Recently I was invited to participate in the Guardian Careers Twitter ‘panel’ on interviews and assessment centres where I advised candidates on how to tackle certain challenging interview questions. If interested, you can access the discussion on Twitter at #jobinaweek.
In this article, I would like to outline suggested answers to some difficults questions that arose during the discussion.
– “What are your weaknesses?” I already provided a recommended answer to this tricky question in one of my previous blogs. I would just like to add that as in all interview answers, honesty is your best policy and preparation is the key to avoid being caught unawares. Prepare a bullet point answer to this question and identify up to three real weaknesses of yours with examples of how you have worked to improve them. You can source these examples from your work history or education – it doesn’t really matter which as long as they illustrate a concrete and clear case of self-improvement.
– “Can I ever criticise my former employer in an interview?” I would strongly recommend against using any negative comments or criticisms of your previous employers as this may put your new potential boss on alert. If you were really disappointed with something your previous employer may have done, try to skip over it and not to dwell on the details during the interview. The image you want to project of yourself is of a hard-working, positive and enthusiastic person who can get along with all different kinds of people and deal with difficult situations.
– “How can I prepare for a phone interview?” In many ways, preparation for phone interviews will be very similar to face-to-face ones: lots of homework on the company, your interviewer, the specifics of the job. However, phone interviews are in some ways harder due to the fact that your interviewer cannot see you and forms their impression of you solely from what you say and – importantly – how you say it. Which means you have to be even more polished and prepared than for a face-to-face interview. Practice answering some hard questions using a voice recorder to listen back to how you sound, practice with your friends or family, write down the main bullet points for each potential question and you should be fine. Phone interviews are normally conducted at the early stages of the recruitment process and usually by HR so the questions are most likely to be ‘fit’ rather than technical ones. Skype interviews are becoming more common, however, in some sectors, such as investment banking or management consultancy, they are still rarely used and people tend to resort to their usual medium – the phone.
– “How do I conquer nerves during my interview?” This is a hard one to advise on as it is very personal and each candidate may create their own techniques for calming themself down before an interview. I would suggest doing some breathing exercises, going for a run or to the gym the morning before the interview and just being well-prepared.
Overall, thorough preparation is the key to success at any kind of interview. Knowing as many people from the department/company you are target is also of great help as they can share ‘insider information’ about the company, such as on the internal culture, progression structure, current challenges, and can also introduce you to the management.
I would love to hear you thoughts on what you find most challenging about interviews and which questions you find most difficult. Please post in the comments box below and we will endeavour to address them.