You’ve stumbled across a fantastic job opportunity but there’s a form to fill in before the company will even consider meeting you. It’s several pages long, the questions are dauntingly open and the blank spaces for your answers are gaping. Do not be deterred! If you want to know what employers want from those tricky questions, read on….
The purpose of tricky questions

These so-called competency-based or behavioural questions (’provide an example of’ or ’describe a situation where’) are a popular way to test candidate suitability by examining the way they handle or react to different situations. Questions like this are designed to give you an opportunity to sell yourself and you should keep this in mind at all times when deciding how to answer.

The skills employers look for

All too often, competency-based questions give very little away. But so long as your answers demonstrate you have the right skills, character and experience for the job, you can feel confident you’re on the right track. To give you a head start, here’s a run down of the behavioural areas employers probe.

Goal setting

Employers want motivation and commitment. Are you ambitious and driven or the type to give up easily?

Communication and people skills

Interacting with people and getting your ideas across is central to the working day. Have you got the people skills to get colleagues working effectively with you or to keep your customers happy?

Sticking to policy and procedure

Rules can be really important to the smooth running of a business, especially in large organisations. Are you able to stick to process, both established and new? Can you challenge it where appropriate?


If you’re working with junior colleagues it’s important you take a role in fostering their career development. Can you lead teams and what personal skills help you to do so? What’s your management style?


Companies have to be responsive to many factors in order keep up with the competition. How do you handle change or how might you ensure others adapt effectively?


There will be many work-based situations where you disagree with a colleague. How do you get your point across and respond to people with conflicting opinions?

Decisiveness and judgment

You’ll often encounter situations at work where difficult decisions need to be taken in order for progress to be made. Do you have the confidence and skill to do so?


Employers want individuals who are resourceful and can work without the need for detailed instructions.

Organisational and planning skills

Employers are looking for high productivity. Can you organise your workload so that tasks are done well and on time?

Problem solving

Every day we come across obstacles of varying scales. How do you approach problems and implement solutions?


This isn’t about whether you’ve mastered oil painting. Businesses need people with ideas who can contribute to a progressive vision.

Risk taking

Risk taking is important in business as the rewards can be high. Employers want confident individuals who can calculate risk and reward and proceed accordingly.


Performing well under stressful situations is important for many roles. Can you keep a clear head and think on your feet?


Employees who go above and beyond their day to day tasks are gold dust. An employer wants individuals who can use their initiative and come up with ideas they might not think of.


Very few professions require individuals to work in isolation. It’s important you can work towards a common goal with a team of colleagues as well as contribute on an individual level.