Generally hiring managers are not great interviewers and will often focus on your technical knowledge rather than general interview questions. That said, you're guaranteed to be asked the following three questions in every interview you attend.
If you don't prepare answers to any other interview questions, make sure you have a good answer to these three.
Tell me About Yourself
You will usually be shown into an interview room where you'll wait for your interviewer to arrive. As they enter the door, you need to stand-up, smile, and firmly shake their hand.
Usually, the first five minutes will be given to rapport building where it's your job to get to know the personal side of the interviewer. The first question the interviewer will ask is almost guaranteed to be “tell me about yourself” or a variety of this question.
Why? It's a natural ice-breaker that the hiring manager can use to find out a large amount of information in a short period of time. Answering this question is very easy if you have prepared a short, concise answer, however candidates often make their life difficult by rambling on.
The perfect answer to this question should be a two-to-three minute presentation of the highlights of your CV and your accomplishments.
The Wrong Response
Whatever you do, don’t throw the question back to the interviewer by asking “what do you want to know”.
By throwing the question back to the interviewer, you're showing that you haven't done any interview preparation and therefore will be equally unprepared on the job.
If you've spent time building rapport with your interviewer, all that hard work could easily be undone.
The Right Response
There are a few good ways to answer the question, but my advice is to prepare a short two-minute presentation that covers a statement about yourself, the highlights of your career, your achievements and finishes up with a sensible question.
If you break it down into four sections, it's both easy to remember and even easier to prepare and great answer.
Your personal statement should be a concise few sentences that give an overview of your qualifications, experience and achievements. Keep this paragraph focused on your working career and don’t mention extracurricular activities such as your children or what you enjoy doing at the weekend.
My Advice – It's up to you but I always start by mentioning my name, so my Statement would be something like, “My name is Nick Jones, I am an MBA graduate with twenty years’ experience in recruitment covering C-level positions across the globe. During my experience, I have mastered the ability to recruit, train, coach and motivate teams to reach personal and company targets.”
In the second section, you need to give an overview of your work experience, but focus in on your present or previous position, and explain your responsibilities and achievements. This is a crucial part of answering this question so make sure that you get it right.
My Advice – A great answer should include figures and timescales when you are discussing your achievements, so my answer would be something like, “Currently I work for a Global Search Firm, although previously I have worked across international companies in a range of different positions and locations. In my current role, I have been challenged with turning around an ailing division within the group that was losing money. Using my sales and team knowledge, I've focused on enlarging the team while developing new clients. The results have been great, and over the last year, we have doubled the size of the team, increase sales by over 100% and profit by 30%".
Use this section to tailor your response to a specific company and the opportunity that you’re applying for. Your response should include why you think your knowledge and experience would be right for the position and where you can add value to the hiring manager.
I would also highly recommend that you briefly mention why you're looking for a new job and why you want to work for this company.
My Advice – This is where your interview preparation helps. Have a look on their website and see if you can find “their values” and then slot this into your answer.
Ask a Sensible Question
To finish your short personal presentation, my advice is to ask a simple question that will help move the direction of the interview away from your introduction and into more of a formal interview.
An obvious question could be, “is there anything further you would like to know about my experience?”
Describe Your Experience?
Much of an interview with a hiring manager will be dedicated to your experience. Hiring managers want to understand your knowledge and what projects you have worked on in the past. Ultimately, they want to find out whether you can do the responsibilities that are required and how much help you’re going to need to get started.
HR Managers and Recruiters will often go through your entire CV to make sure there are no gaps or problem areas. Hiring managers will often assume the early part of your career and concentrate on the last five-to-eight years’ worth of experience.
I started my career with a graduate training program with a top International company. If the first few years of your experience were within a graduate trainee program, most likely I would not talk about it, as it was probably very similar to mine.
The Wrong Response
Over the last twenty years, I've sent thousands of candidates to be interviewed with hiring managers. Generally, the candidate is positive, however in the rare occurrence when the candidate feed-back is negative, it nearly always falls down to two areas;
- Not Answering the Question - You need to focus on answering the questions being asked. Yes, you can use examples, however, you need to answer the question that’s being asked quickly. All to often, candidates talk about this amazing project they've worked on, and provide a fantastic answer, but it doesn't answer the question being asked.
- Trying to Answer Every Question Possible - Similar to above, rather than not answering the question, candidates will often try and answer every possible question. Interviewers will often give you some room to answer the question, but it’s not a good look if the interviewer continually has to drag you back on track to get an answer.
Exaggerating The Truth
Watch out you don't bend the truth. Often candidates tell white lies about their responsibilities to make themselves look more important than they are. Recruiters and hiring managers know this and will probe specific areas when they hear something that’s probably not true.
It's important to remember a hiring manager will probably have a very similar CV and very similar experience. For each specific position, a hiring manager will know the responsibilities. If your answer mentions a responsibility that is not expected, the hiring manager will pick up on this and ask you explain further. If you don’t have a good answer – we all know the result.
An example of this – recently I was asked to interview a Private Banker whose CV mentioned, “built relationships and managed investments for UHWN (Very Rich People)”.
After the obvious first question “tell me about yourself”, my second question was, “tell me about your investment strategy for your clients”. The candidate could not answer the question and after a lot more digging, it turned out they were not involved in relationship building. The closest the candidate got to managing investments, was filling out the paperwork.
Needless to say, they didn't get the job.
The Right Response
To answer questions about your experience, firstly listen to the question being asked, think for a second and then answer the question using examples based on your experience.
When you're talking about your responsibilities, it’s a great idea to use keywords, but you need to explain what you did in addition to these keywords. In a typical interview, the candidate will mention the keywords, but will not go any further.
I would always recommend my candidates to go one step further when answering interview questions by using both achievements and examples.
Achievements are great to evaluate a candidate's actual performance. Make sure you provide both the keyword achievement and the figures.
An example – “I increased sales” or “I increased sales by 30%”. Which sounds more impressive?
If you're going to use examples when describing your experience, and I would highly recommend that you do, make sure the example is both relevant and you've answered the question within the first few sentences.
Candidates often use examples but then ramble on-and-on, not answering the question being asked. This shows not only a lack of focus, but also a lack of maturity given they cannot structures sentences.
The more examples you give of specific situations and how you have handled them the more chance you have of proving the interviewer that you have the qualities that they're are looking for.
The right attributes lead to a job offer.
What to Say If you Don’t Know the Answer?
If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t lie or try to make up a response to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Firstly, ask for clarification of what they are looking for and then be honest.
If you still cannot answer the question, tell the interviewer this as they will appreciate your honesty. Personally I would always recommend that you have a go at answering the question.
If you start off telling the interviewer that you don't know the answer, but based on your experience you would assume the answer is along the lines of, and have a go, as long as you provide a sensible answer, it will count.
I would also recommend that you tell the interviewer, “this is an area that I want to know more about”, as this will demonstrate that you want to learn.
Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
This question or a variation of this question is guaranteed to be asked in any job interview you attend. Hiring managers want to know why your leaving your present company.
Often its very easy to answer, “I had a temporary contract or Internship”, while other times it’s going to require a better explanation.
The question gives a hiring manager a very clear look at your values and can explain what you're really like as a person. If you've left for an odd reason then it could show that you're not responsible, cannot be trusted and a company should not invest in you because most likely you're going to quickly move on elsewhere.
It’s much easier to answer this question if you already have a job. As a result, I would highly recommended that you find a new job before you leave your present job.
Ultimately if you tell the truth, keep your answer short and concise this is a straightforward question to answer. Candidates only really make mistakes answering this question when they start going into details about how it was not their fault, they were bored with their job, or they just had to leave.
You're Looking to Leave:
The answer to this question assumes that you’re still in your job and working hard. As mentioned above, this is a much more comfortable position to be in, and employers prefer candidates that already have a job, rather than ones that have left.
To answer this question, I would recommend that you tell the hiring manager something along the lines of, “I do not want to leave my current role but will do for the right opportunity to further my career”. This answer gives the impression that you’re a loyal employee who for a perfect opportunity, only with this company, would you leave your present role.
The second key way to answer this question is to remain positive but explain that you need a new challenge. The key to giving this answer is “to remain positive”. I hate my boss, my colleagues and my job is not going to put you in a good light and will show you as someone who complains. No one will hire a complainer.
If you focus on your key learns, your achievements and personal developments while mentioning that you’re “ready for a new challenge or a larger challenge” you're telling the interviewer that they can count on you to get results.
You've Already Left
If you have already left your job, you’re in for a much harder time. Hiring Managers and recruiters will dig much deeper to find the real truth as to why you've left. Remember, a hiring managers worst fear is that you've been fired because you cannot do your job.
Worse still there is that question of why someone else has not snapped you up if you were any good. Maybe you have not been able to get a job because you’re not very good.
Given the above, answering this question becomes very important, however, if you take the time to prepare a good answer before your interview, you will not have any problems. Hiring Managers do understand that candidates have been fired for not doing their jobs correctly and for other reasons.
Given the present economic climate, companies understand that candidates will be laid off even in they have completed their job to their hiring managers expectations. Whole departments have been closed in some companies.
My advice here is, to tell the truth, but try to focus on the positive, explain your achievements and watch out for making any unprofessional comments.
A great way to explain why you don’t have a job is to mention that you needed a break due to a personal reason. This only works well after you have worked for a few years and you need to have a good few months in-between jobs.
As an example, you could say something like, “after working for eight years in my present role, I wanted to have a break from work to explore personal passion outside of work. Out of loyalty to my present employer, I did not want to look for jobs while working so decided to leave my present job, take a break and then continue with my career elsewhere”. This can be further enhanced if your ex-manager or company will give you a good reference.
Sacked or Fired
It happens, and you will not be the first or the last to be fired. I got fired from my first ever job for not doing enough work. It's important when answering this question, to be honest, admit your mistakes and not to blame or speak badly of other people.
When answering the question, the goal is to convince the interviewer that this was a one-off event and you will not be a risky hire. It would help if you also made a point of mentioning any lessons that you have learned while working at the company.
A great sample answer could be, “unfortunately a new director arrived who changed the parameters of the role that I was doing. Unfortunately, I struggled with some of the new responsibilities that I had, and thus it was decided that for both parties that I left my current role. During my time, learnt many new skills such as……. and had many new achievements. I am now looking for the opportunity to progress my career with a new challenge.”
Interview questions can be easy if you have thought about a good answer and while you don’t have to read and prepare answers to every question, prepare a good answer to these three questions and separate yourself from the crowd.
The worst mistake you can make when answering any job interview question is to sound negative. Negativity builds and within teams quickly, and for a hiring manager, negativity means their team will not perform at its best.
As a result, stay away from speaking poorly of your past employers. You might think it's a good answer, but your telling the hiring manager you're not flexible and if you don’t get your way, you'll leave and let the hiring manager down.
As with all job interviews, make sure you don't leave the interview room without asking a few questions. After a one hour interview, there is no way that you can know everything about the role, it's future or the future of the company. Asking questions will show that you're interested in the company, the position and show that you're taking the process seriously.
If you don't hear anything after a week, make sure you follow up with the hiring manager. Recruiters and hiring managers are all busy. The last thing you want is to be told that you've got the job three weeks later, only to have accepted another role because you didn't follow up.
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