Interviews are always gruelling processes but there are some questions which really take the biscuit. We've assembled our favourite really nasty interview questions so that we can help you prepare and hopefully avoid that "worst interview ever".
1. Tell me about a time you led a team
This question seems simple, and it's a very common question. It is designed to suss out your leadership skills, which, as most graduate roles will be leading to a managerial career path, makes this a question you need to nail. However, I rarely hear a really good detailed answer from a graduate and it's often a missed opportunity for them.
The good news is nobody is expecting you to have had a short spell as President of the US in sixth form, and the double good news is that you don’t even need to be President of a society either. It’s a great thing on your CV to have committee positions at university of course, but you can find examples of leadership everywhere in your life, without needing a title for it.
Perhaps you took the lead in a group project, found yourself encouraging teammates on the sports field, or volunteered to speak first in a presentation. Indeed, using an example where you took responsibility without being asked or voted for is often more impressive. Or, you can talk about leaders you admire and why - Barack Obama for his calm, Anna Wintour for her vision, or your tutor for their dedication. If you know what makes a good leader, it implies you know how to be one.
2. Where do you see yourself in five years?
This is especially tricky for an undergraduate who may be considering several options and career paths and may not even know the possibilities available for an experienced professional. One way to tackle this question is to research the company to the extent that you know what the employees with five or more years are doing, and then say you can see yourself doing that. Or, talk about the industry you see yourself in rather than a particular role.
Whatever you choose to say, remember this question is not a half-hearted attempt to ask you to predict the future so “dunno” is not an acceptable answer. This question is testing your passion and commitment to the industry, company and role, so iterate that.
3. How did you prepare for this interview?
This question is rather devilish as there’s nowhere to hide. If you didn’t prepare, you won’t have anything detailed to say, and if you didn’t prepare, you don’t really want the job. The only save for someone who didn’t prepare is to dodge the question and instead talk about what you know, e.g. suggest your degree choice is relevant preparation. Of course if you did prepare, make sure you say why you did what you did, “I read stories on this company in The FT because I’m fascinated by its current position in the markets” though of course be prepared for a follow up question.
4. How do you think someone who doesn’t like you would describe you?
This question is testing your self-awareness and team-working skills, and to some extent your humility. I've had candidates in the past say “oh they’re probably annoyed with me being right all the time”, which suggests a certain arrogance and lack of team-working skills. The trick is to be humble and honest about your answer and explain how you try to overcome someone's dislike: it's fine to say "I'm too competitive sometimes but I try to do x,y or z to help my slower teammates rather than berate them" - though, don’t dress it up as though you commence a UN Road Map to Peace, because we all know you don’t go that far.
5. What do you hate about your life?
This question, and others like it such as “Tell me about a time you did something you really regret and why?”, is designed to ask you a question you may not have prepared for, and really get to know you honestly. The best way to answer this is to avoid having a good moan about “my student debt” or “unemployed status” but to make the answer relevant to the job. For example, you might say you dislike the solo work in your degree and miss working in a team – which will be a critical part of the job. This is also an opportunity to bring out your personality and mention more unusual things about yourself and application, for example, you hate that you couldn’t afford to adopt that third snow leopard through the WWF.
6. Would you rather fight a bear-sized spider or a 1000 spider-sized bears?
This is a very serious question so give it some thought. The bear-sized spider will have similar characteristics to Aragog or Shelob so if you’re not handy with a sword or Light of Earendil you might want to pick the 1000 spider-sized bears and hope you have a fly swatter. You should approach the question logically and decisively. Whenever asked an either/or question like this (such as “are you an extrovert or introvert?”) you should always choose one option and not sit on the fence. Creative ways for fighting spiders will always go down well though.
7. “A train 240m long passes a pole in 24 seconds. How long will it take to pass a platform 650m long?”
This question is normally asked during a competency interview when you're not expecting a Maths question. It has two purposes, one of which is to look at your basic mental arithmetic - most graduate jobs need numeracy.
This question however is really used for its second purpose, which is actually more illuminating to an interviewer than the first, because let’s face it, if they really wanted to know your numeracy levels they’d set you a written numerical test, or look at your A Level Maths grade. No, the real reason an interviewer asks this question is to test your attitude.
The interviewer wants to know how you react in an unexpected and difficult situation which you haven’t rehearsed - and which you might even think unfair. They want to you to react calmly and confidently and give it your best shot. They don't want you to fluster and protest that you haven't done maths since GCSE and really should have had a warning and it's all so unfair.
The interviewer knows you’d do better with warning and preparation, but you don't get warnings in real life. You should also not make excuses or ask for a calculator for simple numbers, or wildly stab at an answer and hope one is right - hardly a professional approach. The good news is that getting the wrong answer is unlikely to be a pass or fail, it will all be down to your approach - so just try your best.
The answer is 89 seconds by the way. Feel free to tweet us and ask why!
8. How many lightbulbs are there on the M40?
This is a similar question to the above, in that it requires you to do basic arithmetic. However, it differs in that it also measures more than just your approach. It is looking for attention to detail, drive and enthusiasm. A candidate who straightaway guesses “about 3 million” with no explanation isn’t a candidate who’ll go the extra mile for a client, triple proof read a report or drill into statistics.
In actual fact, this question wants you to go into as much detail as possible, and list all the things with lightbulbs on the M40 and estimate their number. For example, the interviewer wants to count the numbers of lightbulbs in street lamps, traffic lights, cars, car boots, taxi signs, mobile phones, car torches, cats’ eyes, internal lighting systems, televisions in lorries, lightbulb cargo, trailer taillights, key fob LEDs, speed cameras, emergency vehicle blue lights, temporary speed limits, motorway electronic signs and those types of bollards with flashing lights on them which mark out closed lanes.
9. What do you think of Deloitte's Law practice?
This question looks straightforward on the outside, it's asking your opinion of something the company to which you are applying does. It's testing your knowledge of the company and ability to offer opinions on it. Of course, the eagle-eyed among you will have gone "hang on, what legal practice?!"
Yes, what makes this question really nasty is that the interviewer is deliberately asking you about a part of the business which doesn't exist, to see if you'll realise this, or waffle on pretending you know what you're talking about. It's a tough question because you will never know 100% of what a company does, but there will be certain things any dedicated candidate should have discovered in their research, and knowing Deloitte has no legal practice would be one of them.
10. And finally, what do you like to do for fun?
This is a difficult question because it is so open ended, and the interviewer could be looking for different things depending on the company. For example, they could be looking for someone who naturally looks for fun in group activities like music or sport, or prefers solo precision like golf. There probably isn’t a right or wrong answer so generally speaking, this question is a chance for you to show your personality and be memorable.
While you can use your answer to suggest that fun to you is reading updates on the FTSE, thereby signalling your passion for finance, it can suggest you only have narrow interests. Most companies want well-rounded, interested and interesting employees, so here’s your chance to prove you'd be great to work with.