There’s still a lot of competition in the labour market today. Employers are looking for the best talent and most qualified candidates to meet their ever changing, challenging and demanding workloads. There is evidence (they say!) that we are out of the recession however it’s still too soon to be complacent in your job search and during the interview process. It’s still an employer’s market and they are taking full advantage of making exceptional demands and setting extremely high standards.
As well as preparing specific examples to be able to answer the usual behavioural competency style questions it’s also important not to forget and to prepare for these commonly asked questions – even if you are a confident candidate it’s really easy to think you can “wing” these questions and think on your feet. However, I’ve seen lots of confident candidates fall apart when they’ve been asked the simplest of questions.
Here are some most common interview questions and answers:
1. Why are you thinking of moving on?
Lots of employers are now focusing a lot more attention on the right corporate cultural fit and the right motivational fit. If you are happy and motivated in your workplace and love your job you are likely to be highly productive.
At some point in the interview process someone will go through your CV and will be asking your reasons for leaving previous companies. The information you share gives a lot away about what motivates and what de-motivates you at work and therefore, helps the interviewer to make a decision whether this is the right job and whether you’ll fit into the organisations culture.
For example, if you got impatient with the amount of time it took to make decisions or working in a bureaucratic environment was frustrating – then a similar organisation structure is not going to be the right match.
The reasons for moving on from an organisation are extremely important to the next employer – so think carefully how you are going to answer this question and how you are going to describe your experience. This is the time to be honest with yourself about where you are comfortable working and what environment best suits you. If you don’t prepare your reasons for moving on you may find yourself waffling or not knowing when to stop talking!! Everyone knows there are going to be some negative reasons for moving on (lack of progression, relationship broke down with your manager) but if you over emphasise these reasons in the interview it’s only going to reflect poorly on you.
Employers will be looking for more “pull” factors than “push” factors when they assess your reasons for moving on. Pull factors are things that draw and attract you to the next job and push factors are things that are making you leave your current job. If there are too many push factors this will go against you in the interview.
Related: How to Answer Competency Questions
2. Why are you interested in this job?
It is still such a competitive market that your answer to this question will make a big difference. Have you given your reasons for applying serious consideration? If you copy and paste the usual answer “I’m looking for a new challenge” or “I’d like to work for a Global Organisation” then you are not going to stand out from every other candidate. You need well thought out answers and they should come from the heart. It needs to make sense with the previous decisions you’ve made about your school subjects, college courses, what you studied at university, voluntary work or training courses you’ve attended.
Don’t say “I’ve always wanted to work in XXX” if you have no evidence of previously trying to move your career or job searches in that direction. You must be able to provide evidence of why you are really keen to secure this particular job in this particular company. Research the website and recent blogs or news updates and make sure you have a good understanding of what the company do and how they go about business.
3. What are your strengths?
This is not a question that particularly generates an objectively measurable answer however managers still like to ask about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. In fact I’ve attended an interview this year with one of the top accountancy firm in London and the recruiting manager asked me for three strengths and weaknesses.
When you are preparing for this question don’t just list a few positive words, think about providing a little evidence to prove your strength is not just your opinion. For example, “For the last two appraisals my manager has praised my ability to manage multiple projects and how I’ve exceeded expectations when controlling various resources (people, budget, time etc).” Or “I’m highly organised and work methodically this has been extremely beneficial and successful when managing the high volumes of vacancies.” Don’t go into too much detail here just give one or two short sentences to back up your strength. If the interviewer wants more detail they’ll ask.
4. What are your weaknesses?
You absolutely must prepare an answer for this one – it’s a question that could potentially affect your performance throughout the rest of the interview. Most in-house recruiters don’t like to use the term “weaknesses” any more – it’s too negative. The positive spin on this question is “What are your developments?” Weaknesses are a great opportunity to learn and develop new and existing skills and with this perspective it’s easier to answer the question positively.
Get the balance right here – think of skills, knowledge and experience that are not essential requirements for the job or you’ll be screening yourself out!! Be warned making statements like “My biggest weakness is being a perfectionist” or “My biggest weakness is not being able to say no.” Good recruiters hate these responses. If you are asked to list your weaknesses – carefully select competencies you are currently addressing with either training or corrective action or explain how you are working on improving this competency. How are you addressing your “weaknesses”?
5. What are your career aspirations for the next 3, 4 or 5 years?
This question may have various time frames but you get the idea. There’s really no right or wrong when answering this question however, if you are not prepared it’s a question that can really throw some candidates. Don’t use the excuse for not having a career plan because of the poor labour market. Think about the companies that have thrived in the last few years – did they stop their marketing efforts or advertising or put the business modelling or strategy on hold because the market’s rubbish? Absolutely not and they wouldn’t have a business if they had put everything on hold. You will not impress or stand out if you use excuses to justify your lack of action or planning.
Be honest and true to yourself – if you are ambitious then show it and vice versa if you are not particularly career orientated and don’t want to head up the department then that’s fine. Organisation’s will need and want a mixture of different career minded individuals and its best you are honest up front – it avoids tears and stress later!
6. Tell me about yourself?
As a professional recruiter this is not a question I would ask a candidate or would ever suggest a recruiting manager ask candidate’s – it’s too risky in today’s litigious market because it could bring up very personal details and information not suitable to discuss in an interview.
However, there are still some “old school” managers whom ask this type of question. In fairness they are probably just trying to build rapport and relax the candidate in the early stages of the interview process. So you’ll need to prepare a short statement that describes you in the workplace. You might want to reword the personal statement on your CV. Make sure you include information that benefits the organisation and not just your personal career achievements. For example, “I’ve spent the last decade supporting the business to attract the best talent to meet their demanding objectives and revenue growth.” How would you prepare for this question?
7. Talk me through your greatest achievement to date?
If you want to stand out from the crowd then this question really gives you that opportunity to shine!! This is the time to be very specific and share examples of your work experience. Talk through a project, task or the objective, the actions you were responsible for taking and the results of your efforts. Include facts and figures and any data to back up what you achieved.
Employers like to hear the impact of your efforts on the business and what you learnt and also the commercial angle of your example. Ask yourself the following questions to prepare a detailed example. Did the objective achieve its purpose? Did it save time and money for the business? Did it raise the profile or contribute to the brand? Did you learn any new skills or meet different people in the organisation? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the difficult questions when you are preparing your examples because the recruiting manager won’t be!!
8. How would your manager describe you at work?
Another great opportunity to share the positive opinions with the interviewer – remember you are in control of how much you share at this stage. However, be very careful if you are trying to hide your true feelings about a given manager or hide a particularly difficult relationship. The interviewer may pick up on your non verbal body language or emotional leakage as we recruiters like to call it!! That’s why it’s really important to prepare for this question.
I remember interviewing a very polished, professional and well educated corporate banker last year and it was definitely an interview of two halves!! The first half the candidate took control of the interview (not something I’d planned) and he shared the information he wanted me to know – all positive of course.
The second half I managed to take back the control and asked about his relationship with his previous managers – a very standard and simple set of questions. Tell me about your last two managers? What was the general management style? Talk through your last appraisal? He was so unprepared and his body language was extremely uncomfortable compared to the first part of the interview. It was very clear to me that he was hiding something and left me with a negative impression. Later on in the process we found out that he was trying to hide something from us during the interview – it wasn’t anything particularly bad but he’d not been open with us and unfortunately we decided not to offer him the job.
9. How would your colleagues describe you at work?
Similar question as above and well worth spending some time thinking and preparing your answer before the interview. It’s an opinion based answer and easy to share positive examples with the interviewer but watch out for that uncomfortable body language if you try to hide stuff!
The interviewers may ask you to share an example of a colleague you’ve had a challenging or difficult relationship with and again it’s so important to spend some time thinking about how you are going to answer this one. If you are explaining a difficult relationship with a colleague make sure you put a positive spin on your answer and share how you have tried to improve the relationship and what you’ve done to remain professional and maintain office harmony.
10. What is your ideal job and working environment?
Again this question is assessing your motivational fit, something employers take very seriously. It’s best to be genuine and answer honestly as this will benefit you as well as the organisation to hire someone who fits into the corporate culture. It can be very stressful to work in an environment that doesn’t fit your values. Most of us will spend much more time at work than at home – so it’s really important you select the right working environment that matches your values and career aspirations.
We’d love to hear about your interview experiences.
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