Types of interview questions
There are two types of interview questions:
Structured questions are designed to be straight forward and relate to the job you are interviewing for. These questions tend to be generic and while seeking a new opportunity you will come across these types of questions more than once.
EXAMPLE: ‘What attracted you to this role/our company?’
Person-specific are slightly more difficult to answer as they relate to the individual. These are often used to identify and investigate anything on your CV that shows an unusual career choice or length of absence.
Person-specific questions may be used to identify;
Frequent changes in employment
Gaps in your career history
Lack of experience in terms of qualifications, training or job specific experience
Inconsistency in you CV/ dates that do not match up perfectly
EXAMPLE: ‘What were you doing in the career gap between 2001 and 2010?’
These questions are not designed to make you crumble during interview but will probe and test how well you know your CV and your resilience to interviewing.
How should I deal with these types of questions?
The first thing to remember is: do not panic or become defensive. You should always remain polite and do not argue with your interviewer, as this will reflect badly on you.
TIP By using words like ‘however’ and ‘despite this’ you can explain your reasons, clearly and concisely while focusing on the positive and demonstrating professionalism.
Let’s face it; most of us get nervous when being interviewed. The best advice we can give you is to try to stay calm. Interviewers anticipate nerves and will take this into consideration when asking you questions. The questions they ask are designed to assess your suitability for the job and get an idea of what sort of individual you are. They are not designed to harass you, to make you feel uncomfortable or to make you feel inadequate. An interviewer is looking for your ability to react under pressure and by using the ‘count to three principle’ you will come across as confident, calm and collected whilst demonstrating your suitability for the company and the job.
It is as simple as this:
Listen to what the interviewer has to say.
Take a moment to digest the question.
Give a short but informative response that is relevant to the role.
When answering a question, it is important to consider pitch, tone and pace. These three indicate how prepared and confident an individual is and if used correctly show an interviewer that you are calm and collected.
What do your pitch, tone and pace say about you?
Heightened pitch shows stress and discomfort.
Elevated pitch also shows panic.
Flat tones show disinterest and can be perceived as boredom.
Fast pace shows nervousness and impatience.
Take a deep breath and try to stay calm, keep you pitch even and imagine you are talking to someone that you know. Try to pitch your voice according to the interviewer, by matching the pitch you will appear to be on the same level as they are.
Pace is all about articulating yourself well. When considering your pace make sure you are clear and consistent, do not rush your words and maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
What are interviewers looking for in my answer?
An interviewer is looking for well informed and relevant answers. Quite often there is more than one interviewer and they will ask a mix of questions.
I have gone blank, what do I do?!
In many cases people go blank when asked questions as nerves take over. Interviewers are predominantly seeking answers that apply to the position and many of the questions will concern your suitability for the role.
If you do happen to freeze or your mind goes blank, do not be afraid to take a moment to collect yourself and mention your nerves to the interviewer.
A good answer is one that is relevant to the job, interests the interviewer and shows you are a suitable employee for the company.
You will find that if invited back to the second interview stage you will be asked far more person specific questions.
Second stage interview questions
Second interview questions will differ from the first stage for several reasons:
The interviewer is often different – the chances are the person you are going to be interviewed by during this interview is the person you are going to work for. Quite often the second stage will include two interviewers. One, your potential manager and second the decision maker in the company (a Director or Supervisor).
Your skills will be focused on – you will be asked questions concerning your skills. For example, ‘’can you use software x?”.
When preparing for these questions have a good look into the job specification/advertisement and compare these to what you have already done.
If this is a career change or the start of your career, be sure to demonstrate in your answers your ability to adapt and learn new skills. Use sentences like “while I have not done X I have done Y and feel that I would be able to pick this up very quickly if shown”. This demonstrates your willingness to learn and shows your commitment to getting the job.
They need to know specifics – a second interview stage may be used to go through more sensitive areas of the interview process such as salary, benefits, gaps in CVs, why you left your last role etc. Make sure you are equipped to answer these questions by preparing yourself beforehand. Get to the interview 10 minutes early and take some notes to review before you go in.
Short time-frame – if you’re being interviewed to replace someone who has either been promoted/changed departments or left the organisation, the vacancy will have a time limit. Your interviewer will be looking to test and probe you in as little time as possible, ensuring that they find the right person for the role in the shortest amount of time. In this case the interviewer may have only invited two candidates back for second interview making this the most important interview stage as a job offer may be on the cards.
Sample interview questions and answers
Q1) Why do you want this job?
A: This is a generic interview question and you answer will be heavily dependent on how well you know the company you are interviewing at and what you know of the role. Preparation and planning is key, fail to prepare and you must prepare to fail. A good response to this question would be something like, ‘this role is the right role for me to further my career in my chosen field’.
Q2) What is your greatest strength?
A: Another generic question. The key to this answer is making it relevant to the role you are interviewing for. Try to relate the answer back to the role and tailor your answer to traits they are looking for in the job specifications.
Q3) What would you say is your biggest weakness?
A: This question often throws many candidates during interview. Do not take this as a negative, as you can give an answer that turns one of your weaknesses into a positive. For example, my greatest weakness is that I am a perfectionist who wants to make sure everything I do is at the highest level possible and I will not be satisfied until my work is flawless.
Q4) What are your salary expectations?
A: Before you answer this question, you must make sure you know how much the job and you are worth! This question and its answer have the power to discount you from the interview process.
Make sure you know what your salary expectations are to take this role and whether the salary ticks all the boxes. Try not to be too committal to a salary at this stage as once you have given your salary expectations you cannot change them later in the process.
A good answer to this would be, “I understand what the role is offering, and I am interested in pursuing this opportunity further” or “I am flexible, based upon the position and overall package”.
You do not want to price yourself out of the market. You need to demonstrate that you are willing to be realistic and take a salary that the market dictates is reasonable. You need to know the full package details including benefits, career prospects, commissions and whether there is future earning potential.
This could mean you take a lower salary initially and negotiate a pay review within 3-6 months when you have proven your worth to the organisation.
Q5) What motivates you?
A: There is no right or wrong answer to a question like this. The employer is looking to see the key to you becoming successful in the job they are interviewing you for. Your interviewer is not looking for an answer like £1,000,000 or a personal jet!
Good answers to a question like this would be, “I am motivated by the desire to do a good job in whatever role I am doing. I want to excel and be successful in my job both for my own satisfaction and for my employer”.
Q6) Tell me about yourself
A: This is another generic question that often catches people out.
You need to keep your answer relevant, to the point and do not waffle. By telling the interviewer your past successes and what you enjoy doing, you will give them an insight into what sort of person you are and whether you will fit into the team.
This answer should last no longer than 3 minutes and focus 75% on work related subjects and 25% on personal.
Q7) Why should I hire you?
A: This is your opportunity to sell yourself to the employer.
Tell the employer about your strengths and any relevant experience that you have to date. Be passionate and this will come across in your answer. You need to focus on what makes you stand out from other applicants.
This does not mean being cocky, as you do not want to come across as arrogant. Use phrases like “this is a fantastic opportunity” and “I am passionate about X, which I feel would contribute to the role”.
Keep it relevant to the duties in the role. The interviewer doesn’t need to hear that you are an Olympic swimmer (unless you are applying to become a swimming teacher of course!)
Q8) How well do you handle criticism?
A: Everyone is criticised at some point in their career. What you must remember is that whether you feel the criticism if warranted or not; there are always two sides to every situation.
A good answer to a question like this would be ‘’At some point we all make mistakes and I am happy to take on board your comments. Any constructive criticism that is given to me will help me learn from my mistakes and learn from the situation’’.
Q9) Do you work well on your own or in a team?
A: Teamwork is extremely important to an employer. The right team creates a happy workplace where each team member is productive regardless of the role.
Everyone is different and reacts differently to working with colleagues. In the case of an interview you could offer an answer like, “Both. I enjoy working in a team as there is a feeling of comradeship and you are all working towards a common goal. When a task is completed you can all share in each other’s success. However, I am also able to work on my own and enjoy taking ownership of tasks and following them through to competition”.
Q10) You have only been with you last employer a short while, why is that?
A: In this case you need to provide an answer that reassures the potential employer of your commitment and validates your reasons for leaving. A good answer would be something like “Yes I have been with my existing employer for X number of months. I have to make the move now to gain more experience and enhance my career. I feel that this role will help me to do just that.”