How To Answer Killer Interview Questions: Part 2

As promised, here are 5 more killer questions you are bound to be asked in an interview. If you missed part 1, you can check it out here. Here goes.

1. Tell me a little about yourself

Don’t be fooled by this seemingly innocent question. Since it’s likely to be one of the first questions you’ll answer, it’ll set the tone for the rest of your interview - so it’s worth getting it right. A good place to start is by summarising your academic/work background. Think about:

 ● Where did you go to university? What societies were you part of? What internships/part time work have you done?

 ● Always try to, subtly, relate your answer to why you are a good fit for the position or why you are passionate about the company in question.

 ● Don't go overboard! You need tread carefully so that you are still answering the question at hand. For example, when talking about the fact that you played sport throughout university, you might say...

'It was through playing sport that I developed my competitive attitude and ability to manage others, which is why I think I'd be a good fit for this position/this industry'

     Things to avoid:

● Anything too personal. You can talk about family or background, but only if you feel it is appropriate. For instance, it would be fine to say: 'My parents have always instilled in me the need to work hard, and that's something I really pride myself on.'

● Anything religious or political. If the interviewer doesn't share your views, you risk alienating yourself.

● Don’t ask ‘what would you like to know?’ It shows a) that you have come unprepared for a very common interview question b) you lack the confidence to talk about yourself.

● Don’t give an answer that’s less than a minute long. Practice your spiel, and make sure you can perform it when you need to.

2. Where do you see yourself in 5 year's time?

An interviewer may ask this for several reasons: to see if you are motivated and ambitious, if you will stick around in their company for a few years or to see if you understand the career paths in their industry.

● Describe short-term and achievable goals and how they will help you reach your long term goals. So you might want to be in charge of a small team, or managing a large project for an important client.

● Explain how the position you're applying for will help you to achieve your goals. E.g. does the company you are applying to offer a training scheme that will help you progress? Do they offer the chance for you to gain a qualification?

● Before your interview, research a career path that flows from the position for which you are applying, so that your plan is realistic. Find out how long a person would normally be in that job and factor this in to your answer.

     Things to avoid: 

● Being too flaky. ‘I’m not sure really, I’d love to be working in Marketing, but I think I’d be equally happy working in Finance.' Answers like this imply that you don’t have direction and may change your mind about taking this job if it were offered to you.

● Equally, don’t be too specific; you need to seem flexible. Statements such as 'I want to be a Marketing Manager, leading a team of 10 people' will come across as complacent and too ambitious.

● Don’t speak about money or benefits -  saying ‘I want to be earning £60,000 and have a company car' will make the interviewer think you are motivated by money and status rather than challenge and responsibility.

● It’s a classic no-no, but one worth mentioning - never say ‘I see myself doing your job’. It’s arrogant (you don’t know how long it’s taken for your interviewer to get in their position, if it’s taken them 10 years, they aren't going to thank you for implying you could get there in 5!). It’s also a little aggressive and clichéd.

● Don’t say 'working here’. It’s a bit ‘sucky upy’ and unnecessary. No employer expects you to give them a 5 year commitment!

3. Tell me about your biggest failure 

This is a tricky one and one that lots of grads fall foul of. There’s a misconception about why an interviewer asks this; and it’s not to uncover your weaknesses.

Getting you to talk about your failures reveals several things about you - your ability to take risks, to understand and learn from mistakes, to articulate something that makes you uncomfortable - to name but a few.

● Don’t use a failure which you haven’t recovered from or something you are devastated by e.g. ‘I achieved a 2.2. I’ve never been so disappointed and I'm still not truly over it.’  This will put a bit of a dampener on the interview!

● Likewise, don’t choose a failure that’s insignificant. E.g. ‘My greatest failure was when I didn't get a C in my French GCSE.’  This will make an employer think you are either covering up a failure, or aren't good at identifying them, neither of which are attractive traits!

● Stick to failures in your academic/professional life. Best to leave out the time you left a speed dating event with no numbers...

Don’t sugar-coat a failure or try to inadvertently show off.
               'I think my greatest failure happened at my last job when I took on too high a work load. I managed to complete my projects, but I had to work day and night for two weeks.'

It’s the equivalent of saying being a perfectionist is your greatest weakness i.e. a thinly veiled attempt to show off, which a good interviewer will see right through.

4. How would others describe you? 

Treading the arrogance/confidence line is tricky. You don’t want to appear as if you’re not sure what your strengths are, nor do you want to seem as if you consider yourself a god amongst men. Follow these tips:

Keep it professional, think less of ‘they’d say I’m really fun and always up for a laugh’ more ‘great attention to detail’.

Speak confidently; you don’t want to cast any doubts on what you're saying. Even if you aren't too sure what your colleagues would say about you, you must speak with authority! Replace ‘I think they’d say…’ with ‘they say'.

● Stick to a couple of things people say about you. Don’t just reel off a list of complementary adjectives, it’ll seem arrogant.

● Review the job description that you’re applying for and pick out a couple of skills/traits that are absolutely key for success and then work them into your answer.

5. Tell me about [insert specific 'failure']  

Why haven’t you found a graduate position yet? Why did you change courses? Why did you get a 2:2?

Ouch! These questions are designed to hit you where it hurts and provoke a reaction, so don't get caught out!

Sound a little mean? They are actually a blessing in disguise; they give you a chance to defend yourself against the interviewer's misconceptions.

The best tactic? Tell the truth, but always end on a positive slant.

For example

If ask why you didn't get the 2:1 you were predicted, you could speak about how you were very involved in societies in your 2nd year at university and then left yourself with too much to catch up on in 3rd year. Relay that you were disappointed but it taught you a valuable lesson about time management and your experience in committee positions for several societies developed your leadership and management skills, which is something that’s proven really useful. Voila!

Related content -

4 Reasons You're Failing Your Interviews
Classic Interview Questions: Part I
30 Totally Weird Interview Questions


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