The 7 sins – interview mistakes to avoid September 16, 2009Posted by Helen Curry in : Uncategorized , 1 comment so far
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Ever had one of those moments at interview when you realise while answering a question, as the very words tumble out of your mouth, that you really shouldn’t have said that? I was reading an article in THES from a serial interviewee, Nicholas Tesla, and I loved this example:
You get asked about your strengths and weaknesses. I once made the perfectly correct but suicidal point that I had never seen a strength not turn into a weakness in the wrong context, and vice versa. It was a nadir in my career as a professional interviewee. As soon as it was out of my mouth I knew it was over, and it was only the second question.
I wrote once before about how to answer hard interview questions.
Here are some more tips to save your interview performance! Remember the seven sins…
- Pride – You know you have to sell yourself, so you have prepared short speeches on your achievements, and bold statistics to quantify the improvements you made, but how do you know when you have gone too far? When you can’t remember what the question was anymore. It is a matter of judgement when selling-yourself turns into boasting, so do keep an eye on your interviewers reactions – have they glazed over? Are they still making eye contact? If your answer is getting long check if they really want to know more…
- Greed - It can be difficult to know when to begin the salary negotiations. How about waiting until you are actually offered the job? Many employers will be put off if you seem too concerned with the bottom-line. Even if they ask you early on what you expect salary-wise, it might be best to defer this question, say you want to know more about the position – the responsibilities, typical hours etc. That way you will demonstrate a commitment to the work they are offering – it is not just a job to you.
- Envy – ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’. How about ‘sitting in your chair’! Scary stuff. Ambition is good, as long as you demonstrate a good understanding of the work involved and the steps you will need to take to earn it.
- Wrath – The question comes up ‘why are you leaving your current/previous job’ or ‘would you say your last boss was a good manager?’ This is not the time to vent your feelings on the idiosyncracies of the organisation or your manager’s deficiencies. Keep a cool head and analyse his or her management style, express what you consider makes good working relationships.
- Lust - Flirting with an interviewer is a very risky strategy. It is usually going to turn out awkward, embarrassing, and what are you going to do if you actually get the job??
- Gluttony – So the assessment centre or networking event has a free buffet, or you have been invited to lunch – obviously food is not the main event here. Keep it neat and modest. Demonstrate your professionalism through good personal presentation even outside the interview room.
- Sloth – Lack of research about the company, poorly structured answers… it speaks of disinterest, poor attention to detail, and a lack of self-management. Late to the interview? Overly-relaxed body posture? Thin CV? Don’t do it!
For a more general overview of preparing for interview, see our free leaflets on Interviews.
Law , 2comments
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Continuing the legal theme this week, I thought I’d discuss an interview tip given by Clifford Ennico in the book, “The Legal Job Interview”, which contains valuable advice on every stage of the interview process from initial body language to negotiating salary, and the perspective on legal culture makes it particularly useful over general interview books. However his top tip, his “key rule”, stood out to me as somewhat controversial and needing a little more examination.
SAY AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE
He calls this the 20/80 rule. In any successful interview he reckons he will do 20 percent of the talking, and the interviewer does 80 percent. Why?
- the less you say, the less likely you are to say anything risky, anything that contradicts their beliefs. You should be like a politician, even if you all agree on everything but one point, that one negative is what will stick in their minds. They are probably interviewing a lot of candidates for each position, so they might only remember a couple of key things about each candidate.
- lawyers like to play things safe. They want to pick the safe candidate who is keen to do things their way. If you assert your own opinion too strongly you might signal to them that you are not a team player, that you are more interested in doing things your way.
- they want someone calm and collected who will reassure clients with clear, concise answers. You need to be the lawyer they are looking for.
Of course, the key to success with this approach is asking the right questions.
Rather than demonstrating the qualities they are looking for in your answers, instead you demonstrate them in your questions:
- show intelligence and insight in your questions. If one of their specialisms is in an area that is economically doing particularly well or badly, ask how that affects the future of that area – which specialisms are growth areas?
- demonstrate your qualities as a good listener who values the opinions of others.
- demonstrate the skill of active listening, skilfully asking further questions to get beneath the surface and extract more information.
- show them your enthusiasm and ambition – ask what they think is key to being successful in that position (you will also learn if the culture values working hard and long hours, or is more about politics – getting on well with the right people)
- flatter the interviewer by showing interest in what they do and being keen to learn from them and soak up their views.
It is an interesting approach – it sounds a little too evasive at first, until you realise the importance of the questions you are asking. While I wouldn’t worry trying to achieve the magical 20/80 ratio, the main point to take away is how important it is to ask good questions. Some of the qualities listed above are difficult to demonstrate in any other way, it is a key way of showing your interest in the firm, and they will at least expect one question from you at the end to round off the interview. It is worthwhile preparing a few, so even if they answer some prior to the interview you still have something to ask.
No matter how detailed the recruitment brochure and website has been, no matter how clearly the presentations have explained everything about the firm, it is essential ask them questions!
Interview questions: real-life examples February 26, 2009Posted by TCG Info in : Uncategorized , 1 comment so far
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Here is a short list of some websites where you can find real-life interview questions that candidates have reported being asked.
- eFinancialCareers.co.uk – interview questions for graduate programmes and internships in financial institutions
- WikiJob – covers major employers in a range of sectors. Check out both the employer pages and the forums where students report their experiences.
- Whatwilltheyask.co.uk – covers a range of sectors, with personal reports on specific jobs. There aren’t as many on here, but it is still useful if you can find just what you want.
- Prospects – the student forums are quite active, so it might be worth posting details of the interview you have coming up in the Applications and Interviews forum, and seeing what information or support people can offer.
All these sites are dependent on students sharing their experiences every year, so if you use them do submit your experiences to them afterwards.
And just a word of caution, recruiters can change questions and indeed whole recruitment strategies without warning, so check the dates of these student reports, and use these as guidance rather than a definitive programme.
More tough interview questions – examples February 6, 2009Posted by Helen Curry in : Uncategorized , 7comments
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- What role do you usually take in a team?
- Do you prefer working with others or alone?
- What would you do if you felt a team member wasn’t pulling their weight?
- If the team made a decision you didn’t like, what would you do?
- Do you think your last boss was a good leader?
- Are you a natural leader?
- When leading a team, what do you do to make sure everyone is contributing?
- How would you motivate a team to perform a routine or dull task that just has to be done?
- Give an example of when you took responsibility for a team failure.
Adaptability and managing change
- When was the last time you changed your mind about something?
- When did you last volunteer to do something you weren’t entirely sure you could do?
- Your team is familiar with using a particular procedure. How would you persuade them to adopt an improvement you thought of?
- Do you need people to tell you when you have done a good job?
- You have a long and complex project to work on, how do you stay motivated?
- What motivates you?
- Will you compete against me for my job?
- Give me an example of when you last made a decision that went wrong, and what you did about it.
- Do you make decisions quickly? What are the risks of your approach?
- Have you ever had to make a decision on someone else’s behalf? How did you manage it?
Problem-solving and creativity
- Do you prefer acting according to set procedures, or do you prefer solving unexpected problems?
- Tell me about something that took longer to complete than you expected. Why did it happen? What did you do to manage the situation?
Communication, interpersonal skills and negotiation
- Describe a time you had to control your emotions at work.
- You are working with someone on a draft report, but they have misunderstood the purpose of one section. How would you give them feedback?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- Describe yourself in three words.
- What was the last film you watched? What did you make of it?
- What sort of people do you get on best with?
- What energises you?
About the company and the job
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- Why should we recruit you?
- What do you think lies in the future for this company?
- How does this job compare with others you are applying for?
- How long do you plan to stay with this company?
- Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10.
- What kinds of things do you worry about?
- Tell me a joke!
Often there is no right answer, or you are given a false choice when really you should talk about how you can adapt to both options e.g. “working with a team energises me when I am thinking up new ideas, but sometimes I like working alone when I am concentrating on a specific task”.
You might not have a suitable example from your work experience to answer a question. If not, you can either describe an example from your wider life experience (sports teams, university coursework, musical activities…), or you can describe what you would do in that hypothetical situation. You can develop a hypothetical answer by describing a real situation you observed, and saying what you would have done if you were in charge.
And remember, if you don’t understand, or if you have a hundred possible answers to give, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification to make sure you give them what they really want!
How to answer hard interview questions January 30, 2009Posted by Helen Curry in : Uncategorized , 4comments
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When I was applying for my present job, my Dad commented that he had only ever had one interview in his life! He got the job, and stayed there. It sounded crazy, but it was much more common in his generation to have a job for life. Now people would expect to have much more change in their careers, and for some jobs people will have multiple interviews by phone and in front of different panels. But doing more interviews doesn’t make it any easier!
I think most people hate interviews, and it is common to walk out feeling you didn’t show a true picture of yourself, or that you stumbled over a question which you now have the perfect answer for…
How would you answer these?
- Why do people like working with you?
- What sort of tasks do you normally put off doing if you can?
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- How would you cope with a heavy workload?
- Who is your hero/heroine?
It is a terrible experience if you get blocked in an interview, if someone asks you a question that completely throws you. While you are less likely nowadays to be asked truly bizarre questions like “if you were a vegetable, what would you be?”, however you may be asked negative-leading questions like “what is your greatest weakness”. Your first thought might not be the one you want to give…
It can definitely help to write down a list of possible questions based on the job description and run through them with a friend. Even better, get down to your local careers service and borrow a book on interviews. That’s where you will find the questions you don’t expect. You might think that such books aren’t useful to you, as they aren’t job-specific, however a large part of any interview is about general work skills and you as a person – how you handle stress, how you work in a team, how you plan projects, how you lead. These personal questions can be the hardest ones to answer on the spot.
For a general overview of preparing for interview, see our leaflets on Interviews.
I think sometimes there is a feeling both amongst interviewees and interviewers that people shouldn’t prepare, that an interview should bring out a person’s natural responses to get a true picture of them. I disagree. What is natural about an interview?
- Not everyone is good at thinking up answers on the spot, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good at doing the job. Does the day-to-day job really require instant, unprepared answers?
- Many people just aren’t comfortable with talking about themselves, or boasting about their achievements, and it can make them feel embarassed. Rehearsing answers can help them find a way to express their success stories in a way that they feel comfortable with, that represents the facts of what they did well.
- Modern interview questions are carefully designed to identify key skills and requirements from the job description. In this situation, an answer can be greatly strengthened if you follow the model answer format that matches this question style. If they ask “how do you cope with tight deadlines”, you can either say “very well thank you”, or produce a structured STAR response: describe the Situation, describe the specific Task, explain your Action, and give the Result. The latter answer is stronger because you are giving concrete examples to demonstrate your point, and you are revealing much more about your personal, practical and emotional responses.
- Some people say you can’t anticipate every question, so if you are very well-prepared you might feel even more thrown when you get something unexpected. Perhaps. But I would never recommend learning rote answers to every question you can find – it is a waste of time, and you don’t want to sound like a robot. Just take some time to identify a few key examples for each key skill that you can adapt to fit different questions.
- Avoid common mistakes. In a recent interview practice session, when asked to describe a team project, many students talked about “we discussed our options, we decided this by vote, we did this”. As soon as you see other people do it, you can see the problem. The interviewee is being modest or is trying to play up their teamwork credentials, but what the interviewer really wants is to know about you - what you suggested, what role you took in the team. As far as they know, you could have been completely passive. When you practice in front of others, they can point these kinds of mistakes out to you.
- And of course, applying for jobs is competitive. Would you go to the Olympics without training so your ‘natural talent’ will shine through? No, you would practice because you can always improve; you will compare yourself with others before the big day so you know that you have met the standard to compete.
While it is true that a good interviewer can bring out a lot from a candidate and compensate for the awkwardness of the situation, many job interviews are conducted by non-specialists. I mean that in two respects, either they are expert interviewers from the HR department but they don’t know the technical details about your role, or they are your future colleagues, experienced in doing the job but untrained in coaxing answers from inarticulate candidates. Furthermore, there are sometimes procedural restrictions on how many additional leading questions can be asked to stimulate the candidate to talk further.
Why take a chance? Why make the interviewer do all the work? If you prepare a few good examples, and get familiar with interview questions, you will feel more relaxed and more confident. You will know what you want to say, how to express who you are, and what you can do, and make sure they hear it!