It takes a lot of effort and hard work to get to the interview stage, so the last thing you want to do is blow your chances once you get there. No matter how many interviews people have been through they can still be stressful occasions right from the buildup to the actual meeting and questioning.
The thought of not getting past this stage weighs heavily on many candidates minds, with the main reasons for apprehension being:
- Not knowing what questions are likely to be asked of them.
- The dread of being interrogated by strangers who also happen to be professionals in their field.
- The uncertainty of how to answer and reply to tough questioning.
- The fear of doing or saying something wrong.
However it does not have to be like this, you can eradicate much of the uncertainty and anxiety by planning, preparing and following some simple rules. On this page discover tips and guidance on how to conduct yourself during an interview and also how to reply to tough or awkward questions. This advice is suitable for both experienced and inexperienced job seekers.
Provide enough information to questions you are asked in interview so this will satisfy the interviewer. However at the same time make sure that you do not go into so much detail that it sounds like you are rambling.
Virtually all the questions you are asked will carry weight, answer then accurately and you will move onto the next stage. Get them wrong and you will not. It is important to remember that all interview questions can easily be answered correctly as long as you prepare for them beforehand.
Common questions asked during an interview and how to answer them:
Tell me about yourself?
They want you to tell them (in your own words) a bit more about your background, work experience, attitude and ambitions. Make your answer brief and to the point. Do not talk about your hobbies, personal likes or dislikes. Finish the answer by focusing on your Unique Selling Proposition, do this by mentioning what you are good at etc.
- I’m a experienced Sales Manager who has worked in the marketing industry for over 10 years. I have a successful track record of setting targets, developing sales teams and then motivating and training these teams to achieve goals.
What are your strengths?
You should have already mentioned your main strengths and weaknesses in your CV or cover letter. To answer any questions like this simply go over what you have written in your resume. However always be prepared to back up any answers you give with an example. Try not to appear big headed or someone with an inflated ego. Add a bit of modesty to any answers you give.
- I have been told that i am honest, reliable and ethical.
- Your sense of urgency, if you know that a task is important, then you will work hard to get it done on time.
- You are a fast learner.
- Ability to communicate with people.
- Flexible enough to handle changing environments.
- Able to cope with setback and learn from my mistakes.
What are your weaknesses?
Mention that you have a flaw, but then also add a suggestion of improving that flaw or demonstrate any actions you are taking to address any weakness. The key to answering questions like this is to show you have learned from your mistakes and are taking concrete steps to address it.
- Occasionally I have been told that I take longer than other colleagues to complete complicated projects or tasks. But this is only because I want to make sure the work I do is to the highest standards.
- My MS PowerPoint skills are weak, so I have enrolled on an evening course to improve them.
- I am sometimes accused of being over friendly.
What NOT to say:
- You are a workaholic.
Why did you leave your last job?
The golden rule here is never to criticize any previous employers.
- There was no real room for growing my career.
- The position you are advertising seems like an excellent match for my knowledge, abilities and qualifications.
- I am keen to use my skill sets and abilities in a different capacity than I have in the past.
- I am looking for a job that has more responsibility.
- The reason for leaving my last job was that I wanted to spend more time with my family. I am now ready to go back into full time employment.
Why do you want to work for our company?
This is essentially the same question as ‘Why did you apply for this job?’ & ‘why do you want to work here?’ Reply to it by showing that you have researched the employer and have logically thought out reasons why you think you are a good match for their requirements. Turn the answer into a compliment to the company you are interviewing for.
- There are only a limited number of opportunities for advancement with my current employer. This is why I’m keen on working for a larger corporation like yours where I believe there are more possibilities to show what I’m capable of.
- I’d like to work for a company where I feel I can make a real difference.
- A common way to reply to this is to research the company beforehand, find something unique about them and then give that as your answer. For instance they may have opened up a new store or launched a new product.
- Give examples of positive things you have heard about them and say you want to be associated with a reputable brand.
- You believe their work environment is more fun, energetic and rewarding.
- My main reason is financial; my complimentary reasons are the opportunity to work for a market leader and also future promotion.
- After researching your company I have discovered that it is an industry leader and has an excellent reputation. I was also greatly impressed by your company’s mission statement, values and culture.
- I feel that your vacancy ideally fits my work experience, skills and qualifications. Therefore I will be able to make a significant contribution to your business as well as fulfill my potential.
- I believe your company will help me to develop my career in the direction I want it to go.
What do your work colleagues think of you?
Be positive but do not go over the top. For instance comment on how associates have in the past remarked on your friendly attitude, thoroughness and ability to get things done on time.
Do you have any questions you would like to ask me?
You are likely to get this question thrown at you towards the end of the interview.
- What do you believe are the biggest challenges your company faces in the near future?
- Can you tell me what brought you to work for the company, (this question is aimed at the interviewer).
- What do you believe are the coming trends in your industry and how do you feel your company is positioned to take them on.
- Following on from our conversation today and my belief that I am a suitable candidate for your position. If my application is successful when do you think I would be required to start work? (Ask this right at the end).
What have your achievements been to date?
Give a solution that is related to work and if possible the job you are applying for. Demonstrate something that shows how you saved previous employer money, made them more efficient or increased revenue.
Tell me about a problem you have solved.
This can be a tricky question to answer, especially if you have never held a supervisory / managerial position or had any form of responsibility. In your replies you need to display resourcefulness, an ability to solve problems, your decision making skills and be able to clearly explain the approach you used. No matter how little work experience you have you should always be able to lead and come up with creative solutions. Describe situations where you came up with an idea that increased efficiency in your office or cut costs after you discovered a cheaper supplier etc.
Where do you see yourself in say four years’ time?
This is also the same question as ‘Where do you want to be in 4 years?’ The recruiter does not want to know about your personal goals i.e. you want a house in the south of France etc. They are only interested in your career ambitions.
Try not to sound too ambitious, for instance saying you want to have been promoted to the head of your department. This can scare off some interviewers who may think you’re after their job! Instead sound ambitious but realistic.
- In four years time I aim to have improved my abilities and to be a leader in my field. This will mean that I can contribute more to my employers and their business.
- That really depends on how well I perform in my job and also what career opportunities come my way. However the bottom line is that I want to have improved my skill sets and be making an ongoing contribution to any organization that i happen to be working for.
What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?
There is no danger in admitting to making a mistake. However to correctly answer this type of query there are certain guidelines that you should follow. Firstly always mention that you identified where you went wrong and have learnt from the experience. Secondly try to give an example of something that happened as far back in your past as possible. This way you can shrug it off as a youthful error and something you would not fall for now that you are more mature and experienced.
- If I had a time machines I would go back to University and taken a degree in Business Studies rather than Hospitality.
- I stayed too many years in a job that was stable but didn’t offer me enough challenges or opportunities for growth.
How would you cope with a difficult colleague?
- This really depends on what my co-worker is doing, the severity of their actions and the specific problems or disruption that they may be causing. Having said that no matter what the situation is, I would always remain in control of any situation and concentrate on my work. I would not take any arguments or heated discussions personally or hold grudges against work colleagues.
- I would avoid them and only talk to them or cooperate with them when required to in the course of my daily duties.
What do you like about your present job?
Try to link what you ‘like’ to any of the requirements of the job you are applying for. Also keep in mind that you are looking to leave your present jobs so don’t make a big list.
- It provides me with constant new challenges to test my abilities.
- Communicating and meeting with new people.
- Able to use your initiative.
- Working as part of a team.
What do you dislike about your present job?
Remember not to directly criticize or be negative about the company, managers or supervisors. Instead find other general issues to focus on.
- Sometimes it is difficult for me to get a sense of my own achievement in a big company like my present employer.
- There are very few opportunities for advancement with my present employer because it is a small company.
What NOT to mention:
- Overtime issues.
- Salary expectations.
You’ve changed jobs five times in the past five years, why should we think you are likely to stay here for a long time?
This is the same as asking why have you changed jobs so frequently? It is likely to be asked if your curriculum vitae shows that not held down a long term position but have regularly jumped from one job to another. When answering you have no real option but to lump all your previous employers together. At all costs avoid showing that you are a difficult personality to get along with or that you have a habit of leaving jobs abruptly.
- I do not believe that my career history is an accurate reflection of my character or abilities. Stability is important to me and I am anxious to work long term for one company. Although my CV shows that I have worked for a five different companies over a short period of time, the reason for this was that I had an elderly and frail relative to look after during this period.
- Say that previous job roles failed to challenge you.
- State that you current desire is to find long term employment and then give a reason for this i.e. your recently bought a house, just got married or are in a new committed long term relationship etc.
- Mention and highlight any jobs you have held for long periods.
- Point out the duties in the job you are applying for and state that these are the challenges you have been looking for.
What do you do outside of work?
If possible highlight interests and hobbies that are related to the role you are applying for. Talk about any foreign languages you know or exotic places you have visited. Also give examples of activities that portray you as a responsible, sociable person who has a friendly personality and who can get along within a team. These types of responses will help set you apart from other candidates.
- Foreign languages.
- Winning any competitions i.e. chess, karate.
- Running marathons.
- A member of any societies or charities.
What’s your current salary?
Questions about your current compensation may sound personal, but they can still be asked at interviews. Never lie or stretch the truth, as if you are found out it could jeopardize your entire application.
- My present employer pays me well outside of the norm, however I would not like to limit my job prospects by using that salary as a comparison.
- As a highly valued member of the company, I am paid on the very high end of current market rates.
What do you enjoy about the industry you are in?
This can be a tough question that will put you on the spot. When responding be polite, diplomatic and give a good business related answer.
- I can’t really give you an accurate answer because at this time I don’t know the scope of the job, it’s responsibilities, hours, etc.
- The job I perform, the salary I receive and the circumstances at my current company are not really comparable to the opportunity we are discussing today. However when I consider my skill sets, academic qualifications and work experience, I am confident that a salary between £30,000 – £40,000 would be appropriate.