Job interviews can be daunting. Fact. But when you’re embarking on a career change, they tend to become 100 times more stressful. It’s hard enough to explain yourself to family and friends, so when employers want to know the reasons behind your career change and/or question your intentions, it’s easy to feel attacked or completely confused about how to respond. How can you convince a stranger who knows nothing about you that you’ll be great at a job you’ve never done, and how much should you say about the real reason you’re starting over again? Here’s all the career advice you need to confidently answer the top six annoying interview questions for career changers.

Why should we hire you? You haven’t got any experience in this role

Having already seen your CV before inviting you for an interview, common sense would suggest that your lack of experience isn’t a deal-breaker for your potential employer. Despite this, interviewers still love to ask the ‘why should we hire you?’ question. If you’re faced with these dreaded words at your next interview, don’t take it as a sign that it’s time to resume your job search – it’s not. Instead, this question gives you the perfect opportunity to showcase your transferable skills.

How to answer it:

All the career advice in the world can’t bypass the fact that this is a question you need to prepare for before your interview. You can do this by breaking down your previous jobs. Get a piece of paper and write 10 or more tasks you did in each job. Also write down the things you accomplished.

Once you have a task-based version of your employment history in front of your eyes, write out a short statement that summarises the most relevant things you did in each job. This statement is what you will use to show the interviewer that despite first impressions, your work history lends itself really well to the career transition you’re making.

Can you do this role?

The best way to answer this question is with confidence and honesty. If you’ve never done this job before, there’s no point in exaggerating your skills and experience because if you do get the job, you will most likely struggle if you’re thrown in at the deep end because you lied about your level of competence. However, there’s no need to paint yourself as completely inexperienced.

How to answer it:

Accept that you have not done this exact role in the past but emphasise the fact that you have performed roles that called for the same skills needed for this role. Give examples of when you have done something similar, focus on describing the results you achieved and draw parallels between the two experiences. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job as an event planner, but you used to be a press officer, you can refer to examples of when you took the lead with organising a multi-faceted project. Talk about how you had to time manage, budget manage, and liaise with internal and external team members etc. Bring physical evidence of your past accomplishments with you too.

Why are you changing careers?

Whatever the reason for your career change or job change, the most important thing to remember is to answer the question in a non-defensive way that shows you’re 100 percent confident with your decision and not still harbouring uncertainty or emotional baggage about how and why you left your previous job.

How to answer it:

Don’t focus on what was wrong with your previous career, instead talk about what’s right with your new career. Describe how it’s a better fit for your values, aspirations and where you physically are in life right now. Again, mention the fact that your last career allowed you to develop transferable skills that are highly relevant to this new field and that you’re excited to take on a new challenge that builds on the foundation created by your previous jobs. In short, focus on the pull factors that are driving your job change.

How can you be certain that this role is for you?

This common question reflects the anxiety that career changers still trigger in employers. Millennials are the first generation to actively move from one field to another in search of the job that best suits them, so many employers remain unsure of how to handle career changers and question if they’re likely to move onto another role more quickly than other employees. And it’s a fully warranted concern, after all, no one wants to invest time and money into training an employee who starts a new job search six months into the role.

How to answer it:

The truth is that you don’t know how this job will work out, so avoid the temptation to make unrealistic promises about how long you will stay in the role. Instead, focus on showing the interviewer that the job isn’t something you applied for on a whim. Make it clear that your career change is something you’ve thought long and hard about, and that you’ve also made efforts to test the waters. Mention the research you’ve done into both the company and the role – from speaking to others with a similar role to shadowing, doing volunteer work, relevant hobbies and courses/training you’ve done.

Why did your previous career fail?

It’s an annoying, insensitive and downright inappropriate question, but it’s one that’s often asked. The sad truth is that some employers still view the decision to voluntarily leave a job as a failure and will try to force that opinion on anyone who challenges the status quo. Take comfort from the fact that both the question and the viewpoint are ridiculous. Life is for living to the full, enjoying experiences and being true to yourself. Failure comes from staying in a miserable situation because you’re too scared to try something new.

Armed with the knowledge that the interviewer is completely misguided, don’t be goaded into defending yourself. Instead, keep your answer clear and non-emotional.

How to answer it:

Use positive statements like “I enjoyed a lot of success in my previous career; however, it wasn’t the best fit for me” and “I have absolutely no regrets about my previous career or my decision to try something new. I’m driven by challenge and opportunities to grow, and that’s why I applied for this role.”

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This question is often asked to check how well you understand the field you’re now entering and also to identify your level of commitment to your career change. Don’t be too suspicious though, it’s also a question that helps employers to learn more about your overall ambition.

How to answer it:

Do your research prior to the interview and make sure you understand the different positions that lie en route to the top of your field. You can then select an appropriately senior role as your five-year goal (demonstrating you are ambitious and see yourself in your new career on a long-term basis). It’s also important to make it clear that while this is an ambition, you are flexible and open to grabbing opportunities as they arise.

What other annoying or challenging questions have you been asked in an interview? Let us know how you answered them in the comments below.

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