An interview is not like an exam and shouldn’t be treated like one, it is an organic process, the pattern of which changes with every question asked or answered and it is designed to let all the participants establish who is the right person for a specific role within an organisation. You should always remember that the interview process is as much about you deciding whether you want to work for a company as it is about the interviewer(s) deciding whether you are right for a particular role.
In this first of a two part series we look at 35 typical interview questions taken from countless interviews throughout the UK and North America over the last ten years, along with 5 typical questions targeted specifically at graduates/first jobbers. We also give our interpretation of why this particular question might be asked and how you should approach the answer. Of course this list could never be exhaustive but by thinking through your answers to some of these questions in advance we think you’ll find yourself much better prepared.
You can usually take a pretty good stab at what questions you are going to be asked before an interview, most interviewers have a stock from which they will pick as the interview develops to elicit the kind of information and reaction from you that allows them to make, or confirm, a decision. There are no hard and fast answers to these questions and, unless you have been to hundreds of interviews, you probably won’t have come across them all but it can be very useful to know what you might be asked and why. Thinking through your answers to typical interview questions will also help you to decide whether you are right for a company in advance and what you genuinely do want from your career and life and this advanced thought will translate itself into more confident, composed answers and more focused applications.
1. What specific career goals have you set for the next ten years?
The interviewer is looking for your long term plan, do you see this as a stepping stone to a role with another company or are you looking to move up the hierarchy within this company. This is a useful question for the interviewer to understand your perception of his or her organisation and can also serve to throw you off guard with it’s breadth of topic. Don’t be put off and don’t be afraid of stressing that, in an ideal world you would progress meteorically up the ranks in this organisation adding value at every stage but if the organisation won’t allow you to grow you would have to look elsewhere. Interviewers don’t expect you to have slavishly signed off your soul to them for the next decade even before a job offer is made.
2. What do you really want to do with your life?
Another tricky one, do you go for career success, happiness, high achievement, job satisfaction? This is one you really need to have thought about before the interview as it is a very common question, there’s no harm in tailoring your answer to the job of course but try and keep elements of sincerity in there. Also remember that not every role has to lead to management and eventual board membership, in the pharma industry there are lots of successful sales reps for example who have consistently turned down the opportunity to move into team management or other areas because they enjoy the freedom of the repping role, research scientists are another case in point.
3. What are the key rewards you expect from your business career?
A good question to see what drives you, do you just want your money at the end of the day? If so then this role as a teacher or policeman isn’t ideal, think about how you envisage the role you are applying for, if the role is as a Clinical Researcher then the company are looking for people who will push themselves hard to achieve the satisfaction of having brought a product to market that has saved lives.
4. What do you expect to be earning in five years time?
A good question to be cagey with, try not to get drawn into giving a figure with this one but turn the question back towards the interviewer, what could you be earning in five years time if you really achieved in this role, what about if you moved into sales or marketing? Be wary about underselling yourself.
5. Why did you choose the role/career for which you are applying?
You need a really solid answer to this question, people who just drift into roles aren’t likely to be the ‘driven, ambitious, self-motivated’ type that the advert was talking about. Think about what you expect to get out of this job and this company and tailor your answer to that.
6. Which is more important to you, the money or the job?
Simple, if you’re in sales then the answer is most often the money (companies love hungry sales people) otherwise it’s the job and being rewarded for doing it well, if you’re doing charity work or most public sector jobs then it’s the job.
7. What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Traditional career advice suggests that giving weaknesses that can be perceived as strength’s is the right way to go here but most interviewers will have heard that you are a ‘perfectionist’ and sometimes ‘a bit too determined’ far too often. Obviously don’t sell yourself short with a ‘chronic lack of self-confidence’ or ‘too many acid flashbacks’ but try to be reasonably truthful but more importantly point out how you are trying to address these weaknesses, a lack of knowledge in the subject area, which is why you’ve been taking those night school classes, makes you sound a lot better as a potential employee. As for strengths, honest but not arrogant should be enough to see you through.
8. How would you describe yourself to a stranger?
A clever question, this calls for you to put forward your personal attributes modestly, it also prevents you from talking about your achievements, after all, who would go up to a stranger and introduce themselves by talking about how much they took off ABC Corp.’s bottom line last year? Instead try to make yourself sound professional, motivated and competent. Words like tenacious, thoughtful and experienced are useful here.
9. How do you think a friend or colleague who knows you well would describe you?
Again a call for modesty on your behalf, it might be useful here to attack this question from the point of view of a friend and then a colleague, making the distinction between your professional and social life clear. Friends should see you as reliable, dynamic, cheerful, not ‘tight but a good laugh’. Colleagues should see you as professional, reliable, good with customers etc. remember this isn’t a rallying call for all your favourite personal attributes to come marching out, rather it’s a question that elicits what your new potential colleagues might be in for.
10. What motivates you to put in your greatest effort?
‘A good manager’ is an easy way out here, but things like satisfaction in a job well done, increased responsibility, a challenge, others depending on me etc. all suggest the kind of reliable team player employers love.
11. Why should I hire you?
A blunt question designed to throw you off balance, don’t let it. Interviewers will expect an awkward pause but you can easily turn this around, ‘Because I can do this job better than anyone else’ followed by silence, should do the trick. When and if the interviewer probes you for more they will expand the question and you can answer the expansion.
12. What qualifications do you have that make you think that you will be successful in our business?
Obviously first and foremost your professional qualifications and advanced degrees should be on the agenda, any project or dissertation work that you think is applicable should be discussed at length. If the interview marks a potential career change for you still bring in the previous qualifications but broaden their scope to make them seem ideal training for wider demands of the job, dealing with people, experience reading technical documentation etc.
13. What experience do you have that makes you think that you will be successful in our business?
Your cue to relate your experience to the role you are applying for, try to tailor any demanding challenges or projects you've faced in the past to the challenge of this new role, if the role requires you to head up a large department then talk about how you led a small team, if you are to be working with a difficult South East Asian client, relate how you dealt with similarly difficult clients in the past.
14. How do you determine or evaluate your success?
This question looks to establish what drives you, the approval of management or peers, or your own sense of a job well done? Are you never satisfied, (the insatiable perfectionist from question 8 perhaps) or do you do what's necessary in the time allowed, as a salesman do you look to hit target or to build profitable relationships? Weigh up your answer in terms of what the role requires and how the interview has been going, this question offers a great chance to redress the balance if you feel you've erred to hard on the side of sycophancy or self-interest earlier in the interview.
15. What do you think it takes to be successful in a company like ours?
Try to remember all the stuff you learnt about the company and use that to furnish your answer. If the company boasts that it is dynamic and fast moving and has experienced very rapid growth then clearly risk takers and people who get the job done are the type that will thrive, if it is a solid blue chip then quality work at a premium price is what pays the bills. This question requires you to balance the demands you perceive the role to have and the ethos of the company as you under stand it.
The final questions will appear in our next newsletter.