Interviews are designed to do just one thing: identify the best possible candidate for the advertised job. Sometimes it may feel that the questions are there to deliberately catch you out or make you question whether you are up to the job or not. However, this is not their intention!
Some questions aim to establish how well you cope under pressure, others will be to reveal your personality or to see what your career aspirations are, this is only to make sure that you are the right person for the role. Just remember that there is no need to draw a blank or clam up if you have done your research and preparation beforehand.
If you want to avoid an interview disaster, here are some of the toughest interview questions and their suggested responses…
Q: “Tell me about yourself”
This could be the most open-ended question of them all and is typically used by interviewers as a warm-up question to give you the opportunity to shine. But resist the temptation to start talking about your life history. Your interviewer is looking for is a quick two/three-minute snapshot of who you are and why you are the best candidate for the job. So, keep your response relevant to the position you are applying for. For example:
A: I started my media sales career five years ago as a telesales representative, rising through the ranks before gaining promotion to sales manager three years later. I am now responsible for training and developing a team of 15 sales consultants that are currently the company’s best performing sales team.
Q: “What are your salary expectations?”
You should have done some research into the average salary and remuneration that this type of position will pay. Try to deflect the question by turning it around and asking the interviewer about the salary on offer. Typically, they will start with a lower figure than they are prepared to offer because they want to keep their costs down. So if you are pressed to give a number, its best to give a range to avoid pricing yourself out of contention. For example:
A: I’m sure whatever salary you’re paying is consistent with the rest of the market average of £23,000 to £25,000.
Q: “Why should we hire you”
This can be a killer question and can make or break your chances of winning the job. And how you answer will depend on how well you have probed your interviewer about their requirements and expectations. So what the interviewer is really asking you is, What can you do for my business? Your response needs to answer that question. For example:
A: As I understand your needs, you are first and foremost looking for someone who can increase your advertising sales and has experience of managing a sales team. I have a proven track record in successfully managing and developing my territory within this sector, having increased my sales from £150,000 to £210,000 over the last two years alone.
Q: “Why did you leave your last job?”
You know this question will be asked at some stage, so have your answer ready in advance. The rule of thumb is to always remain positive about your current and previous employers because you never know when your paths may cross again. Besides, who are you going to turn to for a reference? For example:
A: I learnt a lot from my previous employer and enjoyed my time there. However, promotional opportunities were few and far between and I am keen to advance my career sooner rather than later.
Q: “What are your weaknesses?”
Career manuals abound with ways to tackle this question. And most of them seem to suggest that you should take one of your strengths and portray it as a weakness. For instance, I work too much. But this will actually work against rather than work for you because it may imply that you do not organise your workload effectively, or that you have poor time management skills. Instead, opt for a genuine weakness. For example:
A: I used to struggle to plan and prioritise my workload. However, I have taken steps to resolve this and now I have started using a planning tool and diary system on my laptop.
Q: “What motivates you?”
Short of telling your interviewer that you are motivated by the prospect of earning a footballer’s salary, driving a Bentley or having a holiday home in St Tropez, try and give a constructive answer that will excite your interviewer into understanding what benefit you will bring to his or her business. For example:
A: I get a real kick out of seeing my team exceed their sales targets and completing the project on time and within budget.
Q: “How would your former colleagues describe you?”
This is a sure sign that the interviewer likes you and is already thinking about contacting your previous employer for a reference. And this is the time when you realise how important it is to choose your referees carefully. So answer this question in the way that you would like to think your employer would respond. For example:
A: I have an excellent working relationship with my manager and we have mutual respect for each other. He considers me to be hard-working, dedicated, reliable and able to work well using my own initiative.
And that’s it! We’ve given you some pointers as to how to answer the dreaded interview questions! Good luck and stay calm.