Thursday, 1 November 2007

What they say and what they mean

Long Long Ago, I Made A Promise. I said that I'd get around to writing down what I thought interviewers said and what they actually mean.

Since that post, we've had a new baby. Getting ready for that took a lot of focus off the blog and consequently this post was not written...

... until now!

Now I know you can pick up a book and read lots of this stuff already, and I absolutely implore you to do that if you have time. For those of you who don't have time, here is my quick summary of what I think interviewers might be angling toward.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Recognise that if you are unprepared for this, then there is no limit to how much rope you have in hand to hang yourself with. Don't adlib this one.

The question seeks to find out how you see yourself, how you think others see you, how you handle critisism and also importantly what your goals are (if indeed you have any).

To prepare for this consider your goal. Why are you taking the interview? What is the role you want.

With this in mind, think about what you have to get you there and what holds you back. Then think about how you and your employer can close those gaps holding you back (training, mentoring, University, experience).

Explain how these then fit into the job description on offer and make sure to use some of the terms in their job ad. It will help it ring true in their minds.

Mostly, keep this concise and well polished. It shows a massive commitment toward the company and demonstrates you are willing to put some effort into the interview (which shows respect of the organisation).

When have you done more of you than is required?

There are two types of employees in most places. The 9-5 guys (go home, switch off, do something else), and the rest of them (toss problems in their head, etc).

The key point here is to demonstrate that you did something not expected by your employer. For example, did a degree on my own part-time, solved a problem at home on my own time, championed an initiative while preparing in my own time.

The employer isn't so interested that you give 50 hours and are paid for 35, they ARE interested in hearing you are passionate about your profession.

The girl who goes home and thinks about the problem in the back of their mind and comes to work with the answer will feature higher in the interviewers mental scorecard. Companies love to have energetic staff who motivate others around them.

So in short, the interviewer looks to hear that you are in it for more than just the money and want to hear you demonstrate it.

How would you handle poorly performing staff?

Only really applies to those in team lead or management positions.

Mostly this is a question of ettiquite and social skills. Are you able to talk to people in a non-confrontational way? Do you need daddy (management) to bail you out?

You might be given this question in a behavioural context. For example 'You have found a member of staff browsing the Internet for illegal music during work hours instead of working on their project. How do you approach this situation?'. It's the same question in different clothes.

How you answer this depends on the type of person you are. Remember that employers want staff to value their policies and respect them, they want you to help nip problems in the bud early, and they want you to be able to communicate and listen to others.

Do your research on the company. Find out a little about their culture. And don't be afraid to ask at the end of the interview for more detail on the company culture to learn what is expected of staff.

What is your worst experience and what did you learn from it?

Straight to the point question. The interviewer is asking two direct questions.

1. Have you experience and in what areas?

2. Do you identify and learn from your mistakes?

Cover those two angles to give them interviewers the details they need. You won't really be able to bluff this as the interviewer will often ask you to explain more detail on the experience.

Keep this answer short, a few minutes at most. The better you can tell this story, the more punch your answer will have.

What have been your most and least productive times?

The short answer is they want to know that you will get enjoyment from the role on offer.

Interviewers want to hear you describing the experiences you have had that fired your motivation and use this to determine if they think you will be equally or more fired up in their workplace. Was your motivation financial, challenge, technical, fear?

They are also interested to hear about the lower points. If you were less productive, what did you do about it? The interview should be able to accept and recognise that we don't always make the best career choices. It's OK to admit you tried something and hated it.

It is likely they want to understand that you are happy to be out of your comfort zone and try new things, and clearly want to know if things interest you so they can determine if you are a good fit into the organisation.

Most companies want a higher workforce skills mobility, staff who are multiskilled and can flex into roles as needed. If you happen to be one of these types of people, be sure to highlight it here.

How would others describe you?

Exactly as it says on the tin. How do others see you?

Keep your answer to this short and use simply words like 'honest', 'reliable', 'trustworthy', 'competent'.

Don't worry about embelishing the answer more than this, but do prepare examples for each point.

What skills do you bring to a team? / What skills do you think this role demands? / What will the challenges be in this role?

If you have read the role descriptions, the answers they want are all in there. They just want to know you have thought about the role.

Your only job is to highlight the tie between your CV and their job description.

I'd suggest a simple excercise here.

  • Print your CV and the job description out.
  • Sit them side by side and number the items across the two which support each other (e.g. the job asks for Oracle skills, circle this in both papers).

Just doing this will focus your mind on how good a match your CV is to their job description. This should be enough to get through the interview.

Try hard to avoid taking paper into the interview and reading from it. Have a few small bullet points, but don't read line by line.

Why do you want this role? / Why should you get this role?

There isn't a hidden question here, they want to hear your summary of what makes this a good fit.

They are interested in seeing if you listen and if you can summarise well.

If you were paying attention in the interview, you should try to put in a few comments about the things your learned at the interview today. This is clearly trickier, but shows you are an active listener.

What will you do if you don’t get this role?

Bit of a nasty question, but can be fairly asked.

I'd recommend you make clear that you will want to understand why you didn't get the role, therefore will look for feedback from the interview panel if possible.

I'd also mention that you will continue to look for a role similar to the one on offer as it appears to be a very good fit.

All of this said and done only really works if you are committed to the role.

Do your research, think about the role and your skills / experience match, and bring your experiences to the fore of your mind so you can tell them to others.