Great Interview Guide


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To enable interviewers to make informed decisions, you need to communicate relevant information about your skills, knowledge and experience. You also need to clearly demonstrate evidence of career achievements to date. Essentially, you have to know what information is important and how to communicate it effectively

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Great Interview Guide

  2. 2. Interview ʻDosʼ ✓ Confirm where the venue is beforehand, how to get there and how long it takes so you donʼt turn up late ✓ Bring all the required documentation ✓ Look the part and be aware of your first impressions and body language ✓ Make notes if necessary ✓ Answer questions as fully as you can, avoiding giving just a yes or no answer ✓ Research the company ✓ Know what the job entails and decide how your experience/skills suit the role ✓ Prepare to sell yourself and any questions you may have ✓ Donʼt be afraid to ask for clarification of questions if you donʼt understand ✓ Try to keep your comments and answers positive ✓ Ensure you back up your answers with figures and/or evidence To enable interviewers to make informed decisions, you need to communicate relevant information about your skills, knowledge and experience. You also need to clearly demonstrate evidence of career achievements to date. Essentially, you have to know what information is important and how to communicate it effectively. With twenty years experience working with HR professionals in management, consulting and teaching with NUIG (National University of Ireland Galway), this guide is to help you prepare, plan and deliver a great performance in your next interview. Itʼs tough out there - with lots of really good people looking for work, looking to change career direction or looking for new opportunities - donʼt let poor interview preparation be a barrier to pursuing your career goals. If thereʼs anything we can do to help please get in touch; weʼd be delighted to hear from you. Stephanie O’Boyle
  3. 3. Successful Interviews The secret to a good interview is preparation, preparation, preparation. Making sure youʼre prepared will give you confidence, and that confidence will be reflected in the way you present yourself. I recommend that you think of the interview as a meeting. If you shift your mindset from ʻinterviewʼ to ʻmeetingʼ then you move your attitude and thinking toward two-way communication. And thatʼs what an interview should be about, communication. Itʼs not supposed to be an interrogation, so donʼt let it become one in your own head. How to Prepare If youʼve done your homework and researched the role and the company, it will be clear to the interviewer. Do not kid yourself that the recruitment process is anything other than very competitive, so to give yourself the best chance, you need to convince those interviewing you that youʼre the best person for the job and you really want it.   Interviews are usually one of two types. The first is a traditional interview where the interviewers ask questions to find out more about you, your background and experience. The second is a competency-based interview, designed to allow you to show your skills and experience in the main areas of the job. Itʼs likely theyʼll ask about how youʼve responded to relevant professional situations in the past. For this type of interview you need to ensure you communicate quality information. To ensure you get your point across, use the acronym STAR to remember how best to structure your answer to these types of questions. ✓ Describe the situation(S) that you were in or the task(T) that you needed to complete. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a general description of what youʼve done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, or from any relevant activity. ✓ Describe the action(A) you took. Even if youʼre discussing a team project, describe what you did and not what the team undertook. Don't tell what you might do, tell what you actually did. ✓ What was the result(R) you achieved? What happened? How did the project end? What was the outcome? What did you learn? Describe the results? Was there anything you would do differently?
  4. 4. Polish your STARs in Advance A good clue as to the type of questions you are likely to field in competency based interview is in the advertised job brief. Go through the brief highlight at least four to five key skills and competences that they are looking for - develop a STAR example for each of these from your past roles. You must create an opportunity in the interview to demonstrate that, not only do you have the ʻknowledgeʼ but you have applied the knowledge, developed skills and competences and achieved ʻresultsʼ. Selling Yourself The four forget-me-nots for pitching yourself are: Results over responsibilities Weʼre more interested in hearing about what youʼve achieved than a shopping list of a role description or duty list. Show how you can make a difference to the business. Highlights over history Resist the urge to present every detail of your career history to date. Stick to information thatʼs relevant for that job. Give the bigger picture of your career first then focus on the detail. Expertise as well as experience Experience is what you have done and achieved. Expertise refers to your skills and abilities. For many jobs, the skills that you can offer are as important as the experience you have. Sell, donʼt just tell Great sales people sell relevant product benefits to individual buyers. They identify what the buyer wants and then focus their attention on the strength of a productʼs unique selling point from the buyers point of view. In the interview you already know some of what the ʻbuyerʼ is looking for - the clues are in the job description - now you need to sell yourself in those terms. You need to identify what makes you stand out from the crowd for this buyer. You may need to find out more about what it is the buyer wants during the interview, so donʼt be afraid to ASK questions as well as answer them.
  5. 5. How to answer 9 common interview questions “Tell me about yourself.” The best response is to discuss yourself and your interests, relevant to the job, the company and why your background makes you a great candidate. Resist the urge to tell them your life story, they could care less - seriously, interviewers do not want to hear your life story - ever! “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Itʼs easy to talk about your strengths; youʼre hard working, a team player, good with detail and so on but it can be easy to freeze up when discussing weaknesses. Never talk about a real weakness unless itʼs something you can demonstrate youʼve overcome. Interviewers are wise to responses, such as, ʻWell, my biggest weakness is that I work too hard, or I care too much - so I need try to take it easy once in a while.ʼ The best answer is to discuss a weakness (or natural tendency) that, because youʼre aware of it, you can manage the impact. ʻI am naturally big picture oriented: which means I easily connect with strategic thinking - but it also means I can be remiss in communicating details - however, because Iʼm aware of this tendency, I ensure I focus on the details in my communications so the big picture is achieved, in a methodical, systematic way.ʼ “Where do you want to be five years from now?” What employers really want to know here is will you fit? Are your expectations in line with their goals? How realistic are your expectations? Have you even thought about your career in the longer term? Demonstrate that youʼve done some self-assessment and career planning. Let them know that you hope to develop professionally and take on additional responsibilities at that particular company. Please donʼt say something ridiculous like, ʻI donʼt know,ʼ or ʻI want your job.ʼ The fact is, no one can possibly know where theyʼll be in their career five years from now, but interviewers want to get a sense of your commitment to the job, the company, and the industry. You could actually say that ʻItʼs hard to know what job title I may hold five years from now but ideally, based on my performance, Iʼd like to have progressed in the company. My goal is to help the company any way I can, and progress my career as a consequence.ʼ This way youʼre not giving the impression that this job is just a stepping stone for you, itʼs part of a process of development and growth for the company and you.
  6. 6. “What are your salary requirements?” What employers are really asking is, ʻDo you have realistic expectations when it comes to salary? Are we on the same page or are you going to want way more than we can give? If possible, try to avoid answering this question in the first interview because you may shortchange yourself by doing so. Tell the interviewer that if you are seriously being considered, youʼd be happy to give them a salary range; but let them make the first offer. Study industry websites to get an idea of what the position should pay. Donʼt necessarily accept a first offer, there may be room to negotiate. When it is time to give a number speak in ranges, mention that you are flexible in this area and that youʼre open to benefits, as well. Be brief and to the point, and be comfortable with the silence that may come after. “Whatʼs the biggest risk youʼve ever taken?” Some roles require a high degree of determination and the ability to jump back up when you get knocked down. If youʼre applying for such a role, ensure you can provide examples of when you took calculated risks, went beyond what might be considered ʻnormalʼ but explain how it seemed like the right thing to do at the time - as opposed to taking irrational, ill considered risks. This is often relevant in less senior Customer Service roles - where you went ʻabove and beyondʼ to delight a customer. “Why are you leaving your current job?” Interviewers want to know the motivation for leaving your current job. If itʼs because you donʼt like your boss, no negative talk, just say you have differences. If the workʼs boring, explain that youʼre looking for a more challenging position. Discuss the positives of your most recent job and focus on why you think this new position is ideal for you and why youʼll be a great fit for their company. ๏ If redundancy: do not denounce your last boss or company. Explain you were let go - in the current economic environment, this is not unusual and, in most instances, totally outside of your control. Communicate that you understand the circumstances behind the decision; that you are committed to your future and are ready to apply everything you learned in your last role, to a new company. ๏ If you quit: Do not go into details about your unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Instead, make clear that while you valued the experience and education, you felt that the time had come to seek out a new opportunity, to expand your skills and knowledge, and to find a company with which you could grow. ๏ If you got fired: itʼs safe to say that you have your work cut out for you! Do not disparage your last boss or company. Tell them that you were let go, that you understand the reasoning and you recognise the area in which you need to improve, and then clarify how you will be a better employee because of it. Remember lots of successful people were fired at some stage in their career so dust yourself down, learn from it and get on with it!
  7. 7. “Give me an example of a time when you had a problem with a supervisor or colleague and how you dealt with the problem.” Problems at work are rarely caused by the ʻworkʼ; theyʼre primarily people related! Most people will encounter problems with a supervisor or colleague at some point in their career. How they handle that problem says a lot about their people skills. If you can explain to the interviewer that you were able to overcome a people problem at work, this will definitely help your chances of getting the job. Use the STAR acronym to help explain your answer. Do not name the person, or personalise the difficulty, keep your answer focused on the ʻissueʼ not the personality. “Explain Neuro Linguistic Programming in three sentences to an 8 year old.” Just kidding! But I have heard similar type questions asked in relevant sectors; for example, explain Twitter, PayPal, CRMs, or similar, in terms an 8 year old can understand. The answer demonstrates to an interviewer that you have a solid and adaptable understanding of what it is the company does. So a key learning point is, know the industry or sector and be able to explain it in simple terms. “Why should we hire you?” An interviewer may not ask you this question directly but every question you answer in your interview should contribute to helping them understand why youʼre the best person for the job. Stay focused on why your background makes you an ideal candidate and tell them how you are going to contribute to the role and the company. Let the interviewer know that one of your goals is to make their job easier by taking on as much responsibility as possible and that you will be excited about this job starting on day one. Itʼs a good idea to print the job description. You will of course have done this in the first instance when you were drafting your Cover Letter and tailoring your CV. But itʼs really important that you review the job description and qualifications very closely to identify the skills and knowledge that are critical to the position and then identify experiences from your past that demonstrate those skills and knowledge. Remember STAR in your preparation phase? Well, therein is the answer to this question!
  8. 8. Questions you can ask Companies should try to provide you with as much information as you need about the job, but itʼs worth considering what else youʼd like to know. Additional, insightful information about the role, the team, the expectations etc, can help you to refine your sales pitch during the course of the interview. And, this gives you an edge over other candidates. So donʼt be afraid to ask pertinent, relevant, probing questions. Then ensure you listen to the answers - this is where the two way communication process is really important; their answers give you clues as to, what theyʼre thinking and, what you might be missing. And if you know that, youʼve an opportunity to address it before the end of the meeting. Hereʼs a selection of just a few: ๏ “What can you tell me about the team I would be working with?” ๏ “How do I compare with the other people youʼre interviewing?” Youʼre creating an opportunity to gauge how youʼre performing relative to other candidates and make amends or address concerns that the interviewer may have. ๏ “Is there any reason you wouldnʼt want to hire someone like me?” Like the question above, this is a bold but great question - youʼre taking the lead and encouraging the interviewer to give you an opportunity to address concerns they may have about your ʻfitʼ. ๏ “What are the immediate challenges that Iʼd face if Iʼm hired?” This question gives you the opportunity to come back with a brief outline of the strengths and experience you have that will enable you to deal with these challenges - youʼre making connections stronger for the interviewers in terms of how you are the best ʻfitʼ. ๏ “What would you hope that I would achieve in the first six months?” Again, the answer to this question enables you to come back with an overview of how you would realise those achievements and what youʼve achieved in previous roles as proof of your capabilities. ๏ “Whatʼs the most important thing I can do to help within my first three months?” ๏ “What are the companyʼs plans for the future?” This question is often covered by the interviewers but if it isnʼt and you havenʼt been able to find out from your own research, ask. ๏ “Who in the company would review my performance?” ๏ “What training or development opportunities are there for someone in this role?” ๏ “How do you encourage staff to progress within the company?” ๏ “What is the typical career path for someone in this role?” ๏ “Whatʼs the next step in the selection process?”
  9. 9. Selection of Interview Questions There are as many possible interview questions as there are interviewers - but the selection below should give you a pretty good indication of what you might expect. If you are asked a completely unexpected question - donʼt be alarmed! There is no right or wrong answer to lots of the crazier questions - the interviewer sometimes just wants to see how you react under pressure, how you handle uncertainty or, how you handle crazy questions. Sometimes - theyʼre just bored, and itʼs a way of improving their day! Remember also, some interviewers are not especially skilled in the art of interviewing - so you have the added responsibility of making their job easier! Do this by answering their questions and where you can, ensure you connect your responses to the job brief - this helps keep those less skilled interviewers on track. 1. How would your friends describe you? 2. What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced? 3. Youʼre in a lift with your potential future boss - sell yourself in 20 seconds. 4. Describe yourself in three words. 5. What career goals have you set for yourself? 6. What would you bring to the company? 7. Describe a situation where you successfully convinced others of your ideas. 8. Which areas of the world would you like to discover and why? 9. Have you ever considered starting your own business? 10. Have you ever taken a decision that wasnʼt yours to take? 11. What are your salary requirements? 12. Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project. 13. Who are our competitors? 14. What was your biggest failure? 15. What motivates you? 16. Whatʼs your availability? 17. Whoʼs your mentor? 18. Could you have done better in your previous job? 19. What would you like to improve professionally about yourself? 20. What would you do with a million table tennis balls? 21. Whatʼs the most random thing youʼve ever done? 22. What are your weaknesses? 23. Why do you want to work with this company? 24. Tell me a joke. 25. What do you know about us? 26. Why are manholes round? 27. What are your strengths? 28. Whatʼs your greatest fear? 29. How would you overcome it? 30. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 31. Why do you want to leave your current company?
  10. 10. 32. Why was there a gap in your employment between [insert date] and [insert date]? 33. What can you offer us that someone else can not? 34. Are you willing to relocate? 35. If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why? 36. Are you willing to travel? 37. Tell me about an accomplishment of which you are most proud. 38. Tell me about a time you made a mistake. 39. What is your dream job? 40. How did you hear about this position? 41. What would you look to accomplish in the first 30 days/60 days/90 days on the job? 42. Discuss your CV. 43. Discuss your educational background. 44. Describe yourself. 45. Tell me how you handled a difficult situation. 46. Why should we hire you? 47. Why are you looking for a new job? 48. Would you work holidays/weekends? 49. How would you deal with an angry or irate customer? 50. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss. 51. How do you handle pressure? 52. What is the name of our CEO? 53. What are your career goals? 54. What gets you up in the morning? 55. What would your direct reports say about you? 56. What are your bossesʼ strengths/weaknesses? 57. If I called your boss right now and asked her what is an area that you could improve on, what would she say? 58. Are you a leader or a follower? 59. What was the last book you read for fun? 60. What are your colleagues pet hates? 61. What are your hobbies? 62. What is your favourite website? 63. What makes you uncomfortable? 64. What are some of your leadership experiences? 65. How would you fire someone? 66. What do you like the most and least about working in this industry? 67. What questions havenʼt I asked you? 68. What questions do you have for me? 69. Whatʼs your worst career nightmare? 70. Describe your dream come true. 71. Whatʼs my name? You canʼt beat experience and to earn it you have to make mistakes. So, remember to have a suitable story about one of yours, for interview.
  11. 11.