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Winning at interviews
Tuesday, 11 October 2011 14:26

The 3 Key Question Types

There are only 3 main categories that interview questions fall into:

•    Can you do the job?
•    Will you do the job?
•    Will you fit in?

The heart of the interview is the question and answer session. If you are not careful you can rapidly find yourself on the defensive, trying to justify yourself in the face of tough questions rather than having the chance to 'sell' your benefits.

A well-trained interviewer will throw all sorts of odd and challenging questions at you in an attempt to assess your true suitability for the job. They will often deliberately create stressful situations to see how you react. In fact, the tougher the questions, the better you're doing. Knowing how to answer them with the 'correct' type of answer is the key to success or failure.

So remember, the good news is that all of their questions will be in one of the 3 main categories.

Interview Questions – Can You do the Job?

The first type of question is seeking to determine whether or not you are capable of doing the job. These questions will be about your skills, attitudes, knowledge and experience in short your track record. Typically about 60 per cent of a professional interviewers time will be spent assessing your abilities against those required by the position on offer.

You should be looking for any opportunity to impart information about your skills and abilities, backing them up with examples of what you have already achieved.

Here are some common examples of this type of question:

What is your greatest strength?
If you've done your homework before the interview, you would have several strengths to choose from. The obvious choice would be the strength which best suits the demands of the job. This is one of the most common questions and represents a good opportunity to assert your career statement. How to answer this question is covered in detail elsewhere in the multimedia training course – GetAhead in Winning at Interviews.

What skill have you acquired most recently?
Here the interviewer is seeking to establish that you are an interested, active lifelong learner and not somebody who has just attained a variety of disparate qualifications along the way. Try to avoid putting a timeframe on your answer; unless you have attended a course very recently and try to add details of how you have already applied the new skill in the workplace.

Can you work well under pressure?
This is a closed question and can be a sign of an untrained interviewer. Use the opportunity to give a comprehensive but brief answer focusing on several clear-cut examples showing your ability to cope under pressure.

Specific, job related questions
The interviewer may ask any number of questions that relate to your past experience and how this might influence your suitability for the current position. Here you will need to call on the work you did in analyzing your own career achievements, as explained elsewhere in the multimedia training course – GetAhead in Winning at Interviews. Using real examples and framing these in terms of a problem or challenge that you successfully addressed is the key to answering job related questions.

Interview Questions – Will You do the Job?

The second type of question is concerned with your personal disposition and approach to work. These questions are seeking to determine whether you are hard working, motivated and committed; in short are you the kind of person who will do more than just what is in the job contract.

You should be looking for any opportunity to impart information that demonstrates what a positive and committed employee you have been. In preparing for the interview, decide which areas of your work to date can be used to illustrate your commitment and motivation.

Here are some common examples of this type of question:

What was it like working for your previous employer?

Here, you could choose to answer the question in terms of their product development, management style, use of new technology or any number of other aspects.

However, by taking the initiative and answering it in terms of what the job required of you and how you met these demands, emphasizing your flexibility, long hours working when required, etc, you will begin to address the real issue behind the question. Once again, stay alert and look for opportunities to sell your benefits.

If you got this job, how long would you stay with us?

The best way to answer this question is to tailor your reply to fit the culture of the organization and your own career path. For example, if the organization is highly entrepreneurial then replying that you are looking for a retirement home will not play well.

However, if the culture is more paternal or family centered then indicating that you are considering your final job move may be very well received.

Some people think that implying that you will be happy to stay as long as you are developing new skills or facing new challenges is the best approach. The down side of this can be that it implies the organization is responsible for your nurturing, education and entertainment. Think carefully about using these type of explanations as you may give the impression that you may leave as soon as you are faced with a dull project.

Interview Questions – Will You Fit In?

In answering questions from the first two categories, you should be clearly demonstrating your abilities and motivation.

The third basic question type is concerned with whether or not you will fit into the organization. Most employers are looking for staff who are not only capable of, and committed to, doing their job but who will fit the prevailing corporate culture and image. Here, the more senior the role, the more important fitting in becomes.

Interview Questions – Will You Fit In? - Examples

How do you see yourself fitting into a new project team?

Interviewers will often seek reassurance that you can demonstrate a track record of fitting in when you have been repositioned in a working environment. You will need to illustrate times where you were placed in a new team or group. It doesn’t matter how long or short term these placements were, rather that you can show how you did fit in; how the group was not disrupted by your arrival and that a clear improvement in overall performance resulted.

How will you be able to cope with a change in environment?

This sort of question is usually posed if you've spent a long time in one particular job. It sounds like a negative but can be turned into a positive especially if you're looking for a change, or a chance to develop. Avoid sounding negative about your current environment, whilst stressing the excitement you feel in seeking a new one.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

The obvious answer would be "part of the management team, or board of directors within this organization". This may not necessarily be true, but the interviewer needs to know that your intentions are to move up the career ladder within their organization. Be careful not to sound overly ambitious, as the interviewer may be your future boss. The safest option is to modestly express your desire to grow and advance within the organization.

Remember, throughout the interview you should be looking for any opportunity to impart information about your skills and abilities, backing them up with examples of what you have already achieved. Most employers are looking for staff who are not only capable of, and committed to, doing their job but who will fit the prevailing corporate culture and image.

Difficult Questions – Role Related Questions

What kind of experience do you have to benefit this particular job?

This represents a golden opportunity to sell yourself, but the interviewer will be looking for an individual who is a problem solver and can 'hit the ground running'. The answer to this question lies in understanding the role when it is first described to you and taking the trouble to ask lots of questions about tasks involved. This opens the door for you to respond with suitable skills and experience showing you could accept the role with confidence. In effect they are really asking 'how much training and instruction are we going to have to give you before you are up to speed in this role?'

What interests you most about this job?

Answering this question properly requires that you fully understand the job description, and by asking plenty of questions you should then be able to respond with some specific explanations that show your enthusiasm. Some good responses include: challenging, exciting, scope for learning and developing, departmental growth, teamwork etc.

What are you looking for in your next job?

You want a role where your skills and experience can be put to best use in contributing to the company. Answering this question is all about understanding yourself, and how this relates to the job description. Avoid an over emphasis on what you hope the organization can do for you.

Why should we hire you?

Be careful not to answer with a broad description. Keep it brief and to the point. Each point should be a direct link between your skills and experience and the demands of the role. A precise answer shows that you accurately understand the role and what you can bring to it.


Difficult Questions – Personal Questions

These questions give you the opportunity to answer in a way that enables you to provide focused information about your skills and abilities.

Here are some common examples of this type of question:

Do you consider yourself a natural leader?

The ideal answer to this is 'yes', but in reality not all of us possess the confidence required to lead. You can substitute 'natural' with either 'competent' or 'conscientious', focusing more on leading by example with good organizational and interpersonal skills. Most professional jobs require an element of leadership that you should be taking the trouble to cultivate, whether it comes naturally or not.

Tell me about yourself?

This can be a frustratingly open question, but it does give you an excellent opportunity to communicate your skills and experience. Aim to keep your answer professionally-orientated, specific to the characteristics that the interviewer may want to hear. Although your objective is to show you've got the perfect profile to fulfil the role, try to do so in a friendly manner so that you can show the interviewer that you have an agreeable personality.

What are your biggest accomplishments?

Answers to this should always be job-related, impressive but also hinting that your best work is yet to come. Don't be hesitant or vague when answering this question. Show that you have a clear idea of your achievements to date.

Difficult Questions – Dangerous Questions

These questions give you the opportunity to overcome direct objections that the interviewer may have with your application. If these are not addressed, you will effectively rule yourself out as a serious candidate.

Here are some common examples of this type of question:

What did you dislike about your last job?

Ideally you would answer 'there was nothing I disliked', although this may not be realistic.

Hiring someone who easily fits into the existing complement of staff is very important, therefore steer clear of criticizing former colleagues or managers.

Once again, if you pay attention to the company culture when they described the role to you, you can mention factors that would be likely to impress them.

How long have you been looking for another position?

If you are currently unemployed and have been looking for some time, try to minimize the 'time gap' by mentioning any other activities in which you have been involved, such as study or charity work.

If your work is of a specialist nature and you've been determined to continue in that field, point this out provided that it isn't at odds with the demands of the new role. A resourceful answer here can certainly score you points, instead of putting you at a disadvantage.

Why aren't you earning more at your this stage of your career?

This is another implied negative, which can be turned into a positive by emphasizing your desire to gain solid experience instead of continually changing jobs for the sake of money.

This question gives you scope to ask; "How much do you think I should be earning?" This could possibly lead to an offer.


Why have you changed jobs so frequently?

This is another question that can prove difficult. The best response can be to blame it on your need to gain experience and grow.

Emphasize that the variety of jobs has been good experience and that you're now more mature and settled. Questions like this can be turned around, but be careful not to dwell too much on the subject, or over-justify yourself.

Why were you made redundant?

If you were made redundant as a result of a re-organization; then this is a legitimate excuse that most recruiters will understand - they have probably been involved with laying off people themselves at some time.

Try to give acceptable reasons, such as downsizing or restructuring. Try to be brief and to matter-of-fact , encouraging the interviewer to move on.

Why were you fired?

If, however, you were fired and cannot realistically pass it off as a redundancy, then it's advisable to be open and honest whilst minimizing the reason for your dismissal. Try to portray the incident as 'one of those unlucky things that happens to the best of us' and modestly explain how you've learnt from the experience and the steps you've since taken. The objective is to put the interviewer at ease in the hope that they won't place too much importance on a reference check. It is however a good idea to reconcile with your former employers and ask them to at least give you a fair reference.

Interview Dress Code

Making the right first impression is vital to the success of your interview, so it is important that you decide on the image that you want to convey and dress appropriately. Even before you begin to speak, the interviewer is likely to have formed opinions about you based on the way you are dressed, your personal grooming, posture and body language.

For most corporate interviews a low-key approach to dress is usually best, as this projects a professional image and does not cause a distraction. For men, this often means a well tailored but conservative suit in a basic color such as navy, grey or black. Shirts can be used to add color and individuality but you will need to judge how far to take this.

For women the choice of appropriate dress can be more complicated but normally it is advisable to follow the basic rule that your clothing should not draw attention to itself and the colors should make it easy to focus on your face

Business casual is an increasingly common trend in the corporate environment and it can be more challenging to dress appropriately under this code. Once again the best advice is to make choices that match the norm and if in doubt always dress slightly more formally than you might otherwise.

It can be a good idea to have a couple of outfits, which you only ever wear to interviews. That way you can get them dry-cleaned after each interview, and then put them away for the next time, rather than letting them become crumpled, creased and generally worn-out and tired-looking through every day wear.

Dress to Fit in

One of the key questions in the mind of the interviewer will almost certainly be Will this person fit in? Therefore, if you are perceived as being a good fit with the prevailing corporate style and culture you will be strengthening your case. Here again, what you wear can have a disproportionate effect on the interviewers perception. So, you might be wondering how you can predict what to wear in order to fit in.

It is actually remarkably easy to get information about the prevailing corporate style. If they have a website, visit this and see if there any pictures of people at work (but do be aware that some organizations use library pictures for this). Alternatively, Try getting hold of a copy of the annual reports.

Another useful tactic can be to visit the site at the start, middle or end of the working day and observing the prevailing dress code of the staff as they come and go; before assembling a smart version of this for yourself ahead of the interview.

Arriving Early, but Not too Early

You must arrive in time for your interview, arriving late means you start at a disadvantage to your competitors and it may even mean that you will not be considered.

You should calculate your journey time and allow a margin for delays and other eventualities. Check all the available travel information before leaving and amend your journey plans if necessary. Always carry a mobile phone so that you can summon taxis or other assistance whilst travelling.

With this careful planning you should arrive early for your interview - ideally about 20 minutes. Where you should then wait will depend on how early you are. Anything over 20 minutes early and it is advisable to wait in a nearby café, coffee shop or other public building. This has the advantage of helping to relax you and not risking the impression that you are a desperate candidate.

You are on show from the moment you arrive at the place of interview, so act accordingly. Is there any pertinent information that you could scan? Perhaps a notice board or glossy brochures from head office. Be busy and be seen to be busy, as nobody will pay you to sit around dreaming! Remember, it is not only the interviewer that is assessing you but any number of staff may be subsequently asked their opinion of the candidates.

Take the opportunity to ask the receptionist to look after any excess belongings, as you do not want to walk into the interview room loaded with clutter. Try to arrive at interview with just a single briefcase, document wallet or bag.

Finally, by arriving early you will have the opportunity to benefit from a slightly longer interview, if the previous candidate failed to turn up.

Creating a Positive First Impression

You must do everything you can to make a positive first impression when you meet the interviewer. Above all make sure you remember the names of all of your interviewers, this means paying particular attention to them when you are first introduced, and taking a mental note of their various roles.

There is a common misconception that type of handshake and personality is in some way connected. In the interview context there is very little information to go on and so, like many other things, the handshake takes on undue significance. The best advice is to use a firm (but not hand-crushing) handshake, remembering to make eye contact and smile at the same time.

Some people suffer from the dead fish handshake; one that is weak and clammy. If so, it is worth practicing your handshake until you feel more comfortable with it. If you do suffer from sweaty palms, sometimes associated with interview nerves, then discretely wipe your palm just before shaking the interviewers hand.

It is important that you are not seen to do this, as it is a very subordinate sign - showing you feel unworthy of the meeting. Never wipe your hand just after the handshake, as this implies that you felt dirty after touching the other person.

Opening Conversation

You will need to respond to conversational gambits, like the common question about ‘how was your journey?’ Respond by making conversation but don’t overdo it and avoid stressing any negatives, even if you had a terrible journey, as this is not a good way to start.

People generally like others who are capable of initiating conversation, so don’t be afraid of asking your own polite questions during this meet and greet phase. It is a good idea to have a few conversation openers memorized, such as commenting favorably on the premises, to help break the silence.

Remember, people like people who are similar to themselves. They like confidence, but not too much or it can be perceived as arrogance.

Positive Body Language

Body language is a very important part of any communication. Your body language will be analyzed by the interviewer; even if they are unaware of this at the conscious level.

A brilliantly prepared interview delivered in an interesting voice will fall well short of the mark if accompanied by negative, intrusive or hostile body language. This section explains aspects of body language communication as it applies in western society.

There are three main aspects of body language that you should consider: what to do with your eyes, what your facial expressions indicate and the positioning and movement of your body and limbs.

Mirror the Interviewer’s Body Language

In any intimate communication there is a natural tendency to mirror the body position of the person you are talking to, and this behavior tends to result in a more relaxed and agreeable atmosphere. You can help to put the interviewer at ease by being aware of this and making a positive but subtle effort to mirror their body language.

The concept of mirroring is based on the well-known human trait of like attracting like. People generally like people that appear to be similar to them. Therefore, by observing the interviewers body language and reflecting this back at them they are likely to feel more at ease and friendly towards you.

An individuals facial expression, tone of voice, body posture and movement often convey a world of detail about what they are thinking and feeling and how they are reacting to what you are saying.

The effective use and interpretation of body language communication will help you to identify subtle aspects of the interviewers attitudes and reactions. This understanding and interpretation of body language is a key component of intelligent listening.

How to Sit at Interview

As most interviews are held with both parties seated it is important to convey a positive message in the way you sit. In particular, this comes down to the placement of your arms and legs.

With the upper limbs the guideline is that the less a person moves their hands and arms, the more powerful they are. This supports the view that they are used to people listening to them and they therefore do not have to resort to gesticulation to get their point across.

The technical term for this is Low Peripheral Movement, or LPM. When being interviewed maintain LPM and you will make a more impressive impact with your interviewer.

Try to keep your hands lower than your elbows, rest them on the arms of the chair, your thighs or even make a low steeple with the fingers of both hands.

The everyday seating position, with legs crossed high-up is not suitable for the interview setting because in this intimate context it actually conveys a defensive attitude. Your legs need to convey confidence and there are two key positions that can communicate this - the low cross position and the athletic position.

The athletic position is where one leg is brought under your chair so that only the toe of that shoe is in contact with the floor. The other leg is firmly planted on the floor, parallel with the direction of the chair, with the entire sole of that shoe on the floor. This is a powerful position, conveying a readiness for action.

The athletic position is often not suited to female clothing and here the low cross position, where the legs are kept together and crossed at the ankles should be adopted.

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