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The Curveball: Tips for Answering Tough Interview Questions

Job interviews are one of those moments where you, as a job-seeker, are truly under the spotlight. Some interview questions can catch people off guard – even if they're being asked by friendly and personable interviewers.

These questions are intended to uncover how you think on your feet, your self-awareness, ambition, motivations and how knowledgeable you are about the role and company.

It's no wonder that this cluster of questions regularly appears on recruiters' lists of the most difficult interview questions. We'll explore these below and the best strategies for answering them.

1. 'Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?'

This interview question can trip people up, as it can sound like a hiring manager wants a concrete vision of where you will be in the future – specifically your job title and whether you still see yourself with the company. However, the underlying reason for asking this question is to determine your overall commitment to the role and how your ambitions might fit with the company's plans.

To prepare your answer, think about the professional pathway you'd like to pursue in the next few years, such as a management role.

An example answer could be:

I’d love to take this opportunity to further develop the specific skills I have as a Software Engineer specialising in autonomous driving. I hope to eventually take on a senior role as a supervisor, manager or mentor for junior colleagues.

Do avoid mentioning goals that aren't aligned with the employer's interests, such as your plans to build a start-up to rival Tesla in the driverless car market (fair play if that is a goal though!), or launch an app that tracks the engine performance of consumer vehicles. The aim is to show how your aspirations fit within the role.

2. 'What Are Your Weaknesses?'

If you're not adequately prepared for this question, the risk of stumbling with your answer can be high. Employers ask this to gauge your capacity for self-awareness – that you can recognise any shortcomings you have in technical or people skills – as well as your honesty and humility.

Think about how you can describe a personal weakness as it relates to the workplace.

Some examples of job-related weaknesses include:

•Inexperience with specific software, tools or skills that aren't essential to the role

•Not knowing when to delegate work to others (difficulty with setting boundaries or saying no)

•Lack of self-confidence

•Dislike of public speaking (presentation skills need improvement)

Aim to show your weakness in a positive light by highlighting what you're doing to overcome it, such as undertaking a short course, doing volunteer work, working with a mentor or joining industry networks or associations.

Avoid using phrases that are obvious attempts to make a weakness appear positive and can come across as artificial or arrogant, such as "I work too hard", "I'm a perfectionist", or the particularly unrealistic "I don't have any weaknesses".

3. 'Tell Me About Yourself'

Interviewers often start the conversation with this question as an icebreaker. If you're especially nervous beforehand or uncomfortable talking about yourself, this common engineering interview question can be especially painful. The best way to prevent your answer from being too long or rambling is to craft your spiel and rehearse it in advance.

Thankfully, this question is not an invitation to recount your entire life story and every job you've ever had. Instead, focus on covering your career highlights (past and present) and your future professional goals.

To stay on track, keep your answer succinct – under one minute is best. Focus only on the most relevant roles and skills you've acquired and mention what motivates you, along with how you want to make a difference in your next role.

A sample answer could be:

"Before my current position, I was a Junior Hardware Engineer at XYZ Company for seven years. During my time there, I specialised in connected cars. My long-range goal is to become Chief Hardware Engineer. What keeps me motivated is using creative problem solving to unleash the true potential of connected cars."

Although your answer should show some of your personality, do think carefully before sharing the details of your hobbies and interests. The more closely related your hobbies are to your work, the more likely they'll sound sensible in a job interview.

4. 'Why Are You the Best Person For the Job?'

You might have an excellent skill set and an impressive work history, but hiring managers are likely to be interviewing several people who are just as qualified as you. When you encounter this question, it's a chance to make your CV come alive by conveying what makes you unique as a professional. Think of it as your 'elevator pitch'.

For example, if you have worked in an adjacent industry and built important skills or attributes that aren't widely available in the automotive sector, you should highlight this point.

However, if you feel you have already covered your skills and experience multiple times in the interview so far, it might be a better approach to show your interest in the company itself. You could demonstrate what you've learned from researching about the business, for example its strategic direction, new products released to the market, major new contracts and how your own skills and knowledge aligns with these.

Another angle you could use in your response is how you can solve the employer's problem. Organisations tend to hire new people because they're facing a challenge, whether it's in R&D, production, manufacturing, marketing or some other area. You can get straight to the point with your answer to this question by outlining, in some detail, how you can help the company tackle its pain point.


Understanding how to answer difficult interview questions can exponentially increase your likelihood of interview success. A pre-interview rehearsal can also do wonders for your confidence and help you appear more focused and engaged.

Ultimately, hiring managers are looking for clues that you have the professional chops for the role, that you've taken time to learn about their company and are self-motivated. Remember to avoid overhyping your qualities, but don't undersell your skills and experience.

If you're ready for your next career move, our team of Automotive Engineering recruitment specialists can help you reach your next professional milestone. To learn more about the automotive engineering jobs we have available in the UK and Europe, get in touch with our team.