Interviews can be daunting even for the most confident people. Our CEO, Brian Cleary, has significant experience of coaching and mentoring candidates for interview. He has given us twenty tips that any candidate attending an interview needs to know.
1. So, tell me a little about yourself.
I’d be very surprised if you haven’t been asked this one at every interview. It’s probably the most asked question because it sets the stage for the interview and it gets you talking. Be careful not to give the interviewer your life story here. You don’t need to explain everything from birth to present day. Relevant facts about education, your career and your current life situation are fine.
2. Why are you looking (or why did you leave you last job)?
This should be a straightforward question to answer, but it can trip you up. Presumably you are looking for a new jobbecause you want to advance your career and get a position that allows you to grow as a person and an employee. It’s not a good idea to mention money here, it can make you sound mercenary. And if you are in the unfortunate situation of having been downsized, stay positive and be as brief as possible about it. If you were fired, you’ll need a good explanation. But once again, stay positive.
3. Tell me what you know about this company?
Do your homework before you go to any interview. Whether it’s being the Engineering Director or the Graduate Lab Analyst, you should know about the company or business you’re going to work for. Has this company been in the news lately? Who are the people in the company you should know about? Do the background work, it will make you stand out as someone who comes prepared, and is genuinely interested in the company and the job.
4. Why do you want to work at X Company?
This should be directly related to the last question. Any research you’ve done on the company should have led you to the conclusion that you’d want to work there. After all, you’re at the interview, right? Put some thought into this answer before you have your interview, mention your career goals and highlight forward-thinking goals and career plans.
5. If your previous co-workers were here, what would they say about you?
Ok, this is not the time for full disclosure. If some people from your past are going to say that you are boring, you don’t need to bring that up. Stay positive, always, and maybe have a few specific quotes in mind. “They’d say I was a hard worker” or even better “John Smith has always said I was the most reliable, creative problem-solver he’d ever met.”
6. Have you done anything to further your experience?
This could include anything from a PHD to hobbies and sports. If it’s related, it’s worth mentioning.
7. Where else have you applied?
This is a good way to hint that you’re in demand, without sounding like you’re trooping yourself all over town. So, be honest and mention a few other companies but don’t go into detail. The fact that you’re seriously looking and keeping your options open is what the interviewer is driving at.
8. How are you when you’re working under pressure?
Once again, there are a few ways to answer this but they should all be positive. You may work well under pressure, you may thrive under pressure, and you may actually PREFER working under pressure. If you say you crumble at the first sight of pressure, this is not going to help you get your foot in the door.
9. What motivates you to do a good job?
The answer to this one is not money, even if it is. You should be motivated by life’s noble pursuits. You want recognition for a job well done. You want to become better at your job. You want to help others or be a leader in your field.
10. What’s your greatest strength?
This is your chance to shine. You’re being asked to explain why you are a great employee, so don’t hold back and do stay positive. You could be someone who thrives under pressure, a great motivator, an amazing problem solver or someone with extraordinary attention to detail. The interviewer is seeking work-related strengths.
11. What’s your biggest weakness?
If you’re completely honest, you may be kicking yourself in the backside. If you say you don’t have one, you’re obviously lying. This is a horrible question and one that politicians have become masters at answering. They say things like “I’m perhaps too committed to my work and don’t spend enough time with my family.” Oh, there’s a fireable offence. I’ve even heard “I think I’m too good at my job, it can often make people jealous.” If you’re asked this question, give a small, work-related flaw that you’re working hard to improve. Example: “I’ve been told I occasionally focus on details and miss the bigger picture, so I’ve been spending time laying out the complete project every day to see my overall progress.”
12. Let’s talk about salary. What are you looking for?
Run for cover! This is one tricky game to play in an interview. Even if you know the salary range for the job, if you answer first you’re already showing all your cards. You want as much as possible, the employer wants you for as little as you’re willing to take. My suggestion is to answer like this “I’m very interested in the role and if you make me an offer I will definitely consider it”. By answering like this you are putting the ball back into the interviewers court.
13. Are you good at working in a team?
Unless you have the I.Q. of a houseplant, you’ll always answer YES to this one. It’s the only answer. How can anyone function inside an organization if they are a loner? You may want to mention what part you like to play in a team though; it’s a great chance to explain that you’re a natural leader.
14. Tell me a suggestion you have made that was implemented.
It’s important here to focus on the word “implemented.” There’s nothing wrong with having a thousand great ideas, but if the only place they live is on your notepad what’s the point? Better still, you need a good ending. If your previous company took your advice and ended up going bankrupt, that’s not such a great example either. Be prepared with a story about an idea of yours that was taken from idea to implementation, and considered successful.
15. Has anything ever irritated you about people you’ve worked with?
Of course, you have a list as long as your arm. But you can’t say that, it shows you as being negative and difficult to work with. The best way to answer this one is to think for a while and then say something like “I’ve always got on just fine with my co-workers actually.”
16. Is there anyone you just could not work with?
No. Well, unless you’re talking about murderers, racists, thieves or other unsavoury characters, you can work with anyone. Otherwise you could be flagged as someone who’s picky and difficult if you say, “I can’t work with anyone who’s a Chelseafan. Sorry.”
17. Tell me about any issues you’ve had with a previous boss.
Arrgh! If you fall for this one you shouldn’t be hired anyway. The interviewer is testing you to see if you’ll speak badly about your previous supervisor. Simply answer this question with exteme tact, diplomacy and if necessary, a big loss of memory. In short, you’ve never had any issues.
18. Are you willing to put the interests of X Company ahead of your own?
If you say yes, you will sound desperate. If you say no, you’re disloyal to the company. I’m afraid that you’ll probably have to say yes to this one though, because you’re trying to be the perfect employee at this point.
19. So, explain why I should hire you?
As I’m sure you know, “because I’m great” or “I need a job” are not good answers here. This is a time to give the employer a list of your greatest talents that just so happen to match the job description. Don’t focus on other potential candidates here. Focus on yourself and your talents, not other people’s flaws.
20. Finally, do you have any questions to ask me?
I’ll finish the way I started, with one of the most common questions asked in interviews. This directly relates to the research you’ve done on the company and also gives you a chance to show how eager and prepared you are. You’ll probably want to ask about benefits if they haven’t been covered already. A good generic one is “how soon could I start, if I were offered the job of course.” You may also ask what you’d be working on. Specifically, in the role you’re applying for and how that affects the rest of the company. Always have questions ready, greeting this one with a blank stare is a rotten way to finish your interview. Good luck!