1. Tell me about yourself
This is probably the single most popular question that interviewers use for opening an interview. But don’t take the question as an invitation to recount your entire life’s history. When you hear this question, answer by pretending that they had actually asked you: Tell me briefly about your professional experience and the relevant qualities that make you a strong candidate for this job.
Don’t make the classic mistake of sharing too much personal information with your interviewer.
All the interviewer needs is a snapshot – a summary lasting no more than a minute or 90 seconds – of your background and experience. Be sure to prepare one before your interview.
I’m currently the floor supervisor at Molly’s, which is a busy bar and restaurant in Brighton. I’m responsible for all aspects of management, ranging from stock taking and ordering to end of day cashing up. I run a team of seven staff and am responsible for training, hiring, and firing. The hours can be quite long, but I enjoy it and like the mix of activities from dealing with customers to managing the staff.
Read the original job advertisement and pick up on the key words and phrases the interviewers are looking for. These may be about certain skills or experience, or perhaps human qualities they want the perfect candidate to have. Squeeze some of these words and phrases into your answer. For instance, if the advert mentions that the employer is looking for ‘a supervisor with excellent communication and people management skills’, mention any supervisory experience you’ve gained, as well as the fact that you are articulate and enjoy communicating and liaising with a wide range of people.
2. What are your strengths?
You can work out the key skills and characteristics that the employer is looking for. Paraphrasing a few of these back to the employer is an effective way to answer this question.
When paraphrasing key skills and characteristics, make sure to change the wording slightly – simply repeating them verbatim will make you sound like a mindless parrot.
I’ve been told that I’m a very good manager. My team tells me that I give them a lot of freedom in how to do their work, which they really appreciate. They also say that I’m really enthusiastic, so when we’re faced with too much work, they tell me that my manner really helps to keep them motivated and calm. My boss also tells me that I’m very innovative in terms of finding new ways of working that cut out inefficiency.
Try to sound confident without sounding over-confident or arrogant. If you’re worried about sounding over-confident, use phrases such as I’ve been told that I am . . . and I believe that I am . . . rather than just saying I am. . . .
3. What are your weaknesses?
If the interviewer asks about your strengths, they will almost certainly ask about your weaknesses too. Being unable to describe any weaknesses suggests to the interviewer that you lack self-awareness or are a bit egotistical – are you really saying that you are completely perfect at everything that you do?
When discussing your weaknesses, always talk about how you compensate for them, too. Describe the actions or steps that you take to ensure that your weaknesses don’t affect your performance at work.
Consider this example of a weakness and how a candidate compensates for it:
My natural tendency is to make up my mind very quickly and in the past this has got me into trouble. But I have come to realize that speed is not always appropriate so I always remind myself that I may need to collect more information and weigh up the pros and cons. Now a day, if I am at all uncertain about a decision, I will seek input from colleagues.
Pick a couple of minor weaknesses that are of little relevance to the job. For example, if the job involves a lot of contact with customers and colleagues, then you can say that you get bored when you have to spend a lot of time working on your own. Or if the job offers you a lot of independence and flexibility, you may argue that one of your weaknesses is that you get very frustrated when you are micro-managed.
4. What are your biggest achievements?
An interviewer may ask for just one achievement or a handful – so give this question some thought beforehand. Wherever possible, keep most of your achievements work-related and focus on the benefits that you achieved for other people, such as:
- Increased customer or client satisfaction
- Greater revenues or profit
- A bigger slice of market share
- The elimination of inefficiencies or errors
- Cost reduction
- Improved relationship morale within the team or with other stakeholders
- Enhanced reputation of your employer
An IT manager may say:
We were asked by our head office in the US to upgrade all of our staff’s computers to a new software package. We have over 600 computers across three locations in the UK and it was imperative that we handled the migration within the space of a few days to ensure that there would be no compatibility issues. This was back in March, which is traditionally a really busy time of year for our company. I had to attend a lot of meetings with senior managers to persuade them that it was important. And I had to co-ordinate the efforts of my team to ensure that all of the computers were upgraded within those few days. It took a lot of planning and hard work, but I was really proud of the fact that we managed the migration and had only a few minor problems and no complaints from the staff.
If an interviewer asks you specifically to talk about an achievement outside of work, always relate it back to the kinds of skills or characteristics that would make you a good addition to the team. And don’t just assume that the link is obvious explain the link to the interviewer. For example, passing a piano exam is evidence of your ability to focus on achieving goals that you set for yourself. Perhaps a sporting triumph is evidence of your commitment and dedication to improving your health. Or raising money for a charity is evidence of your ability to work with a team to a deadline.
5. What would you say you Unique Selling Point is?
A Unique Selling Point (USP) is a bit of marketing jargon. The interviewer is asking what makes you unique and why you stand out from the other candidates. As you can never know exactly what skills and experiences the other candidates have, talk about how you differ from (and are a better candidate than) your peers (people that you know at your own level in your industry). Or you can argue that your combination of skills and characteristics makes you unique.
What hopefully makes me unique is the fact that I have bundles of enthusiasm and a real ambition to progress. I am ever so keen to get on and build a career in this industry, and I think that you would find it difficult to find someone who has my energy and willingness to work hard.
6. Why do you want to leave your current company?
You need to avoid the negative aspects of your current employment situation such as dull colleagues or a hopeless boss. Focus instead on the positive qualities of the company that is interviewing you.
It’s not that I want to leave my current company so much as wanting to join yours. I enjoy my current work and have some great colleagues and I’m sure that I’ll keep in touch with quite a few of them after I leave. But what I hope to gain from joining your organization is the greater involvement in international projects that I’ve not had so far in my career.
7. Why should we hire you?
This question sounds quite intimidating and the interviewers can often sound as if they doubt your ability. But answering this question successfully only requires you to summarize the most important skills and qualities that you have and the employer is looking for.
I have already mentioned the skills that I believe I have in terms of growing existing accounts and winning new ones. I also have an extensive network of contacts throughout the industry, which allows me to keep abreast of ideas and developments in the field. In addition to that, I’m determined to become a partner in a business within the next 18 months so you know that I’ll be dedicated and hard working in order to achieve that.
8. How do you handle stress and pressure?
While the answer to this question is obviously yes, be careful not to exaggerate the extent to which you can cope with pressure. Try to relate your answer to the demands that the job is likely to make on you.
For example, if the job is likely to involve significant pressure, the following response may be fairly appropriate:
I positively thrive on pressure. My worst nightmare is a job that is entirely predictable and mundane. I really enjoy the fact that my job is different every day and you never know what new situations or challenges you may be facing.