest strength?

This common interview question forces you to walk a line between being too arrogant and being too modest.

Again, what your interviewer really wants to hear is that you understand what the role entails (as well as that you have some modicum of self-awareness). An easy solution is to:

  • Search the skill requirements in the job spec and identify one that you know you are good at.
  • Describe an example of when you used that skill in your last engineering or manufacturing job.
  • Prepare to be asked about multiple strengths. Try to mix hard skills like your knowledge of specific CAD systems with soft skills like teamwork and communications.
  • Try to be as honest and balanced as possible without boasting

You might try an answer like:

I like to think that I’m a {relevant skilled} person. In my position at {previous job}, I {used this skill in the job description} to handle problems like {real life scenario}.

Q3. What is your biggest weakness?

The classic response to this question is to try to turn it about, describing your weaknesses as strengths in some way (“Well, I am a bit of a perfectionist…”). Unfortunately – or possibly, fortunately – this has been done and done. Another common mistake is to say you don’t have any weaknesses.

Today in manufacturing and engineering recruitment and elsewhere, it’s understood that potential recruits are “allowed” to have weaknesses. The key is to:

  • Show that you understand your professional weaknesses.
  • Demonstrate that you are taking steps to overcome them.
  • Consider focusing on missing hard skills as they offer easier concrete steps to “fix” than soft skills.

You might consider saying something like:

I’ve not had much experience working with {this bit of software}, but I’m currently {studying a textbook/ taking a course/ getting lessons/ following professional blogs} to rectify it.” You might add something like, “That said, I’m hoping to work more on this in this role.

Q4. Tell me about when you solved a problem in a creative way

As well as being quite open-ended, this interview question can be tough to answer in the way your interviewer wants. Because what your interviewer really wants to know is how you go about solving a problem.

Do you work with other people? Do you take action quickly? Do you do some research to define what the issue is?

In all kinds of situations thrown up by engineering and manufacturing jobs, each of these approaches may have something to recommend it. You need to think about:

  • A situation that would make a good example.
  • Good background about the issue (was your employer really going to be impacted by this?) that you can summarise quickly.
  • Details of the approach you took and why.
  • What happened in the end.

Your overriding goal is to give your interviewer a clearer understanding of the way you like to work. You might consider structuring your answer as a story, with a beginning, middle and end. But do practice beforehand to make sure you don’t waffle or start telling a long tale that’s far too long for the situation.

Q5. Do you have any questions for us?

If you’ve ever said something along the lines of “I think we’ve covered everything” just before you shake hands with your interviewer and see yourself out, you are missing a golden opportunity to impress.

Your interviewer might be asking this question essentially just to be nice. But they might also be judging your levels of curiosity and intelligence.

It’s always good to have a couple of questions in your back pocket. Don’t ask about anything like salary or benefits. Consider asking something about:

  • The team you will be working with
  • Your new employer’s company culture
  • What a normal working day would look like for you
  • Your new employer’s biggest product, competitors, challenges or initiatives
  • What other people who work there think about your new employer

The subjects you can ask about are many and varied. But as with all tough common interview questions, having the right answer – in this case, an answer that is a well-chosen question – is all about proper planning in advance and considering what it is that your interviewer really wants to know.

Applying for jobs in the engineering or manufacturing sectors?

Ernest Gordon is a specialist manufacturing and engineering recruitment agency. Every day, we bring interviewers and interviewees together to see if each has what the other is looking for.

Talk to us today. Let’s get you set up with your next interview.