Key Interviewer Questions, what do they mean and how to answer them
how to be the fly that outsmarts the spider’s web
Recruiters are trained and hammered to interview the bejeezus out of you, and they often ask different questions which aim is to retrieve similar information as an answer. Think of them as civilian police inspectors. Below we will give you ample instructions how to navigate this potential quagmire. Note to the unwitting: These answers/general directions will help you if they correlate with the truth and are as sincere as only the truth allows.
Hello, and tell me about yourself?
This is commonly the first part of any interview, regardless of position, role or seniority. Here you should focus on your professional life, goals and dreams. Not being an invitation to retell the story of childhood, family and relationships, a brief summary of education, career and interests is what’s expected, finished off with a short explanation of your strengths and the way you could positively impact the company. Here you can show an attitude for success, professional and personal values that are closely related to the company.
In some rare/high position cases, you might be expected to present yourself in 30-60 seconds, this is called an ‘elevator pitch’. We would suggest practicing for it by explaining who you are and answering what you can do for the company in a clear, crisp and confident manner. A fictional example of such a personal resume would be ‘I am Augustus Caesar and I have a proven track record in ruling and expanding the Roman Empire. I am currently interested in your company/jobs in the field, where I would continue to conquer’.
Why are you applying for this opening?
Show basic knowledge about the job, preferably obtained via your own research. Provide evidence from past professional/academic experiences that support your interest and affinity for the role. A short example would be ‘I would like to be a part of a leading team in marketing research and my previous experience or university degree in mass media/marketing give me a strong background for this job.’ Don’t forget to mention what you can bring to the job.
Tells us what you know about our company?
Again, presenting general information about the company, obtained through own research, word of mouth or through other employees shows that you are prepared, knowing what to expect and are genuinely interested in the position.
What makes you qualified for this role?
Here you can reaffirm your interest in the job and what it is about your past experiences and qualification that makes you perfect for the role. Showing enthusiasm and supporting your answers with examples is a good course of action, ‘My internship at the Generic Company gave me wide exposure and experience in the area of market research, which I can use and apply here’. Expand on all your past experiences, skills and anything relevant that can make you a unique fit for the job. Even when your past experience has been in a different job field, you can still focus on commonalities between your past and future job.
What can you offer us that someone else can’t?
The key here is to demonstrate your main skills, strengths and personal traits. Show that you are beginning to think about contributions you can make to longstanding problems in the company, right after you ask for a few. Appear to be the proactive person who takes responsibility and assumes action, that every employer dreams of!
What do you want out of a job?
Honesty has a quantity of its own here, try to reinforce your thoughts with buzzwords such as great work culture, rewarding (the work itself, not cash), team environment, opportunities for growth etc.
Why should we hire you?
Because you possess the skills, qualities and experience needed for the position and on top of that you’re enthusiastic, intelligent, flexible, having a track record of professional success and most importantly willing to learn. Period!
Why are you looking to make a career shift?
Mention all relative experience and skills that can support your move towards the direction of the new career path. Alongside that, you need to show that you have thought about the change in detail and have a strong interest in the new career.
What made you leave your last job?
Avoid using this as a chance to badmouth previous employers or colleagues. Try to give a positive answer: you had nothing left to learn and were looking for new challenges, there was a company restructuring, you achieved all there was to achieve at the previous company, etc.
How long will it take you to start making a difference?
Here you should show enthusiasm and aptitude for learning, as well as making a verbal commitment to putting in all the necessary effort in order to start making a contribution soon.
Employers have a strong affinity towards employees who are willing to learn, have a valuable set of skills and are capable of making financial returns as soon as possible.
Why do you prefer us over the competition?
Show knowledge about the company, and the belief that they are the foremost innovative force in their field or that you personally use and enjoy their products. Make it known that this is the special company you want to be in, the company where you can make a significant contribution, it won’t hurt if you also mention why you think that.
What are your key weaknesses?
It seems like an unwise idea to take this as an invitation to dwell on your key weaknesses and character failings. You should avoid focusing on your constant irritation with strict deadlines or the fact that some days you can’t focus and would rather be full of rage hitting people for a living instead of working in an office. Try to turn the question to your benefit. To give an example, you can be ‘overzealous against company resource/time waste’ or ‘paying extreme attention to details/striving for perfection’. A different approach would be to mention a mild or lesser weakness in the past that you successfully overcame, with proactive measures and became a better person as a result, thus showing your commitment to self-betterment.
Another approach you may take is to mention a weak point that has little or no impact on your future position and expand on it. For example, if you’re applying for an accountant position and mention that your grasp on direct marketing skills could use some work, it won’t raise any red flags in the recruiter’s mind.
How about your key strengths?
Think about traits that have helped you being a successful professional in the past, while the most valuable and relevant to the position you’re applying for should be put forward and focused on. Whether they are leadership skills, team player skills, ability to work well under stress and short deadlines, technical skills, creativity, ingenuity, language skills etc. Choose your most relevant strengths and present them to fit your current needs.
What are your career goals (Where do you see yourself in X years)?
It is good to show a defined long-term vision about your future in the chosen career field. What defines long-term may differ from person to person, but usually, it’s around 2-3 years or more. Some long-term goals might be personal or professional development, increasing your contribution to the company or being an integral part of the company.
How would your colleagues describe you?
Avoid putting on a negative spin here. Generally, employers are looking for well-mannered and pleasant employees with the appropriate soft and hard skills, which would enable them to go above and beyond in their job.
How would your boss describe you?
Honesty and sincerity would be beneficial, also avoiding overemphasizing the negatives (if any).
What did you most like/ dislike about your past job?
Avoid using this as an opportunity to shed a negative light on your past job/boss/colleagues/work culture and environment. Keep it positive in the direction, where you succeeded in your last job and are looking for a new more challenging place in which to succeed, again.
Was there a situation in the past where you showed initiative? Give us an example of you creating or altering something.
Here you can describe any advancement in your job that you either took part of or initiated. Can be something small like optimizing office space, establishing a relationship with a supplier that saved the company money, etc. Focus on giving examples of good things that happened precisely because you showed initiative. Things that most likely wouldn’t have happened if you just did your job without giving something extra from yourself that went outside of your immediate tasks/prerogatives. A few good buzzwords here would be: ‘outside the box, critical, killer app, etc.’
What were your main responsibilities in your last job? Give us a specific example.
It is a good idea to have them on a list, with the most relevant to the new job at the top of that list. Avoid focusing on the more menial tasks and those that are of no relevance to the job you’re applying for.
What could you tell us about your greatest achievements?
Most of us have something worth noting in our professional life. Whatever that may be, make sure to give a solid metric if possible, ‘decreased spending by x/y%, rebranded and successfully marketed an old product, increased customer satisfaction by x/y%, etc.’ If you are just beginning your professional life it’s perfectly acceptable to mention anything of note – from extracurricular activities to internships, part-time jobs, courses, and grades.
Do you work better independently or in teams?
Most modern jobs require you to work in a team or, at least, have strong corroborative elements woven in them. Show that you can be a team player who thrives in such an environment, but also are perfectly capable of working alone when the need arises.
How would you sum up your work performance under pressure?
Give the impression that you are indeed capable of working under pressure/stress and provide proof that you have worked under pressure in times past, without sacrificing your professionalism or the quality of the tasks at hand. A good approach would be to provide examples of ways with which you preemptively manage excessive pressure, i.e. by properly managing your time and workflow, or that you plan ahead and allocate/delegate tasks to colleagues. All done in order to meet the target or deadline on time and do well for the company, of course.
Are you currently actively job hunting? / What other jobs have you applied for?
Avoid mentioning jobs that are in a completely different career field, because it might be seen as a sidetrack or lack of determination/dedication on your part towards the job you’re currently applying for. Be sure to mention any offers, pending or already passed interviews from competing companies.
How did you perform in university?
This question is more relevant if your professional life is just taking off. Still, you can say that you were very much involved with the university courses and events, student activities, sports, social life and the lot. Don’t forget to mention areas in which you did exceptionally well, if there is interest, your future employer will check the information.
What are the hours you would like to work in?
Showing flexibility by expressing the willingness to put in whatever hours are needed to finish any given task will be received with a smile. Do not forget to mention any time frames you need for yourself. An example being: having to leave work 30-60 minutes earlier in order to attend lectures or a language course, provided you can make that time up somehow.
What constitutes your dream job/ working environment?
This is a slippery question and is usually asked by good recruiters before they tell you anything concrete about the way things are in their organization, so you can’t help but tell the truth. Thus testing your work-culture compatibilities with the company in a very malevolent manner. When you are speaking about your dream job, being vague in describing it is more passable than in other fields, but when you end up answering about the ideal working environment there are some issues. The key here is to be prepared and only commentate on things that are universally acceptable as good for any business, instead of giving black/white statements as in, I like or dislike open office, say that you prefer to work with friendly people in a comfortable working environment.
What are your financial expectations?
Remuneration is oft a tricky subject of discussion and it pays to be prepared here more than in other areas. In an ideal situation, you will have researched the market and know your worth. A good immediate comeback would be,” I am aware that the salary ranges for this position in the industry are from this $ to that $ amount, or, I would like to have all my responsibilities established before we can seriously speak about remuneration. Avoid answering blatant questions asking for your current pay, and if you have to answer quickly do it via a range: I’d be ok with this, to that amount $ initially.