Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

11 Tricky Personality Interview Questions and How NOT to Answer Them!

By James Ball | Jul 7, 2015 | Candidate Tips

Most interviewers are cynical – and rightly so.

If you think about it, interviews are a complete charade; each party on their best behaviour and trying their utmost to make a good impression!

That’s why so many hiring managers are turning to personality questions in a bid to root out their candidates’ true intentions, characteristics and motivations.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Your interviewer will use personality questions like the ones we’ve outlined below to assess…

  • How well you’ll fit in with the team and culture.
  • Whether you’re going to be a pain to manage.
  • What motivates you.

…so it’s crucial that you prepare yourself with good answers, before the interview.

As we always say – there are no right answers – but there are some very, VERY wrong ones!

Heads up! It’s unlikely that the entire interview will be based on personality questions – you’ll have others thrown in too, so make sure you’re 100% fully prepared and always follow our 10 simple rules of appropriate interview etiquette!

Q1: How would your best friend describe you?

Translation: what are you really like; am I seeing the real you?


  • Sound too rehearsed. It’s highly unlikely that your best friend would call you ‘proactive,’ ‘hard-working’ and ‘efficient’ and your interviewer knows that.
  • Blatantly lie. Your interviewer will already have made certain assumptions about you based on your body language – there’s no point, for example, in telling them that you’re ‘really confident’ when in fact, you are clearly shy.
  • Be hasty. It’s really important that your answer shows how well you’ll fit into the company culture, so really think through your answer.

This question is a golden opportunity for you to reveal something more natural and personal about yourself, so don’t waste it!

Use positive, attributes like “good listener,” “relaxed” and “sociable” and then back them up with examples.

Recruiter Pro Tip

You may be tempted to make a joke at this point in the interview…don’t!

Admitting to your stubbornness, lack of common sense or your mad skills at getting ‘smashed’ at the weekend is not going to get you anywhere.

Be friendly, but always be professional.

Hopefully the answer you give will match the impression they already have of you.

Q2: What do you least like about your job and why?

Translation: How negative are you and what tasks might we find it difficult to get you to do?


  • Be negative. Complaining about how terrible your current job is will just make you look like a moaner (no one wants to hire a moaner).
  • Say you don’t like doing something, without a good reason. Oh – and ‘because it’s difficult,’ ‘I just don’t enjoy it’ and ‘I don’t like working with other people’ are NOT good reasons!
  • Admit to disliking any tasks that you’ll be expected to do in your new job; check out the job specification if you’re not sure. It’s just not worth their hassle to hire someone who doesn’t enjoy their job (less committed, will create a bad atmosphere etc…)

Be honest, remain positive and emphasise that you did (and always would) complete each task to a high level, anyway.

You could answer: “I used to dislike filing, but I’ve come up with a schedule that gets me through it quickly and efficiently – to ease the burden – instead of putting it off.”

(Unless the job role you’re interviewing for has tons of paperwork involved!)

Q3: How do you like to be managed?

Translation: Will my management style work for you or will I have to change the way I work?


  • Be derogatory about any former bosses. It’s totally unacceptable and simply makes you look like an unmanageable employee.
  • Go on and on about how you’d prefer your manager not to get involved at all; an overly keen enthusiasm for lack of visibility makes you look suspicious.
  • Be over enthusiastic about any one management technique – unless you know that it’s your interviewer’s preference!
  • Be needy. Admitting that you need a manager to watch over you will completely put them off (I wouldn’t even suggest weekly catch-ups – most managers are simply too busy).

This is an absolute deal-breaker.

Managers really don’t want to hire someone who can’t (or won’t) be managed effectively.

Recruiter Pro Tip

It’s important that you show your willingness to adapt to the way the new company works.

Some managers take a hands-on approach, some prefer to take (a very, very far) back seat.

So be open – tell them ‘this is what has worked for me before, but I’m good at adapting to different workplaces.”

Q4: Who is the biggest influence on your career?

Translation: do you actually want this job, or have you just fallen/been forced into this career path?


  • Admit that you’ve merely fallen into that career. It implies a lack of passion and commitment to the industry.
  • Admit that you make decisions solely on advice, or the command of a loved one (for example, being pressured into a job by your parents isn’t a great sign).
  • Say that you’ve never been influenced by anyone. This implies that you’re not passionate about the industry (you don’t read work by any industry experts) and/or you have no close relationships, grounding you.

We all have people who influence our lives in some way, from celebrities and mentors to family members and friends and sharing those influences, will reveal a lot about your personality.

For example…

Are you a part of a close-knit family unit? If you’re interviewing for a role in a family-run company, then this might be a particularly important factor to them.

Do you have a lot of meaningful friendships? If so, this would imply that you’re a sociable, friendly person.

Are you influenced by other experts in your industry? If so, it shows that you’re passionate enough about the industry to read and research around the topic.

Q5: How do you get ‘in the zone’?

Translation: How do you work best and will you be able to work productively in our environment?


  • Say you need peace and quiet, if your new office is particularly buzzing.
  • Vice versa.
  • Fail to answer.  Most productive members of staff will have some sort of process that prepares them for moments of deep concentration and proactivity – you should give evidence that you’re one of them!

If you’re really not sure about the environment at your potential new workplace then tone your answer down and try to be balanced.

For example: “I suppose I find it easier to get in the zone when it’s quiet, but to be honest, once I get my teeth stuck into a task, everything else is just white noise.”

Q6: What book do you think every {Role} Should Read?

Translation: are you passionate about your industry and willing to educate yourself in your spare time?


  • Fail to answer the question! If you can’t think of a book then talk about a newspaper, journal, blog, guide etc…
  • Name a book that you haven’t read. If your interviewer digs deeper, they’re bound to discover that you’re lying.
  • Recommend a really weird book; it’s a professional interview, after all!

This question really is a toughie and it’s important to bear in mind that it will be more relevant for higher-level candidates in certain industries (for example, a marketing or sales manager).

But you never know when they might sneak it in – usually to separate the good candidates from superstars!

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Regardless of how unlikely this question is to crop up, having read industry books really does show that you’re passionate about your industry and willing to go out of your way to improve, grow and learn.

Like I said – it really does separate the ‘good’ from the ‘superstars!’

Q7: If you could, what animal would you be and why?

Translation: Are you creative and can you have a laugh (whilst remaining professional)?


  • Fail to answer the question – where’s the creativity?
  • Refuse to answer the question – it’s an interview, they make the rules!
  • Give a boring answer like ‘a cat, because they’re my favourite animal’. Again – where’s the creativity?
  • Be weird; ‘I think I’d like to be a tapeworm. Warmth, security, and a 24×7 all-you-can-eat buffet’ is not appropriate.

It may sound a little bit random, but this question is actually a favourite among experienced interviewers.

It’s a great way to quickly assess whether you’re creative (or completely not), can think on the spot and whether you have a good sense of humour.

Q8: What motivates you?

Translation: Have I got the necessary resources to motivate you/ would you fit in with our culture?


  • Fail to answer; something must motivate you surely?
  • State motivations that are irrelevant to the new company’s culture. For example, wanting to help people is great if you’re applying for a third sector position, but pretty irrelevant if the culture is all about the money.
  • Admit that you’re motivated by money or perks – you’ll look fickle and uninterested in the actual business and industry.

Be honest! Do you want job security? Opportunities to progress? Or perhaps working with a great team motivates you?

If so, you’re not the only one! In fact, a study conducted by TINYhr on 200,000 anonymous employees showed that the most popular motivator was peer camaraderie!

Q9: Tell me about a time when you failed at something?

Translation: Are you willing to admit to your imperfections, how do you cope with them and will you take constructive criticism?


  • Be overly negative about yourself. If you’re not confident in your own abilities, no one else will be.
  • Say that you’ve never failed before! Nobody is perfect and a good candidate will be able to acknowledge that fact.
  • Blame others for your failures. As we’ve mentioned many times before, it’s much better to show that you’re willing to accept responsibility for failings and to then use them to learn and grow.

Turn this question on it’s head! If you explain the situation in detail and then show how you learned from that mistake (and how you made sure it never happened again) then it’ll impress your interviewer.

Q10: What are your workplace pet peeves?

Translation: Will you fit in with the other people in the team and do you play nice?


  • Reel off a big list of things you don’t like about other people – it’ll imply that you’re grumpy and don’t play well with others.
  • Start bitching about people in your current (or previous) workplace – see above.
  • Describe a very common pet peeve (like pranking or bad body odor). You don’t want to lose the job because the interviewer thinks you couldn’t work well with someone in their team.

Everyone has their own pet peeves and little irritations, but some can handle them better than others. Just watch your body language; remain calm and try not to look frustrated.

I’d answer with something friendly, silly and meaningless like… “I don’t like it when people nick my good pens. Other than that, I’m quite a relaxed person, I don’t really notice bad habits.”

Q11: What will your referee say is your biggest weakness?

Translation: Answer honestly or I’ll find out you’ve lied!


  • Panic! Your interviewer MIGHT be having you on. They may have no intention of calling your referees, so take a breath and have a moment to think before panicking.
  • Admit to weak skills that are integral to the role; you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. (If your weak skills are integral to the role – why are you applying for the job anyway?)
  • Say that you’re unsure. This implies a lack of understanding of your own job performance!

In an ideal world, you’ll know immediately what your referee would say is your biggest weakness and it wouldn’t be a damning skill like communication or time-keeping.

If you think your referee’s report is going to be damning, then you’re just going to have to tell a white lie and hope that your interviewer is bluffing.

(But you should again consider whether this position is right for you!)

Recruiter Pro Tip

Recruiters could ask a whole range of questions with ‘when I contact your referee’ to make sure that you’re being honest!

  • “When I contact your referee what will they say is your strongest attribute?”
  • “When I contact your referee what will they say is your main responsibility?”
  • “When I contact your referee how do you think they’ll describe your personality?”


Interviewing is never going to be a perfect process.

It’s almost certain that you’ll slip up from time to time; everyone does – we’re only human after all!

But this blog isn’t about perfection; it’s about improving your interviewing skills so that you perform to the best of your ability!

Using the answers we’ve outlined above, along with our previous blog posts…

…we think you should have everything you need to smash that next interview!

Good Luck.

- James Ball

James Ball

James is the founder and owner of Coburg Banks and a recruitment expert from Sutton Coldfield in the UK.  He regularly advises companies on how to improve and get the maximum ROI from their recruitment processes.

> More blog posts by James Ball

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