Several years ago, a friend of mine gave me a guide on interviewing and I found very useful. To help you, I have copied over a guide, in its entirety, that a friend of mine gave me to use. The guide did not have any copyright or licensing information. My assumption is the guide has an open source license that is free to distribute.
PROMOTING YOURSELF AT INTERVIEWS
This guide has been developed for employees who wish to explore how to do well at interview. It covers a range of topics including:
- How to prepare for interview
- What research to carry out before the interview
- Common interview questions and answers
- How to make a good first (and lasting) impression
- Skills for effective interviewing
- Interview tips
PROMOTING YOURSELF IN INTERVIEWS
Being invited for an interview means you have to overcome the first hurdle. Your CV and application was good enough to make it beyond the bin. However, there is a long way still to go! There are various vital things you need to prepare before you go for an interview.
Keep in mind The Alignment Model – this will be useful not only in focusing your mind on your own personal strengths and weaknesses but also in matching.
Try to think about it from an interviewer’s point of view. What are your strong and weak points? What areas might need clarification? Is there anything not on the application form and CV that you think you need to know in addition?
Everything you put in your application is fair game for an interview question, so be prepared to expand on any of the information you have given.
The interview process starts long before your actual selection event. It is extremely important that you gather as much information as possible beforehand. This is equally true if you are going for an interview within the department for which you already work, as for approaching a new one.
Your advance research may also help you to uncover areas that may be of concern to you that you may need to address during your discussions. This is where that all-important activity – networking – comes in!
- Know the Job & Department
Re-read the advert and job profile. Talk to people doing the same type of job. List the skills and competencies needed and think about the evidence you can draw from your experience to demonstrate that you have them.
Find out as much as you can about the activities, priorities and objectives by networking or using the organisation’s intranet resources. Try to get supporting information if possible like the departmental objectives and try to read the culture.
- Know the Details of the Interview / Selection Centre
This may be stating the obvious but check the time of the selection event, the date, the location and the name and job title of the interviewer(s) / assessors. Take the letter inviting you to interview along with you. Have the phone number available in case anything goes wrong. Make sure you know how to get there and how long it will take.
Find out the format of the interview:
- Will you be given a tour of the premises / have the opportunity to meet peers?
- Will you have to sit any tests?
- Anticipate the Questions
There are some very commonly asked questions in interviews and many will relate directly to the competencies required for the role. So, you can maximize your success at interview by anticipating and preparing for likely questions.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS: There are a few common interview question styles:
The competency-based interviewer will be trained in effective interview questions, but others may ask questions in a variety of styles:
- These encourage candidates to give a full answer, based on their own opinion, experience or beliefs.
- They begin with What, Why, When, Where Who & How. You should respond in detail, but do not waffle.
- Competency based interviewers will use this throughout.
- These require much shorter and more specific answers and are often used for confirmation.
- A poor interview may use a lot of these. In this case you should give full answers in order to get your evidence.
Probing or Searching Questions
- These search out more information, motivation or attitudes, e.g. “tell me more about …” or “Exactly why did you…?”
- These lead the candidate to give you a specific answer e.g. “So you got on well with your last boss?” These questions need careful handling!
- These usually begin with “What would you do if…?” They are bets answered by offering a real example: “This sounds quite like the time when”
- These can be quite confusing. You need to listen carefully to the various parts and respond to each in turn. Seek clarification or repetition if you are confused. This can show confidence.
CATEGORIES OF INTERVIEW QUESTIONS: There are also some common categories of interview question:
“Well, we’ve heard about your career success, Susan. How would you describe your working style?”
“We have all got weaknesses Brian. What are yours?”
“You have a reputation for being very demanding of your staff – is this fair?”
Topical questions are often thrown into an interview to see if you are fully aware of what’s going on in your sector, field, function, which may have strategic implications.
“How do you think the new EU regulations announced last week will affect us?”
“Where do you see the IT industry going over the next 5 years?”
“Who do you think our major competitors will be in 3-5 years time?”
Be aware and do you homework.
Technical / Functional
These are obviously going to vary according to your function / technical specialism, but in essence they will test your knowledge, application and attainment.
These are the competency-based questions where the interviewer will describe a situation or scenario and ask how you have handled it in the past.
“Tell me about a time when you were required to persuade a team to adopt a change they were resistant to …?” Usually with follow up questions like “What was your role?”
You can anticipate up to about 80% of the likely questions. Some are shown on the following pages.
COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
How you see yourself
- Tell me about yourself or How would you describe yourself?
- What sort of personality are you?
- What are you good at? What are your strengths
- What 3 major qualities / skills do you possess? How will they help you in this job?
- How have you been effective in your work?
- How do you behave in a crisis / when under pressure?
- What motivates you?
How would you describe your style? – Leadership style / working style / philosophy
- What does success mean to you?
- How do you handle change?
How you see and interact with others
- How would you describe your favourite boss? Or, how would you describe the best/worst boss you have worked for?
- What sort of people do you most like working / associating with?
- When have you had to do something that was difficult or unpopular? How did you tackle it and overcome objections / difficulties?
- What sort of people do you find most difficult to work with? Or, how have you handled a difficult person?
- How do you get on with your peers? Or How well do you fit into a group / team situation?
- What contribution have you made to a group / team?
- What are you looking for in your next boss?
How others see you
- What would your boss / peers / referees say about you?
- What will you be remembered for?
- What would your last boss / peers say about your ability to organise?
Positive things about your work
- What do / did you like the most about your time in your last job / company?
- What gave you the most satisfaction? Or, what are you most proud of?
- What was the most interesting or rewarding job or assignment you have ever tackled?
- What would you have liked to have done more of in your last job?
Negative things about your work
- What do / did you find the most difficult or like least in your work?
- What was the biggest problem you have ever had to overcome? What was the toughest decision you have had to make?
- How do you handle criticism / rejection?
- If you ever had your time over again what would you change / do differently?
- What are your weaknesses? What do you wish you could do? Were better at?
What you want from your job / motivation
- How ambitious are you? Or, how interested are you in promotion/
- What are your long-term career aims? Or, where do you see yourself in 3-5 years time?
- What are the most important factors you require in a job?
- What is the ideal job for you? Or, what other roles have you considered and why?
- What experience do you have at this type of work?
- What motivates you / drives you?
Research and Fitting in
- What do you know about this organisation / department
- Why do you wish to work for us? Or, what attracted you to apply?
- What interests you in the job? / position?
- Why should we employ / choose you?
- How do you think you will adjust to a different working culture?
- What level or salary are you expecting?
- How did you decide to apply for this job?
- What preparation did you do for this interview?
- What steps did you take in the decision making process before applying for this job?
- If you were recruiting for this post, what would you be looking for?
Personal Development & Relaxation
- What qualifications / courses have you taken in the last year?
- What evidence do you have to show your interest in training and personal development?
- What have you learned/did you learn from your last / current role or assignment?
- What do you do in your leisure time / when not working?
- What have you done to increase your personal effectiveness recently?
TIPS FOR RESPONDING TO COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:
1. Tell me about yourself?
If this question comes up at the beginning of the interview you can be sure that the interviewer is interested in a brief run down of your career so far. Prepare a summary, including your career progression, one or two proudest achievements and your job target now.
Allow the interviewer to probe if they want further detail. If this question comes at a later stage, it may well be that the interviewer wants to know more about you as a person, your interests etc. Assume nothing – if you are unsure as to what is being looked for, ask for clarification.
2. Why are you leaving you current job?
State your reason clearly and simply. If you are leaving due to restructuring, simply say “my job disappeared in the recent restructure”. Be brief and matter of fact and avoid becoming defensive. Above all, do not criticise or blame your previous boss. State your interest in the future and your interest in the post you are being interviewed for.
- What have been your major achievements in your current /last job?
Be prepared to list four or five strengths that are relevant to the position under discussion, and to give brief examples.
- What are your weaknesses?
Give a weakness which is honest and has substance. Choose something which can show you have recognised and taken steps to remedy. Do not therefore select a weakness which will take you out of the competition. For example you could admit to limited computer skills which you are working on, through taking a course.
- What are your career goals? Where do you want to be in five years time?
These questions are designed to establish fit, ambition and future direction. Be careful, remember your are being interviewed for the role under discussion, so concentrate on that. By doing this, you may be able to ask questions about how the role and area may be developed within the organisation / department.
- Why do you want to work for us?
This question is designed to uncover how well you have informed yourself about the organisation / department. This is when your research will pay off. You should be able to mention one or two key points about then that tie in with your skills, values, interests and motivation. Let your enthusiasm show. This is an opportunity for ‘chemistry’ to develop.
- How did you get along with your last manager?
This question is looking at your discretion and maturity. Be sure not to denigrate your previous manager, after all, this may indicate how you might behave if you are given the job under discussion. If you had genuine difficulties with your previous manager, be truthful, but put the differences in a positive light. Ascribe the problems to differences in style, rather than outright criticism of the individual.
- How would your peers, team, last manager describe you?
This question is probing areas of ‘fit’ in the organisation. It’s an opportunity for you to talk briefly about strengths which may not have surfaced so far. It is also a chance to develop chemistry with the interviewer, by using slightly more personal anecdotes where appropriate.
- Why should we employ you?
This question usually comes at the end of an interview, and is an opportunity to respond to the particular requirements and features of the organisation / department. Restate the strengths and abilities you have which fit well with their needs.
This is your final chance to sell yourself. Like your opening statement which sets the tone of the interview, your final statement enables you to leave the interviewer with a good impression.
HANDLING SENSITIVE QUESTIONS.
Interview questions should always be related to the position and your ability to do the job. However, some interviewers are not trained in interviewing and they may not know which questions to avoid and which are inappropriate. Use your common sense and respond objectively, not defensively. If you are presented with potentially discriminatory questions:
- Remain calm and professional.
- Ask for clarification on how the question might relate to the responsibilities of the job.
- Try to evaluate what the interviewer is really seeking.
- Answer in a neutral positive way.
If you are asked questions about your salary expectations during a screening or selection interview, try hard not to answer them, but concentrate instead of the expectations of the job under discussion.
“Salary is not my main concern at this moment in time. I’d like to find out the real dimensions of the job before we can talk about salary”.
Your previous salary may not be relevant if the position you are seeking has different responsibilities or accountabilities, or you are making a functional or departmental change.
If you feel you must answer the question about salary, talk in terms of a range. As part of your preparation determine for yourself a three point range. Take your three points
- Your bottom line, the lowest salary package you would accept.
- Your realistic target
- Your ideal, the best you believe you could do with this work target.
TIPS FOR ANSWERING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
- Consider all the questions you would least like to be asked and decide beforehand how to answer them.
- Practice your answers
- LISTEN carefully
- Answer the question and keep it brief
- Do not be modest
- Do not exaggerate
- Talk in concrete terms
- Make connections for the interviewer
- Stop talking when you’ve said enough
DEVELOP YOUR QUESTIONS TO ASK
Remember, an interview is a two way process. Just as you are being evaluated for questions of CAN, WILL and FIT, so you also are sizing up the responsibilities of working in the department, with similar questions in mind. You are assessing whether the department fits your goals and conforms to your values and needs too. Generally an interviewer will ask for your questions towards the end of the interview, but if they do not, be prepared to raise questions at appropriate intervals.
The purpose of asking questions is:
- To demonstrate genuine interest in the job.
- To gain information to help you to evaluate the job against your criteria
- To demonstrate your behaviour that is potentially relevant to the position.
- To make the interview more interesting for both parties, and thus provide an opportunity for ‘chemistry’ to develop.
There are a number of types of questions you could ask at interview, but you must choose your question carefully, taking into account the culture and sensitivity of the department.
- What is the likely budget for x in the next financial year?
- What are the resources (budget, staff, equipment) is available to me to do this job?
- What are the policies relating to (Health & Safety, IIP etc)………?
- How would you describe the culture or management style of the department?
- What are the main responsibilities / accountabilities for the job?
- Who held this position before and why is it vacant? Is this a newly created post? Or what happened to the last post holder?
- What would you consider are the immediate key priorities of the post?
- Where does this job fit into the overall structure and how does it impact on the other departments?
- How do you see this job changing / expanding?
Performance & Reward
- What are you personally looking for in a successful candidate? What competencies do you think are most important?
- How is success / effectiveness measured and rewarded?
- What are the prospects for development, training and advancement?
Completing the Interview
- What reservations or gaps do you see in my application?
- How do you see my skills and experience fitting in with your department?
- What happens next / when will you be making a decision?
PREPARING YOUR ANSWERS
Look at the list of common questions and pick the top five you hope are never asked.
Now prepare your answers to these!
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