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  • Rachel Doyle

Examples of typical interview questions and what they're looking for

Make your answers relevant to the role you're applying for

The overriding thing to remember about your interview is to make your answers relevant to the business you are applying to. So when you are prepping for your interview, think about your answers to popular interview questions and how they fit in with the job description and the company’s ethos. We’ve covered some of the common questions that you might be asked and identifying what the interviewer might to trying to find out. There may be more relevant questions in relation to the type or level of role you are applying for, so don’t forget to think about those.

Tell me about yourself:

The interviewer doesn’t want a blow by blow account of your life. They don’t want to be bored listening to you real off countless things about you. Remember that how you answer this can reflect the type of person you are too. When an interviewer asks this question, they are looking for a concise summary of your work experience, perhaps what motivates you and what your interests are outside of work. Keep it to the point and relevant to the role / company.

What do you like to do outside of work

You want to cover off some hobbies and have some activities that you do however you don’t want your social life to sound like a full time job or something that could get in the way of work.

When you do your research of the company you are applying to, check out their ESG measures. If they are connected with a charity or regularly carry out fund raising activities, that connects with activities that you like to be involved in.

Walk me through your experience

The key here is to link your relevant work experience to the job specification. Focus on key skills such as leadership, communication skills, project management and team management. Cover off responsibilities and experience that is relevant to the role. If it isn’t obvious how it fits, try and look at what are called ‘soft skills’ and demonstrate some relevant skills from the roles that you have held.

What interests you about working for this organisation?

This is your chance to show that you have done your research, that you know what the organisation is all about. It’s also a slight trick question, or more you need to frame your answer to talk about the amazing things that you know about the business and what skills and experience that you bring and how you fit in to that organisation.

Tell me about a project you are proud of

Self explanatory question, but remember to answer it in the STAR approach, which stands for:

S = Situtation

T = Task

A = Action

R = Result

What the business is looking for is to know what you did in the situation, so remember to keep your responses in the first person and not about what the team did.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Don’t fall into the trap, no matter how well you think you are getting on with the interviewer, they want to see a certain response here. So don’t start bashing your line manager, or sayin that the company is rubbish, even if true. You want to show that you are leaving for personal development, or that you are concerned about job security (pick your timing with this one). The answer should show that you are committed and are looking to grow and bring your skills to a new team. So try to make it balanced and not just about what the company can do for you.

Redundancy / Being fired

First up there is nothing wrong with being made redundant. There have been so many situations of businesses failing, or teams being re-built and many hiring managers are aware of this. A change of leadership can also lead to redundancies and a redesign of departments. So be confident to explain this if you have been made redundant.

If you have been let go, this one is a bit more of a challenge. If you were offered the opportunity to resign beforehand, the hiring team may still have questions as to why you left your role - so think about how you might explain this one. Being honest and clear about what the reasons were is always important. If you were fired - it is still important to be open about this. You might have learnt something from the experience or decided to approach work differently, whatever positive you can bring out of it, that will also demonstrate you are going to be an asset for the company you are hiring for.

Explaining gaps in your work experience

Whether you volunteered, or mentored someone or did something that expanded your knowledge, these are also suitable activities that you can talk about in relation to any gaps in your history. Make sure you keep it relevant to the role you are applying for and don’t stretch the truth.

Why are you looking for a new role?

These days, it is quite common to see 2 years’ career service with a company and then a move. Gone are the days of lifers or long service awards. Even 5 years’ feels like an achievement. So if you are short service history, talk about what you hope to achieve, how you’re looking to develop your skills but remember to talk about what you bring to the company too. Don’t make it too one sided or you could get burnt.

How would your manager / colleagues / friends describe you?

In this instance you want to talk about things that match the job you are applying for and to bring in some soft skills into the equation. Don’t cover things that might be seen as a negative or that show you really aren’t a team player. You want to demonstrate that you are able to build relationships with people and a level of self awareness.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Remember to show ambition. You want to leave the hiring team with the impression that you are focussed on your future, you have an idea of what you would like to achieve. It doesn’t have to be concrete but to show that you are interested in your own continuing professional development. Businesses like to hear how you have grown and about your commitment to learning whether that is on-the-job or in the classroom. So share your ambitions for the future, without giving them the impression that you’re only interested in the role for the short term.

You’ve managed a team in the past, this role doesn’t have any management experience, how do you feel about that?

Now if this is a deal breaker for you, then you can be honest. The interview is as much a chance to find out about a role as it is for you to find out about them. However just because a role doesn’t have a team responsibility doesn’t mean it won’t be fulfilling. Businesses now are keen to have employees that are willing to act as mentors in their departments and by showing that you are interested in getting involved in this activity will score you brownie points too.

Can you tell me about a project that wasn’t going to plan, what happened?

Remember - this is not the time to talk about a failed project, so if that is your example think of another one. Examples of projects that don’t go to plan are where someone else wasn’t pulling their weight or communication fell down. However, you don’t want to say that you missed a deadline because that isn’t a favourable outcome, even if it wasn’t your fault. So think about how you contributed to getting the project back on track. How you communicated with the project team member who was letting you down and what steps you put in place, or recommended to avoid this happening again in the future.

How do you manage conflict?

Firstly, if you’re being asked this question, then there is a good chance that teams don’t get on very well, there are some challenging characters or you are applying to a multi-stakeholder business and decisions won’t always go in your favour. You want to approach this with an example using the STAR method as outlined above and ensure that you cover off how you made the situation better.

How do you influence people?

Again quite an abstract question but one where you need to think about your communication and management style. Regardless of whether you are an office junior or an executive, you need to be able to explain how you go about getting other people’s buy-in. Think about how you establish yourself in a business and conduct yourself in teams as well as in meetings. Then use this as a basis to explain how you influence people in general and then apply this to a work example of a situation.

The different approaches of a start up to a traditional business

There will be differences in interview style between a start up business and a traditional business. Sometimes a start up doesn’t have HR support and their questions may be around how you handle change, what attracts you to working with a start up and how you can deal with the extremely fast pace of a startup, or the thought that the business might completely change direction. Lastly they might ask whether you are comfortable with the fact that a startup business might fail.

Traditional businesses are more likely to involve an interview stage with a competency based interview. Depending on the business, they might stick rigidly to it, or be more flexible. If they can’t adjust their interview questions to your experience then they probably aren’t the right fit for you. You can tell a huge amount about a business from how they approach the hiring process, how they treat you before and during the interviews and whether they bother to give feedback too.

Let it go

Sadly in 2022, there are still businesses that won’t give feedback to candidates and have no respect for the time they have wasted taking part in an interview process. As frustrating as it is (and there is a Glassdoor all about interviews for that) don’t let it hold you back. There will be a right role out there for you and a business that will treat you the way you should be treated.

It is all about you

As strange as it might sound, enjoy the interview process. Be confident that the hiring team likes your CV enough to invite you in to talk to them. This is your time to shine and to enjoy them being complementary about your achievements and experience. You can use this to understand how they engage with you and also how much they have understood about your CV. If they haven’t bothered to read your CV, it will tell you a lot about the hiring team and as disappointing as it might be, this is a good thing to find out in the interview.

All that remains for us to say is: Good luck with your interview!

For an overview of the roles we are recruiting for at the moment, take a look here.

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