killer interview questions

The best ways to tackle those dreaded ‘killer questions’ in an interview

Despite today’s candidate driven market, thorough interview preparation remains vital for prospective employees. Our Director of Grocery Retail Recruitment, Nikki Murran, advises how to answer classic ‘killer questions’ with ease  

Last week I got a call rejecting my candidate from a role he had interviewed for, and I was perplexed. He had done a similar role, was in the right location, right salary range, and was actually a great guy and perfect culture fit! What could have gone wrong?

Then I got the feedback from the interviewer and immediately understood. When the candidate was asked what he liked about the brand, he admitted he hadn’t visited any stores or done much research. The candidate really wanted this job. I had recommended to him that he visit a couple of stores beforehand and I had sent him plenty of information, but he was busy in his current role and never found the time. So, he never got the job!

In this candidate-driven market, one could be forgiven for thinking the same level of preparation as in previous years is no longer required in interviews. But as I witnessed last week, this is absolutely not the case. With higher salaries on offer and more benefits available than ever before, employers want to see candidates present themselves in the best light possible to warrant these ever-improving packages!

With that in mind, below are some questions, which, when prepared well, can make all the difference in landing that dream job:

Why us?

One of the most common questions in an interview – and one of the easiest to answer – is “why do you want this job”. This is an opportunity for you to be honest with what motivates you and to make sure this is what is in line with what your potential new employer is offering. It is also a great opportunity for the interviewer to determine how well you have researched and understood their vacancy and their business. I always recommend visiting the store and its competition in the local area beforehand, speaking to people who work within the brand and can tell you more about the culture, and to have a good trawl through Google to see what you can find out. Not only will you come across as more engaged, but you will have a much better idea if this is the right role for you!

Talk me through your experience or tell me about yourself

This is my favourite interview question. This is not the moment for you to tell the interviewer how you enjoy long walks, and once won a chicken wing eating contest, but rather an opportunity for you to highlight your successes in your career to date. Do this by chatting through each role you have held, and more importantly, about the achievements you have had in each of these roles, include stats and figures to back it up where you can. Think of it as a highlight reel rather than a CV summary! This question often comes up early in an interview and if you have prepared a couple of points of your career successes it can be a great way to settle into your interview, while also using the time to tell the interviewer how great a candidate you are!

What would you say is your weakness?

Everyone hates this question. To be fair, it is an awful question, and for that reason, I never really recommend answering it. Rather, when asked about what your weakness is, I would suggest sharing a weakness you used to have, and an example of how it is now one of your strongest points! For example, “I used to be somewhat disorganised, however, a couple of years ago I started a system where I prioritize my tasks each evening for the next day and now, I would say organisation is one of my top strengths!” I know it’s a bit of a politician’s answer – but as I said – it’s an awful question!


Most roles involve either managing teams or working within a team. So, it’s realistic to expect a question on this in any interview. Whilst you can’t prepare an answer for every potential question, I would always recommend having a couple of examples of your management skills, leadership style and team development at the front of your mind before the interview. This means you are ready to discuss them when the topic arises.  Developing the team around you so that they are empowered, motivated, and progressing is no easy feat – so if you have been doing this successfully be ready with stories to share about how you are achieving it.

Listen and stop talking!

Whilst this is not technically a question – it is good advice nonetheless, so I have included it! Many candidates rush to answer questions in interviews. In doing so they end up not understanding the question or worse, jumping into an ill-thought-out answer that runs off on a tangent that they can’t claw back from. Take a couple of seconds after the question is asked to make sure you heard it correctly and, to decide on your answer before launching into it. No one ever lost a job because they took a couple of seconds to put their answer together! If anything, it shows that you are thoughtful and deliberate.

Next – stop talking! The aim of the interview is absolutely not to fill all the silence, or have the interviewer need to interrupt you to ask their next question. Once you have answered the question – stop talking! Be quiet and wait for the next question. Often, interviewers need to cover certain topics in order to assess your suitability. If you don’t give them the opportunity to control the interview you are taking the risk that you won’t cover what is needed to decide if you are the right fit for them.

Other than that – be yourself and good luck!

You can check out all our live jobs here. For more information call us on 01 814 8747 or email

Common Interview Questions for Buyers

Buying is a highly competitive industry, meaning it’s crucial to ace the interview for the position you are going for. Excel’s Sarah Hurley takes the most common interview questions and how to tackle them.

Due to the size of the retail market in Ireland, there are limited Buying opportunities. Therefore, if you secure an interview, it is important that you build a strong case in order to land the job. Buyers hold a unique skill set so you will need to demonstrate this and relevant experience by giving your personal professional examples when answering their questions.

Tell me about your current area of buying responsibility?

To answer this question successfully, you will start off by giving the interviewer an overview of your department, what you buy and what that involves. Be prepared with your facts and figures and use this question as an opportunity to highlight any successes you and your team have had such as increased sales, increased sell-through rates or improved margins etc. You don’t have to talk actual sales figures but do give percentages if possible, ‘We traded up 5% on plan and reduced mark down by 8% year on year’.

What are your thoughts on the current range? Would do you anything differently?

The interviewer is looking for you to think commercially and critically, and to see that you’ve done your homework. Use your insights into the brand and their competitors to spot any gaps or missed opportunities within the range and explain your reasoning. Make informed suggestions by visiting stores beforehand and/or critiquing the range online and make reference to current trends, what competitors are doing, and what is happening in the wider market.

Who are our main competitors?

This question is to test your understanding of the retail market and where the business sits within this. Consider their customer, and what makes them shop with them over elsewhere. What does the business do better and worse than their competitors? Please keep criticism to a minimum and also be able to explain your thought process with actual examples. For any retail buying job, prepare by researching the market, who the big players are, any recent news (like an acquisition or merger), whose market share is increasing, whose is decreasing, etc. Ensure you discuss competitors operating within the same space and with the same customer base and aesthetic as the company you’re interviewing with. For example, if you are interviewing with Dunnes Stores, you will always talk about a business like Tesco as their direct competitor.

Tell me about some of your biggest negotiating successes?

A major part of any buying job is daily negotiation. Use real-life examples and demonstrate your ability to get the best commercial results for the business, while still maintaining a positive relationship with stakeholders inside and out of the business.

Other Common Questions for Buyer Interviews include:

Common Interview Questions for Buyers


What’s Your Greatest Weakness? How to Give a Strong Interview Answer

What’s your greatest weakness is one of the most common interview questions but one of the trickiest to answer.

It seems strange to discuss your negatives in a situation that is all about selling yourself but your answer tells the interviewer a lot about you and can potentially make or break your interview. Although the question is about weaknesses, don’t take it too literally and ruin the interview by talking about your habit of being late or how your last boss constantly gave out about how messy you are. Instead, your answer should always be framed around positive aspects of your skills and abilities as an employee. Below are tips and tricks to make a potential employer think your ‘weaknesses’ are actually your best qualities.

Discuss Your Positive Negatives

One way to ace this tricky question is to turn your negatives into positives. Examples of this method include “I’m a perfectionist which means I can sometimes spend too long on projects but I work hard to get the balance right”, or “I find it hard to delegate to others which can lead to frustration for me and my team members. However, I am learning to recognise when others are stronger than me at certain tasks.

However if you use this approach its important not to come across as disingenuous, don’t simply say ‘I work too hard’ or ‘I have no weaknesses’, the interviewer will see right through your shameless avoidance of the question and put simply, you won’t get the job.

Discuss Unrelated Weaknesses

Alternatively you could tackle this question by discussing your weaknesses, but only the ones that have little to do with the job you’re applying for. Analyse the skills and strengths that are key to the role you are interviewing for and then answer with an honest shortcoming, not essential for success in the job at hand.

For example, if you are applying for a nursing job, the ability to communicate, simply and sensitively, with patients is vital. The ability to make presentations to large groups is not. Provide an example of your nervousness around public speaking while at the same stress that your skills at connecting one to one are exceptional.

Discuss Your Improvements

Another way to successful answer would be to give an example of a skill you have improved during your previous roles. If you use the example of public speaking, you could show the interviewer that it was a massive hurdle but with practise, hard work and dedication you are now far more confident. This shows your potential employer that you are proactive and willing to improve without being told.

However if you use this strategy, use skills not directly important to the job. You don’t want your qualifications for the job to be seen as something you struggle with.

Above all, the key to giving a successful answers is to keep it positive. Don’t use the word weakness, always keep focused on the positive. The key is to confidently steer the interview back to what makes you fabulous, without dodging or avoiding the question.

Temporary and Seasonal Job Interview Questions

A job is a job, whether it’s temporary or permanent. Employers who hire seasonal workers look for the same qualities they seek when hiring long-term employees. Attitude, professionalism, and a good work ethic are all crucial in landing a job. Hiring seasonal employees is fairly similar to hiring anyone else, and you can normally expect the usual set of interview questions. However, at the same time, there are a few key differences that separate seasonal and permanent positions and the same inevitable questions for temporary jobs will always creep up.

Why are you in the market for temporary employment?

This question will almost definitely come up in every interview you undertake for temporary work and you shouldn’t be put off by the employer’s frankness at asking it. Make sure you develop a convincing answer avoiding any responses that may tend to make you sound less than reliable.

Are there any gaps in your résumé?

Gaps are a standard thing in even the most experienced CV’s and they arise for numerous reasons which employers understand. However, a lot of seasonal workers look for jobs cyclically with the idea to try and make extra money around the holidays and if they are previously familiar with temporary employment. The point to stress is that seasonal employees need to be reliable. No-one wants to be stuck with inadequate staffing. You will be asked to explain any CV gaps. Be honest, as a recruiter or employer will immediately see through you if you aren’t. They will notice the gaps and chase you on the dates from the offset so be honest from the beginning, highlighting why and how the gaps arose and emphasising your ability and reliability towards the job.

Choose responses that pinpoint your professionalism.

Employers are looking for the candidates most likely to get up to speed quickly with little or no difficulty. Act as professionally as you would if applying for a permanent, career-enhancing position, and don’t be shy about highlighting your experience. Some people have a tendency to overlook and under prepare for temporary or seasonal jobs.

Clearly outline your level of schedule flexibility.

Hospitality and Retail are the main sources of seasonal employment and are often the most demanding, customer focused and fast paced jobs possible. They require constant customer communication, thus flexibility is imperative considering the influx of customers throughout the extended busy period and how all types of consumers need to be catered too. Often when hiring, the employer will give a guideline of the rough hours of work, most commonly being evening and weekends. If you cannot adhere to these, or have very little flexibility it is not worth your time. What employers want is someone who is either fully flexible or able to abide by the agreed hours. Not being honest will only lead to contention down the line and a bad rapport between you and employer.

Use examples that demonstrate your ability to learn quickly.

Job seekers who can easily adjust to new work environments and swiftly get up to speed in an unfamiliar setting are exactly what employers are looking for. In your interview answers, choose past experiences and scenarios that illustrate this and your instant adaptability and ability to the job.

Long term availability

Temporary work, for the most part is for a fixed term and like name suggests, is just temporary. However, there is often a possibility that particularly promising temp staff may be offered permanent positions after the busier period cools down. Most temps would be enthused at the possibility of a long term and permanent job. Subtly skew your answers to this in the interview if you feel that the interviewer would be receptive towards these. However, remember that for the majority of the time, temporary work will only be for the agreed period.