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As a professional recruiter, a large part of my role involves assisting the individuals I am representing with interview training and preparation so that they have a successful and a productive meeting and are able to present themselves and highlight their skills and experience in a positive way. Organisations and specific clients have varying approaches to interviews from an informal discussion around an opportunity and an individual’s CV and experience to panel interviews encompassing structured competency based questions and presentations.
Although interview questions and styles may vary, in essence they are all trying to establish the following:
1. Your skills and experience to do the job
2. Your enthusiasm and interest for the job
3. Whether you will fit in with the existing team and business
If you can answer these questions, using real-life examples to illustrate your points, then you should be able to answer most of the questions that arise including the following frequently asked questions.
Tell me about yourself?
This question or something similar usually starts every interview. Your answer should be well-rehearsed, confidently delivered and last between 3-5 minutes. It should also:
• Focus on the areas of most relevance to the job in question
• Include some impressive achievements e.g. improvements made
• Convey your enthusiasm for the job
• Avoid too much personal or non work information at this stage!
What are your key skills/strengths?
Focus on what you know a particular business is looking for. I spend a lot of time with the clients I am working with so I understand their businesses, teams and requirements and I am then able to pass this information on to you about the requirements of a particular opportunity. Use this information to make your responses relevant.
What are your weaknesses?
Choose a weakness that is not a key focus for a particular opportunity but that could be construed as a positive e.g. “I like to make things happen and get frustrated if too long is spent sitting around discussing it without action”. Or alternatively, chose something that used to be a weakness but which you have improved upon e.g. presentations – here you should discuss the steps you have taken to overcome you weakness.
Why did you leave your last job?
Your answer should be positive and upbeat even if the circumstances were difficult. If you were made redundant, depersonalise it by talking about company restructuring rather than your individual circumstance. Never criticise a previous employer no matter how tempting.
Why do you want this job?
Your answer should reinforce why you are such a good fit for the job and then convey your enthusiasm for the role e.g.
• Good match between your skills and their requirements
• Interested in the product/market/sector
• Company’s excellent reputation, exciting challenge etc.
• Do not say (even if it’s true) that you just need a job, or you want it because it’s local.
Tell me about a difficult scenario at work and how you dealt with it
They are testing how you cope under pressure as well as your problem-solving and communication skills. Good examples are where you:
• Helped resolve or improve a difficult situation
• Were resilient in adverse conditions
• Showed emotional intelligence and cool-headedness
• Avoid any examples which still feel sensitive, because in a high-pressure interview situation, old emotions can easily resurface and throw you off balance.
Tell me about an achievement of which you are proud?
Choose work-related examples that shows a tangible benefit to the business. Personal achievements should only be included if they are very impressive or prestigious. My advice would be to focus on closely related areas to a specific role.
What are your career goals?
They are checking what your aspirations are and if this fits with the role and team/business structure on offer. I would be honest about this as a large part of an interview is also for you to establish if a particular opportunity is the right fit for you, however, I would focus on what you are looking to achieve in the next 3-5 years and how this fits in with the opportunity on offer.
What do you know about our organisation?
You need to know the following:
• Company structure, finances, products and services, key staff
• Customers and competitors
• Market trends and challenges
Whatever the interview style, my advice would be that it is always best to over prepare and have short sharp and punchy examples around experience and competencies that roll off the tongue. This along with enthusiasm about an opportunity, knowledge of a business and sector following some research and meaningful well thought out questions should all lend itself to having a good interview.