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Questions

Tell me about yourself.

Ideal answer

Should be about two or three minutes long and briefly cover your education, your interest in the field, your work history and experience.

Rationale

A common opening question, partly because your interviewers want to know more about you, but mostly because they want to put you on the spot and see how you react. They’ve given you complete control here, and you should take full advantage of it. They have not, however, asked for your life story.

Non ideal answer

‘Well, where do I start? I was born in 1974, a precocious child…’

Rationale

It’s important to keep your answers pertinent, and try not to go off-topic too much. You’re here to interview for a particular position, and you shouldn’t lose sight of this. Remember: the interviewer is not just making small talk.

Michael Cheary, recruitment expert, Reed.co.uk

Hint

Make it useful to the job

Why do you want to work here?

Ideal answer

‘I’m innovative, I’m a free thinker’

Rationale

Look at the company website to see what the company culture is, then try to answer in a way that matches up to and tallies well with that.

Non ideal answer

‘I can turn your company around’

Rationale

You’ll come across as being arrogant and saying you think they’re doing something really badly.

Rebekah Fensome, Life Coach www.rebekahfensomelifecoach.com

Hint

Don’t just talk about yourself in this bit!

What achievement are you most proud of?

Ideal answer

‘During university I worked part-time within a customer service department/call centre of a famous online shopping brand. Towards the end of my final year at University the Assistant Manager left to join another business and despite my reduced hours I was asked to step in as Assistant Manager on a part-time interim basis.’

Rationale

Your answer should clearly demonstrate what the achievement was, what you overcame (i.e why this was an achievement?) and the outcome. The best way of answering the question is with the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result).

Non ideal answer

‘When I got my degree/other academic qualification’

Rationale

This will not make you stand out and may come across as a “lazy”

James Jenkins, O2 HR team

Hint

Now you can big yourself up!

What would you say is your biggest weakness/strength?

Ideal answer

‘I used to find it difficult to work on simultaneous projects, preferring to finish on one task before starting another. However, since taking a time management course recently, I’ve learnt how to manage my schedule more effectively, making it easier to multi-task when necessary.’

Rationale

The first part of this question is realising that you actually have some. Everyone has weaknesses or things that they can improve about themselves. And that is essentially what the interviewer is asking you to consider. The best answers to this question take one of your weaknesses, and then give practical examples of how you’re trying to address it.

Non ideal answer

‘I don’t have any weaknesses’, ‘I’m a perfectionist’, ‘Kryptonite’

Rationale

Be honest with yourself here. It’ll save you a lot of time in the long run.

Michael Cheary, recruitment expert, Reed.co.uk

Hint

You’re not superman, but you’re super, man.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Ideal answer

Be passionate about the industry. Fit your career goals around the organisation’s objectives, demonstrate ambition and exploit your strengths.

Rationale

Although all of your answers should be tailored to the organisation and position you’ve applied for, this is especially the case with this question. If you’re going for an entry level position, for example, explain how you’d like your career to progress (e.g. ‘I’d like to progress to a Senior Software Engineer’ or ‘I see myself being a team leader…’).

Non ideal answer

‘On the other side of this desk’, ‘Doing your job’, ‘Rich’, ‘On a beach somewhere far, far away’.

Rationale

The interviewer wants you to display that you’ve thought about your future, your ambition to progress in the industry. They also want to verify that this isn’t just a stop gap position.

Michael Cheary, recruitment expert, Reed.co.uk

Hint

Make it about the company

What relevant experience do you have?

Ideal answer

‘I did lots of work with spreadsheets for my Maths coursework last year. I’ve also been working on my presentation skills recently by helping kids at my old school prepare for a debating competition.’

Rationale

Experience comes in many forms and mostly it is down to the skill sets you have which can be applied in different ways. For instance, if you are good at creating timetables for revision then you could use that as a way of demonstrating skill in planning and preparation. If you have always got top marks in maths then this could be a great way of demonstrating a flair with numbers and figures.

Non ideal answer

‘Working in the local pub.’

Rationale

Whilst this kind of answer may demonstrate that you have worked, unless any job you have had is relevant it best not to mention it.

Linda Parkinson-Hardman, author of LinkedIn Made Easy

Hint

Don’t worry if you don’t have on-the-job experience. Seriously!

What have you been doing since graduating/school/college?

Ideal answer

‘I set up a film group or a social group’,’I’ve volunteered’, ‘I’ve worked in a biscuit factory’

Rationale

Show that you’re quite proactive – it might not be that you’ve done a job but it could be charity work or volunteer work, or experience within a workplace or corporate environment.

Non ideal answer

‘Well, yeah, I was hoping to do something. I’ve been partying lots and socialising lots.’ Or not having an answer at all.’

Rationale

You need to show that you’re not just sitting around waiting for things to happen.

Rebekah Fensome, Life Coach www.rebekahfensomelifecoach.com

Hint

Show you’re a work in progress

What kind of salary would you be looking for?

Ideal answer

A broad (but realistic) answer e.g. ‘I’m looking for a starting salary somewhere between £25,000 and £30,000.’

Rationale

When completing your preparations for the interview, always have this question in the back of your mind. Have a look at the average salary for someone in this industry, area, and who possesses similar skills to yourself, and you should get a basic idea.

Non ideal answer

‘How much do you think I’m worth?’, ‘Anything, I just want a job’, or any unrealistic salaries which are not in line with industry standards and best practice.

Rationale

Remember, this is only an interview. You haven’t been offered the job. There’s no need at this stage to be too specific or to try and begin negotiations. Giving a broad salary range will usually be enough to move on, but be prepared to back it up if you need to. However, whatever your previous experience, don’t be tempted to sell yourself short.

Michael Cheary, recruitment expert, Reed.co.uk

Hint

Do your research.

Do you have any questions for me?

Ideal answer

‘What is the company vision for the next five years?’, ‘How do you find working at the company?’

Rationale

Always have at least three questions to ask. It’s always good to show that you’ve been on the company’s website and that you’ve tried to find out as much about them as possible.

Non ideal answer

‘How many people have you got coming for interview?’,’What money am I going to get?’

Rationale

You don’t want to look like you’re trying to take over. If you were going to ask anything administrative, it wouldn’t necessarily come within the questions about the company, it could be something at the end, like “What would be the next step from here?” If you get the job, then you go into negotiation about the salary – if they want you then you’re in a stronger position.

Rebekah Fensome, Life Coach www.rebekahfensomelifecoach.com

Hint

Keep it positive!

How do you cope under pressure?

Ideal answer

‘During my second year at university I really struggled with juggling submission deadlines, exam revision and casual work and it really got me thinking about how to approach my final year – the most important one. I decided for my final year that I would plan all submissions so they were always in a week earlier than required and developed a time table that allowed me to do that.I was much calmer for my finals and really happy with the result I got!’

Rationale

Your answer should demonstrate that you’re able to cope under pressure, how you’ve learned and developed to be able to do so and also include an example of where you have put this in to practice and overcome obstacles and prioritised.

Non ideal answer

‘I let my hair down at weekends’

Rationale

This may well be true but doesn’t paint the best picture for your potential future employer. It’s better to keep your answer to how you would tackle a pressurised work situation.

James Jenkins, O2 HR team

Hint

Show how you’ve overcome problems