I have previously written about,
- How to find that first graduate job
- Top Executive Recruiters Agree There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions
In this article I will give some hints on how to prepare for interviews.
A job will usually have a great many applicants and these have to be reduced to a manageable number. For this reason, recruiters and employers screen people out.
- They are trying to find reasons get rid of you – don’t give them any.
Make sure that turn up on time and are well groomed, and polite. If the job requires a suit then wear a suit. If the job does not require a suit then dress smartly and appropriately. You should cover up tattoos unless you are applying to become a Premiership footballer.
Make sure that you satisfy the mandatory criteria and don’t try to be too interesting. You only goal is not to do anything that will get you screened out.
If you are applying for a job with a business that has a powerful HR department like a corporate or the government then you will have a professionally conducted interview. This has some advantages because it will be well structured and their job is get the best possible candidate while still hitting their diversity quotas. They will typically ask everybody the same set of questions from a list of questions that address,
- The mandatory characteristics specified in the job description
- The desirable characteristics in the job description
- The person characteristics in the job description
- Company values/ideology
The panel of interviewers will typically include someone from HR, the line manager and another person (often selected on grounds of ethnicity or gender). They will score your answers to the questions and use this to justify their final selection for the role.
If you are applying for a job with a smaller business then you will be interviewed by your potential line manager. This has the advantage that you can both learn a lot more about each other and whether there is a genuine fit. The disadvantage is that most line managers seldom do interviews and are not very good at them. You might have to help your interviewer by guiding them through your prepared answers and questions.
Preparing for the interview
The entire point of the recruitment process is to match people to jobs that they are good at and love doing. This requires the candidate and the interviewers to strike up a relationship in the small amount of time available to them.
You are not going to be able to learn much about the job if you are thinking all the time about the answers to your interview questions. The key to a good interview is preparation.
Top interview questions and how to answer them
There are some common interview questions and you should prepare your answers beforehand. The key thing to remember when responding to interview questions is to keep your answers brief and to the point. If you are faced with a difficult question, make sure you stay calm, don’t get defensive, and take a moment to think about your response before you answer.
Remember, the responses below are only suggestions. Try to personalise your response as much as possible.
Question: What do you know about us?
Answer: Parrot back the contents of their website. This proves that you are basically competent and in the right interview
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: Identify some of your main attributes and memorise them. Describe your qualifications, career history and range of skills, emphasising those skills relevant to the job on offer.
Q: What have your achievements been to date?
A. Select an achievement that is work-related and fairly recent. Identify the skills you used in the achievement and quantify the benefit it had to the company. For example, ‘my greatest achievement has been to design and implement a new sales ledger system, bringing it in ahead of time and improving our debtors’ position significantly, saving the company £50,000 a month in interest’.
Q: Are you happy with your career-to-date?
A: This question is really about your self-esteem, confidence and career aspirations. The answer must be ‘yes’, followed by a brief explanation as to what it is about your career so far that’s made you happy. If you have hit a career plateau, or you feel you are moving too slowly, then you must qualify your answer.
Q: What is the most difficult situation you have had to face and how did you tackle it?
A: The purpose of this question is to find out what your definition of difficult is and whether you can show a logical approach to problem solving. In order to show yourself in a positive light, select a difficult work situation which was not caused by you and which can be quickly explained in a few sentences. Explain how you defined the problem, what the options were, why you selected the one you did and what the outcome was. Always end on a positive note.
Q: What do you like about your present job?
A: This is a straightforward question. All you have to do is make sure that your ‘likes’ correspond to the skills required for the job on offer. Be enthusiastic; describe your job as interesting and diverse but do not overdo it – after all, you are looking to leave.
Q: What do you dislike about your present job?
A: Be cautious with this answer. Do not be too specific as you may draw attention to weaknesses that will leave you open to further problems. One approach is to choose a characteristic of your present company, such as its size or slow decision-making processes etc. Give your answer with the air of someone who takes problems and frustrations in your stride as part of the job.
Q: What are your strengths?
A: This is one question that you know you are going to get so there is no excuse for being unprepared. Concentrate on discussing your main strengths. List three or four proficiencies e.g. your ability to learn quickly, determination to succeed, positive attitude, your ability to relate to people and achieve a common goal. You may be asked to give examples of the above so be prepared.
Q: What is your greatest weakness?
A: Do not say you have none – this will lead to further problems. You have two options – use a professed weakness such as a lack of experience (not ability) on your part in an area that is not vital for the job. The second option is to describe a personal or professional weakness that could also be considered to be a strength and the steps you have taken to combat it. An example would be: “I know my team think I’m too demanding at times – I tend to drive them pretty hard but I’m getting much better at using the carrot and not the stick”.
Q: Why do you want to leave your current employer?
A: State how you are looking for a new challenge, more responsibility, experience and a change of environment. Do not be negative in your reasons for leaving. It is rarely appropriate to cite salary as your primary motivator.
Q: Why have you applied for this particular job?
A: The employer is looking for evidence that the job suits you, fits in with your general aptitudes, coincides with your long-term goals and involves doing things you enjoy. Make sure you have a good understanding of the role and the organisation, and describe the attributes of the organisation that interest you most.
Other common interview questions to consider:
- How does your job fit in to your department and company?
- What do you enjoy about this industry?
- Give an example of when you have worked under pressure.
- What kinds of people do you like working with?
- Give me an example of when your work was criticised.
Give me an example of when you have felt anger at work. How did you cope and did you still perform a good job?
- What kind of people do you find it difficult to work with?
- Give me an example of when you have had to face a conflict of interest at work.
- Tell me about the last time you disagreed with your boss.
- Give me an example of when you haven’t got on with others.
- Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? Why?
- This organisation is very different to your current employer – how do you think you are going to fit in?
- What are you looking for in a company?
- How do you measure your own performance?
- What kind of pressures have you encountered at work?
- Are you a self-starter? Give me examples to demonstrate this?
- What changes in the workplace have caused you difficulty and why?
- How do you feel about working long hours and/or weekends?
- Give me an example of when you have been out of your depth.
- What have you failed to achieve to date?
- What can you bring to this organisation?
The two-minute answer
Remember that your interviewers are humans and a panel interview is an opportunity for them to demonstrate their status in front of their colleagues. Some interviewers will prefer to talk while you listen. This is not great interview technique but it happens. Obviously you should be awed by their brilliance.
Your interviewers are busy. They need to finish the interview on time and don’t want you to blither on while they have a list of 20 questions to ask you.
You should prepare a two minute answer to every question in the list above and commit the facts to heart. Now when you are asked a question in the interview you just have to work out which question it is because you already know the answer! You can spend the time you would have spent working out an answer looking at panel and seeing how interested they are.
Two minutes is the maximum for an answer. If they are looking bored or as if they might want to ask a follow up question then stop talking.
Practice interviews with a friend until interpreting questions and giving short answers comes naturally.
Top tip for the older candidate
Remember that most line managers don’t want to employ anyone who is smarter or more experienced than them. Their natural inclination is to try to recruit the best candidate who is younger/dumber than they are so that they don’t feel threatened. It is very important that you focus on their job requirements.
- someone who can do the job
- someone who can make me look good
If they think that you could their job then they won’t hire you so hide your light under a bushel.
This tip is particularly important for male candidates being interviewed by women of childbearing age, don’t fall into the trap of trying to impress them. Keep your answers short and sweet and confined to the job on offer.
It is much easier to get a contract job
The risk of employing someone is so high and the associated expenses are so great that most employers will avoid it if they can. It is not that they don’t have work to be done just that the cost/benefit of recruitment is not there.
You can solve this problem by working freelance or through an agency (umbrella company). This is much simpler you just work for them and then submit at invoice a the end of the month.
Remember that if you are working freelance you are carrying all the risk and you should only work for people and business that have strong cashflow and that you trust. I usually get 50% upfront and 50% on completion even for my reliable customers because “shit happens” and don’t want to be the one who takes all the loss.
It can be very hard to get a job, during a recession I have had to make over 150 applications to get one. During the pandemic a whole cohort of students had to wait 2 years before they could even apply.
It is always the last interview that you do that gets you the job – so don’t give up and