Career Advice Career Doctor

Three questions to expect in an interview and how to respond

Practice makes perfect when it comes to preparing for job interviews, and anticipating the questions you could be asked helps you craft your answers in advance. But a curveball question can dent your confidence when the pressure is on. Elaine Lam, Managing Director, Robert Half Hong Kong looks at three common tricky interview questions and how to answer them.


Where do you see yourself in five years?

At some stage in the job search process you’re bound to be asked “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The key to answering this question appropriately is to understand why it’s being asked. The reality is that the interviewer is trying to gauge your long term commitment to the company. After all, hiring new staff comes with significant costs, and the company needs to be sure the investment it will make in you as a new recruit will deliver strong returns.

This being the case, the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” can be the ideal opportunity to showcase your plans to be a loyal, productive, long term employee. If you can back it up with an explanation of how you can to contribute to the company’s growth and prosperity, so much the better.

For instance, if you’re applying for a role as a junior data analyst, a reasonable response may be, “Your company offers a good career path and within five years I would like to have risen through the ranks to be a systems manager. By completing additional qualifications backed by training and mentoring, I believe I can achieve this.”


What are your weaknesses? 

It’s easy to respond to questions about your strengths.  But queries about weaknesses can be a high-speed curveball that trip up plenty of job candidates.

To trick to answering this question well is to understand your weaknesses — and be able to frame them in the best possible light.

As a guide, you may mention that you have previously working long days as a deadline approached, but you have been able to manage this issue through improved time management, and by learning how to attack an assignment in manageable chunks.

Another strategy is to pick a trait that’s not essential to the position. If you’re applying for a job as a junior accountant with a web designer for example, explain that you haven’t had much experience working with the creative side of a business, but add that you’re a quick learner.

The main point is that this question does have a purpose beyond getting you to confess personal weak spots. The hiring manager is looking to see if you can learn from constructive criticism, or that you are willing to make changes when you face challenges, and that you can pick yourself up and dust yourself off when you fail. These are characteristics that many employers regard as strengths.


What are your salary expectations? 

It can be uncomfortable when discussions turn to money, but questions around your salary expectations are one area where you have plenty opportunities to prepare your response.

The first step is to understand how valuable your skills are in today’s labour market. Rather than taking an educated guess, research the likes of the Robert Half Hong Kong Salary Guide to form an accurate picture of your market value based on your industry and level of experience.

No matter whether the expected salary question appears in an in-person interview or an online application, you could be asked to provide your preferred salary range. Before you answer, consider whether you'll be truly satisfied — and able to live on — a salary at the low end of the scale. Chances are, the hiring manager will take you up on your lowest figure, and you could regret providing a response that got you the job but not enough money to live comfortably.

The dollar value of your salary is just one aspect to address. Not all companies have the fiscal resources to offer market-leading salaries. In fact, Hong Kong business leaders are embracing a variety of perks to attract high calibre candidates — and flexible work arrangements are one of the leading non-financial benefits.

If you really want the role but the salary is slightly below your expectations, consider the value of any non-financial benefits that may be available such as flexible work hours or opportunities to telecommute. Once you’ve learned the possibilities — and if the company is the right cultural fit for you personally — you can decide whether these extras make up for a lower pay packet.

If you can nail these curly questions, many of the other matters discussed at a job interview can be very straightforward. Maintain a professional approach, consider your responses carefully, and remember that you are there to convince the hiring manager that you are the best candidate for the job. If you can tick these boxes you’ve got a good chance of being offered the role.