I have attended various graduate events recently and whilst speaking with candidates about how to secure their perfect role the most common questions I have been asked are around how to handle specific ‘tricky’ interview questions. This got me thinking about all the times I have been thrown in an interview by what was seemingly an odd or irrelevant question. Here are my tips to help you avoid any pitfalls!
Most interview questions are designed to establish one of the following; your skills and experience to do the job, your enthusiasm and interest for the job and whether you will fit into the organisation or team. The top three interview questions I have been asked are actually considered ‘standard’ interview questions but they still manage to put the fear in students and graduates.
1. Tell me about yourself?
This or something similar is the most common interview question, this is actually one of the best opportunities an interviewer can give you because you can answer any way you’d like. Obviously they are not looking for your full life history starting “I was born in 198…”
Ideally your answer will be around three to five minutes long and should consist of a short summary of your background, what you are currently doing (e.g. ‘studying’, ‘working as X’, ‘just back from travelling’ etc.), a brief history of relevant experience to the role in question (e.g. ‘whilst studying I did three internships related to X’), a summary of your anticipated next step (e.g. ‘having had these experiences I am now looking for a permanent role in X where I can use my X,Y,Z skills), and a couple of points about other more social / personal interests.
2. What are your weaknesses?
We are so focussed on the idea of selling ourselves at an interview that the job of having to highlight a weakness and that we may not be the perfect candidate for the position is always a tough one. There are two schools of thought in answering this question;
1 – Try to identify a “weakness” that is a positive e.g. “I like to make things happen and get frustrated if too long is spent sitting around discussing it without action” shows that you are a results / action driven individual which is primarily perceived in a positive light.
2 – Pick a weakness that is acceptable for the job in hand and demonstrate how you have worked on improving on that weakness e.g. If you have trouble multi-tasking, talk about the organisational system you have implemented to allow you to move seamlessly from task to task.
Of course, there are some weaknesses that are never an appropriate answer to in an interview. If you frequently miss deadlines or don’t get along well with co-workers or are a terrible timekeeper, keep it to yourself and work on addressing those problems as soon as possible!
3. Where do you see yourself in five years time?
The purpose of this question is to understand whether you are looking for a career or just a job. This question is especially tough if you are at the beginning of your career, when your path is less clear and you may be unsure where you are headed. The interviewer wants to understand more about your career goals and how this position would fit into your grand plan. They care about your career goals because they want to hire someone who is motivated, proactive, and likely to stick around and work hard if hired.
What’s most important is to demonstrate that you have clear goals, and that the position you are interviewing for makes sense as a part of your plan. Make sure that the goals you state are not only compatible with, but directly related to, the role you are interviewing for. They want to know that you’re driven but that you have realistic goals. Unless you know exactly the timescales for promotion within the particular organisation you are interviewing for its best to stay quite generic i.e. “In the next five years I’d like to see myself here advancing to the next level or at least learning new skills and taking on new responsibilities.”
As mentioned earlier the above are now considered standard interview questions and hopefully my tips will have helped prepare your answers a little better! But I thought I would leave you with a few of the more ‘quirky’ questions I have heard and some I have personally encountered!
What is your favourite colour? If you were an animal what type would you be and why? Top three people you would invite to a dinner party? If you were a car what type and why?
If you are still concerned about interviews be sure to read my other blog about surviving the interviews & assessment centres.