When I wrote about the STAR technique for acing competency questions, I asked if this was a post people would like to see, and many said yes. So here we are!

I remember my very first job interview. First of, the invite had said, “We’d like to invite you for a chat…”. So I turned up wearing a pair of jeans and a shirt. Wrong move.

Then I got asked the question “Tell me about yourself”. Still with the mindset of this being a chat, I shared some generic information about myself, my family background and the fact that I was 2nd out of 5 kids, my general education history and why I wanted to be a lawyer. It was an okay answer – one that would have sufficed if I was trying to know a friend or perhaps on a 10 minute speed date.  It evoked a few laughs from the interviewers, but it definitely wasn’t a stellar response.

I’ll compare this to the latest interview I had, where I was asked the same question. And my response dealt more on my educational background, my previous experience, my strengths and future professional aspirations as well as why I thought I’d be a perfect fit for the role. I ended with saying something along the lines of “That’s pretty much me, but I could share a few more personal details if you’d like to know”. They laughed heartily and said there wasn’t any need.

While I think that no good interviewer aims to trick you, some questions are by their very nature slightly tricky. I’m by no means a HR expert, but I think interview questions fall into 3 categories:

The technical bits: Well, no one can really help you here. Whether you’ve claimed to have a BSc in Economics, a corporate lawyer with 3 years experience or an IT expert with the latest coding skills, it’s only right that you can defend what you say you know. Afterall, that’s arguably the main reason you’re about to be hired.

The Competency Questions: Technical skills are necessary, but these days a lot of organisations pay a lot of attention to soft skills, because these matter. And competency questions are used to explore just how you’ve demonstrated these skills in the past. From initiative, to leadership to creativity and so much more.

Related - How to Succeed At Job Interviews(+ the STAR technique for acing competency questions).

The Tricky questions: Any question that doesn’t fit into the above two categories has the tendency to be a tricky one. And because of that, it’s hard to give a one size fits all answer.

But the one thing I’ve personally identified with these tricky questions is the need for balance – if not, there’s a possibility you’d go off on a tangent.

Let’s consider some really popular ‘tricky’ questions:

1. Tell me about yourself

This one is almost always certain. The best approach is probably to have a few statements memorised in your head and ready to go.

  • Your name
  • Academic qualifications
  • Career Experience
  • What you’re currently looking for
  • Why this organisation
  • Something on the lighter side about you to break the ice (be careful how light though!)

Wrong answer = Hmmm, where do I start. I was born in the late eighties in the small town of…..

It’s also the same approach for questions such as “where do you see yourself in five or ten years”. Make it much more professional than personal. Don’t start it with saying you think you’d be a millionaire, married with 3 kids and enjoying life. You want to say how you think the job will provide you with so many opportunities, such that in 5 years, you’d be in a particular position within the organisation. Explain what value you hope to have added within that time as well as how you could also have improved yourself professionally in that time. I personally think It’s okay to add at the end other lighter stuff, like “I’d also like to have bought a home and learnt to ride a bicycle!”

Wrong answer = The CEO, or On the other side of the desk conducting the interviews!

2. What is your greatest weakness

I remember watching an Instagram comedy where the man being interviewed said his greatest weakness was his favourite food – fried plantains! I laughed so hard. But I won’t be surprised if many people have in actual fact given similar answers. I really do hope I’m imagining it – but I wonder if I have actually once said that my greatness weakness was sleep.

Truth is no interviewer cares about these silly weaknesses so to speak. They’d like to hear a professional weakness. But much more than a professional weakness, they want to hear how you’re overcoming that or how you intend to overcome it.

So a simple answer like “I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I tend to over analyse and always wait till everything’s is perfect” is only 1 of 3 of a decent response. It doesn’t say why that’s a weakness or how that is being addressed. So in addition to that one could say “…this often leads to a bit of time wasting and not getting along with people. But I’ve realised that this is counter productive so while still paying great attention to detail, I’m happy to go ahead with majority opinion in many cases”.

But don’t get tempted to use generic responses. Realise what your own weakness is. And as long as it shows problem solving skills, you’re probably fine.

Also someone pointed out that it need not be a present weakness. It could very much be something in the past that you’ve now corrected. “In the past 2 years I had difficulty with being organised and meeting deadlines. However by adopting the use of a planner, an online calendar, colour coding and reminders, I find that I’ve been able to be much more organised and meet 90% of my deadlines”

So weakness + how you’re addressing it = strength

3.  What did you hate about your past job?

This is tricky because well, if you truly did hate your past job – it’s tempting to spill all of the beans and say why you hated your boss, the work, the timing – all of it! But with that, you’re basically setting up yourself for a disaster. Because the interviewers already begin to picture you sitting elsewhere and literally dragging their name and their organisations in mud. So no. Exercise caution, and remember – balance.

You actually want to say that on the whole, your last job was beneficial in so many ways as it afforded you the opportunity to do a lot of things. However, there are a few things which you could have changed if you had the opportunity. You then go on to pick on or two. You could explain that the role was not challenging enough, or the culture could have been a bit more friendly and less back biting or the salary could have been better. Be careful however not to make claims that aren’t true or that are too personal. If possible avoid names or direct bosses.

It’s also a good idea to explain why you think this role you’re currently seeking will be a better fit i.e. having done your research, you know it’ll be a more challenging role, everyone has such great things to say about the friendly culture, the salary is more inline with the requirements of the job etc.

This response can also be adapted to questions relating to why you want to leave (or left) your current role. But as much as possible, such responses should be more about the requirements of the job itself. To ensure you have a good bargaining power, you could also note that although you don’t necessarily need to leave, you would consider leaving if the right opportunity came by – and this opening seems to be a great one.

4. How much are you looking to be paid?

Anything that has to do with money can be tricky! At that my very first interview, I remember simply saying “Two Hundred Thousand Naira”. The interviewers burst out laughing and in retrospect, as I think about it – even they were probably not earning that much.

You obviously want to do your research about the role and the industry as to what is regarded as standard. But at the same time you need to be careful not to undersell yourself. While a company may not actually offer you something higher simply because you asked for it, it’s very possible they offer you the low amount you asked for. If you’re currently underpaid in your current job, it’s probably also best to leave that fact out – else they’d view any little upgrade as one you should be willing to jump at.

So you could actually just give a generic answer about how while salary is important it’s not the sole factor to be considered, and as an organisation you’re confident that their entire benefit package will be competitive and you’re willing to discuss further when the time is right. Once you’ve got an offer and you’re certain you’re wanted, you can then drill into the details!

5. Why should we hire you?

A friend and I were having a conversation recently and she noted that interviews can be tough. You’re sitting there trying to come up with a million and one reasons why you love the organisation and you’re a perfect fit and they should hire you. When all you really want to say is “I just need a decent job and I need the money!”

How true is that though? Sadly that won’t work, so please don’t attempt it. This question is a chance to sell yourself in a structured way.

Explain your understanding of the requirements of the role. Why based on your academic background, technical & soft skills you’re a perfect fit and how you intend to add value to the organisation. That’s it!

6. If possible, what animal or pizza topping will you be?

Yes. Some interviewers try to be intense and ask these kinds questions. From pizza toppings, to literary character to animals!

Obviously I don’t really think a response to such questions will make or mar the interview.  But at least, it’s helpful to have a response and a well thought out one at the least. So basically try to analyse what your response would say about you. If you said a mouse, would they be tempted to insinuate that you’re too meek or timid? You decide.

With interviews, there’s not a one size fits all. And the best approach is often to practice! On the spot thoughts and responses hardly ever come out as hoped!

Hope this was helpful! What questions do you often find to be tricky, how do you deal with these?

Kachee… xx

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  1. Debs

    February 20, 2017 at 10:31

    This is indeed helpful. I have always find myself facing this tricky questions and how I always scale through still amaze me…Thanks for sharing Kachee, permission to repost this on my blog?

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      February 21, 2017 at 19:41

      Hi Debs. Sometimes we’re actually so good in thinking on the spot, but it helps to be prepared! You may re-post, but please link it back to me!😘

  2. Yemisi

    February 20, 2017 at 13:21

    “Two Hundred Thousand Naira” Lool. Haba!The how much are you looking to get paid question always trip me cos I never know what to say! But I like your approach to it. I would definitely be adopting that.This was a super thoughtful article. At first I thought it was going to be one of those generic posts that claim to give you tips but somehow leave you more confused?But then again, it’s Kachee and her posts are always thoughtful. :)Thanks for this!

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      February 20, 2017 at 13:46

      Lol! You can’t blame me now. You expect to be paid so much once you’re done with Uni!Thank you so much. The title makes it seem like one of those (which I find annoying too) but sadly I couldn’t think of any other better title!

      • Yemisi

        February 20, 2017 at 14:46

        Copy that! Especially after all that stress studying law, one firm will now come and be offering you puff-puff money! Law school was a rude awakening for me when I found out how poorly lawyers are paid. After all that school fees? And feeding money? Hian. Lemme be going before I start a full-on rant in Kachee’s comments section. Lol

        • Ireju

          February 20, 2017 at 23:41

          Lol, well I’m glad studying law didnt work out for me. Just kidding sha… after the stress I passed through studying a course that is not a ‘professional’ one in a Nigerian university, at least I can say I never had a boring class, no law school fees, P.s Kachee your tips are the best, keep doing you!!!!

          • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

            March 3, 2017 at 10:48

            Law has its downsides re salary in Nigeria! Lots of people complain. I really hope it gets better, somehow. Thank you thank you darling!

  3. elizabeth

    February 20, 2017 at 16:13

    Such amazing tips, so helpful! I get so scared of question like the last one because I have problems thinking on my feet haha! I hate it when they ask “and why?”, because it’s likely I just pulled an answer from thin air just to say something haha 😀 xxelizabeth ♡ ”Ice Cream” whispers Clara(lets follow each other on bloglovin or instagram)

  4. Praise Abu

    February 20, 2017 at 21:48

    You hit the nail on the head with this particular post. I’ve always been really concerned about the salary question. Like you said, you don’t want to overprice or underprice yourself. After reading this post I think I can confidently answer that question and more.Thanks for sharing Kachi, I love your career post. Pls keep them comingMy Style Look Book Series

  5. jennifer ijeoma

    February 21, 2017 at 02:31

    Reading this i could relate to all of them because even though i have never had to attend a job interview, these questions come to mind when i am working on my CV or when ever i had to submit my CV. I know i will come back to this post whenever i eventually get to attend one.www.ijefinelivin.com

  6. Distinguished

    February 21, 2017 at 07:12

    This was really helpful, thanks for sharing Kachee. Always find the “Why should we hire you?” question tricky… These tips will come in handy for my next interview.I got a question that is not directly related to this post… please can you share tips on how to negotiate salary increase with a company you’re already working with?Thank you.www.distinguishedlives.word…

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      February 22, 2017 at 18:28

      Hey girl. I think these will help in negotiating salaryi. Have a clear argument on what your value has been to the company & why you deserve a raiseii. Is there an industry standard?ii. Do you have another job offer you’re willing to use as a leverage?Number 1 is really key. Don’t be shy to say what your achievements & value has been and why you should get paid more! Xx

      • Distinguished

        May 26, 2017 at 02:39

        Thanks a lot Kachee, this is really helpful! Sorry i’m just coming by after 3months. #coversface

        • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

          May 26, 2017 at 02:45

          No problem!!

  7. Seun Olagunju

    February 21, 2017 at 09:41

    Thanks Kachi. In my first interview, barely 2 weeks after leaving school, I was also asked all of these, well except maybe the ‘what type of animal would you be’ or the ‘what did you hate about your last job’ question. I was such a novice. Went right in without proper knowledge of the job I was going for, the company or the hard copy of my CV. The interviewer had to correct me on those.Another tricky question I was asked was “if the roles were reversed and I was interviewing them, what qualities would I expect for the role I was coming in for.” Again, background knowledge of the job role would have come in handy but then, didn’t have that. I still got the job though. :)www.seunolagunju.com.ng

  8. A girl called

    February 21, 2017 at 11:10

    This was a nice read, judging that I’m about to start applying again and I’m reading rusty on how interviews go. I also fell in the personal narration of “Tell us about yourself ” Funny I got the job but things aren’t the same. Thanks for this tips

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      March 3, 2017 at 10:47

      You’re welcome hun! Glad you got the job. But yes, it’s always great to have spot-on answers.

  9. Madeline Wilson-Ojo

    February 21, 2017 at 13:44

    This is a very good post. I particularly like that your weakness can be a past one. Nice read. Madeline xx https://madelinewilsonojo.c

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      February 21, 2017 at 19:37

      Thank you! I thought so too, when someone mentioned it recently. Xx

  10. Ufuoma

    February 21, 2017 at 19:27

    Just here to tell you that you are really rocking that new bio picture! Love it.PS: Great post as usual. Forwarding this to all my friends currently in the job market.www.theufuoma.comtravel lifestyle passion

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      February 21, 2017 at 19:36

      Haha! Thank you love. That made me smile! 😘😘

  11. Demilade

    February 21, 2017 at 19:42

    Very helpful tips Kachee, especially the tell me about yourself one. That’s a question I always have difficulty answering. Thank you for sharing. xxcocobellablog.com

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      March 3, 2017 at 10:49

      Demi! You’re welcome. So glad it was helpful!

  12. Vanessa

    February 22, 2017 at 19:20

    Thank you for sharing these amazing tips!Vanessa x | http://www.springlilies.com

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      March 3, 2017 at 10:49

      You’re welcome Vanessa!

  13. DamiLoves

    February 23, 2017 at 16:10

    Great post, that ‘why should we hire you’ question always gets me. We need to learn how to s promote ourselves and promote what we have to offer. How to marry an Igbo man

  14. Ruth Iyoha

    March 1, 2017 at 13:08

    Thank you so much for these tips kachee you are really a life saver…been thinking of how to answer questions when being called for an interview and I don’t really like the on the spot thing where you have to fish for answers but will practice abit with what you have shared here.I am supposed to have an interview this week..Thank you for this post.

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      March 1, 2017 at 13:12

      Awww! All the best with it. I’m sure you’d do fine. Just speak slowly and clearly and let your responses be structured. They already think you’re awesome that’s why they’re interviewing you!

  15. Sarah Enuwa Audu

    March 3, 2017 at 10:23

    The how much would you want to be paid has always beem a tricky one for me. My first job I actually gave an amount which they agreed to and I later found out that I was underpaid but it was the excitment of the job offer that is to blaim. And for my last interview experience after NYSC I blatanly stated that I wanted 100k which was small if you ask me but I later found out that my collegues who were hired were eventually paid 55k, guess I was way over the mark. They might have just seen it as greed or me being interested soley for the money and I know no organization wants that. Now after experience and asking questions, I will be going with the generic answer ”pay me according to you pay grade in the orgnization” and it worked out okay for my current job. Very helpful post Kachee, lol sorry for the long comment oh.Princess Audu

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      March 3, 2017 at 10:49

      I love long comments! I agree that it’s always tricky as seen rom your two experiences – but I think your current approach works as well.

  16. GbemieO

    August 15, 2017 at 16:30

    Thanks a lot kachee, gosh interviews are such stress, all a girl needs is a good job with decent money lol Going to sit down with a pen and paper, and answer all these questions orally and in writing, in the best way possible.Your blog is a One stop shop lol

    • Kachee || KacheeTee.com

      August 15, 2017 at 16:33

      Lol! That’s the same thing my friend says. Like when she’s answering all the questions all she wants to say is “I just need a good job and good pay” 😂Glad you found it helpful. All the best again!

  17. Mary Gana

    October 18, 2017 at 20:22

    very helpful tips thank you so much.