Questions asked by candidates
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In a competitive market, a good CV can help you to stand out from the crowd, show your skills and enable you to successfully find the right job for you. Your CV is effectively an advert for you and an opportunity to sell yourself to potential employers. In carefully selecting the right language, you can reflect your skills and the relevant capabilities in every section. As the first step in the recruitment process, it is important that it is right and reflective of you!
Make sure that your name is clearly presented in a larger font at the top of your page so that it stands out. Beneath this include your home address and up to date contact information. Don’t use your novelty email address – this is your first impression and it doesn’t sound very professional. The font should be easy to read and professional, but you could also choose one which stands out from the usual Times New Roam or Arial.
Career Aim or Personal Statement
Keep it brief, around three to four lines, and demonstrate your career focus. You could also link two or three relevant strengths and explain where you have developed these. It is important to make sure that this isn’t a vague or generic catch all.
Education and Qualifications
Start with your most recent qualifications. University qualifications will be of more interest to an employer and therefore devote more space to them over your school qualifications. Include the dates, the name of the university, the full degree title and the grade that you are expecting or have achieved. You should also include any modules that you have studied which are relevant to the job and the title of your research project or dissertation. You should also mention any experience abroad or work placements which you have undertaken as part of your course.
You can simplify your school qualifications to save space. Include the name of the school, the date and the level of qualification with grades. Unless if specified, it is not normally necessary to list every subject. Instead state the number of passes and your grades for English and Maths.
Recruiters and employers will zone in on the work experience section of your CV. It is important to include the dates of your employment, the role that you held and the name of the employer. Prospective employers understand that recent graduates may only have part-time and summer work that may not directly relate to their chosen career. However the responsibilities you have held and the skills that you have developed are relevant and important in selling yourself. Work experience is generally presented with the most recent experience first. However if you hold relevant experience which you wish to emphasise you may wish to include a ‘Relevant Work Experience Heading’ and then list less relevant experience under a ‘Other Work Experience’ heading.
Ensure that your CV reflects the specific job advertised. Read over the terminology and skills within the advert and reflect this vocabulary in your CV. Avoid making empty statements; if you have ‘good communication skills’, describe how you have effectively used them to achieve a task. Rather than just describing a list of responsibilities you have held, explain the contribution you made and how you have demonstrated success within the role. Mention any relevant achievements and concrete results that you have achieved in measurable terms. Rather than simply stating ‘designed company website’ you could say ‘designed company website which led to a 50% increase in product sales’.
If you wish to emphasise a specific area of experience or qualifications that are relevant to the role, you can do this in a designated section. For example, researchers may which to include a section on ‘Research’ or ‘Research Interests’.
Activities, Interests and Positions of Responsibility
These are all relevant sections to include in conveying your personality and characteristics. They demonstrate that you are motivated, can manage your time wisely and are a well-rounded individual. Positions of responsibility and achievements can be extra-curricular. Try to go beyond a list and indicate your level of involvement and what you have gained from each activity.
Within this section mention any additional skills. This could include languages and your proficiency, vocational skills such as driving or IT (specify software packages) which have not yet been mentioned. You should also include current vocational certificates such as First Aid.
To save space, a simple ‘References available on request’ is acceptable. It is also very common to give two referees: one academic and one from a previous employer. You can include their names, position, address, phone numbers and email addresses. You should always ask permission first and remember to ensure your referees are kept up to date on your aspirations and recent progress.
Preparing for your interview
Make sure you know the exact location and time of your interview, along with the interviewers name and title. Take this with you written down on the day, if you’re feeling nervous it is easy to forget where you are going and whom you are going to meet.
- Research the company ahead of the interview. At Hamlin Knight we will ensure that you are thoroughly briefed on the company so that you are walking in to the interview feeling confident. You should gain an understanding of what the company does, what their culture is like, what successes they have had and if they have been in the press recently. Most of this will be described on the company website but it is also good to check any industry specific news sites for further information.
- Check the job description in detail and highlight the key responsibilities of the role and list examples within your previous experience to demonstrate these within your interview. Knowing that you have done your homework will help you to feel confident and prepared in entering the interview; it will also ensure that your answers are relevant and that you appear professional under pressure.
- Make sure that you are up to date on the latest developments in relation to your current employer and the relevant sector. Be aware of any new products, processes, change in ownership, turnover and profit.
- Prepare a list of questions that you wish to ask the interviewer.
- Make sure that you arrive 10-15 minutes early for your interview. If you are later, your interviewer won’t care why, they will just associate you with being poorly organised. It will also make you feel pressured and flustered, meaning that you won’t start the interview at your best.
Creating the Right Impression
Pay good attention to the finer details to create the right impression. Your interview starts from the moment that you walk through the door of the client’s office. Often the interviewer will ask the receptionist for their feedback. They might observe you to see that you are polite and courteous to everyone that you encounter.
- Ensure that you are wearing appropriate dress. We would recommend always wearing business attire in a neutral colour.
- Greet the interviewer with a smile and a firm handshake. If you know the interviewer then follow their lead.
- Try to relax but remain conscious of your body language throughout the interview. Do not slouch and try to keep an appropriate level of eye contact, demonstrating that you can confidently communicate.
- Avoid answering questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. You have done your preparation and try to feed your skills and experience in throughout your answers.
- Remember an interview is a two way street. It is a chance for you to also get a feel for the organisation. If you feel that you have the skills and experience to complement the ethos of the organisation, make sure that the interviewer also sees that.
- Even if the interviewer is known to you, never assume that the interviewer knows what you do and are capable of. Always give a full, detailed response to showcase what you have achieved.
- Never make derogatory remarks about your previous employer. You’re there to demonstrate what you can achieve.
- It’s always a good idea to ask for a glass of water. If you need time to reflect on a question before answering, you can take a sip and compose your answer. This prevents uncomfortable silences and will help you to feel at ease.
Remember throughout, that you are an expert in you, your skills and your achievements. Walk in with confidence in that and then match your experience to the relevant questions.
Interviews may use a variety of approaches but they are designed to do just one thing, identify the best possible candidate for the advertised job. Sometimes you might feel as though the questions that are being asked have been designed to deliberately catch you out. That is not the intention of the interviewer; they are just trying to understand how you cope under pressure, your personality and your career aspirations.
Each of our clients have unique needs and as such each interview will vary. However you may find that interviewers ask questions along the lines of the following:
Tell me about yourself…
Although this may sound straight forwards, it can be difficult not to waffle and to ensure that your answer is relevant to the role. The interviewer is aiming to use a warm up question to put you at ease and to get a quick two or three minute snapshot of who you are and why you are the best candidate for the job. Keep your response relevant to the given job description. You should aim to address your capabilities, commitment and how you suit the culture of the company.
A great answer would be: “Good morning, my name is James Smith. I am a qualified accountant with six years post qualified experience within the pharmaceutical industry, which I have loved. I worked with Glaxo Smith Klein as an assistant accountant and I have spent the past four years working with Pfizer, where my most recent role was as a project accountant. I capably managed the project finance team of eight members of staff. I am proud to say that I recently have implemented a new financial management system, saving the company over £500,000 in year one. I enjoy working with financial data and I have a reputation for my attention to detail and for delivering within strict deadlines. Going forwards I intend to work in a challenging finance role within the same industry. Your organisation is one in which I believe that I could settle down and make a real contribution”.
Why should we hire you?
This can be a killer question and can make or break your chances of winning the job. The better you understand the requirements and expectations of the role, the more detailed and relevant your answer will be. The interviewer wants to find out what you can do for their business; your response should answer that question.
A suitable answer would be: “As I understand your needs, you are fundamentally looking for someone who can increase your advertising sales and has experience of managing a sales team. I have a proven track record in successfully managing and developing my territory within this sector, having increased my sales from £150,000 to £210,000 over the last two years alone”.
If you were a car/tree/animal what would you be?
Some interviewers do still ask this type of questions. There is no right or wrong answer, the interviewer is testing to see how you behave and perform under pressure in an attempt to gain an insight into your personality and how you view yourself. Don’t get hung up on the implications of your answer, but you do need to consider how you can explain your answer.
You could answer along the lines of: “I would probably be a 1962 Alpha Romeo Spider – stylish, drive and quick of the mark”.
Why did you leave your last job?
You should definitely prepare for this in advance as it is an obvious but sometimes difficult question. Think about how you want to word what you are going to say. You should remain positive about your current and previous employers because you never know who networks with whom and when your paths might cross again. Additionally you also need to consider who you can use for a reference.
An example answer could be: “I learned a lot from my previous employer and enjoyed my time there. However, promotional opportunities were few and far between and I am keen to advance my career sooner rather than later”.
What are your weaknesses?
In general advice on answering this often suggests that you should take one of your strengths and describe it as a weakness. We disagree with this approach. For example, “I work too much” has the potential to work against you rather than for you. It could be interpreted to mean that you can’t organise your time or manage your workload effectively. We would recommend using a genuine weakness.
A suitable answer could be reflective of a change or an improvement that you have made: “I used to struggle to plan and prioritise my workload, however, I have taken steps to resolve this and now I have started using a planning tool and diary system on my laptop”.
What motivates you?
It goes without saying that the thing not to focus on here is money or the lifestyle that comes with it. Instead, try and give a constructive answer that will excite your interviewer into understanding what benefit you will bring to their business.
A great answer would be: “I get a real kick out of seeing my team exceed their sales targets and completing the project on time and in budget”.
How long have you been looking for a job?
The interviewer may be intrigued as to why another employer has not snapped you up – or just looking to see how you cope under pressure. A good answer will acknowledge any difficulties or gaps in employment as well as any experience or capabilities that you have gained.
A suitable answer would be: “After I was made redundant from my last job, I took the opportunity to take some time out to examine my career goals and what I wanted to achieve next. I have just begun my search in the last few weeks and I now have a definite goal in mind and I have been selective about the positions that I consider. I feel that your organisation is one in which I am greatly interested, could commit my time to and the role would enable me to develop and contribute to achieve my goals”.
How did you prepare for this interview?
The interviewer is gauging your level of interest to see whether you have done your research, or if you are going to attempt to wing it! Try to think of a way in which your answer can stand out, a snippet of information that you found particularly interesting.
A simple but suitable answer could be: “When I was told about the position by Hamlin Knight, I was immediately interested. I had previously followed the company for a few years and when I checked out the company website, mission statement, values and the profiles of the founders and executives I was immediately impressed and engaged. I am really passionate about the environment and sustainability and I feel that I would be a great fit with these values. I have also looked at some of the industry press as well as the most recent financial reports. I’m sure I’ll find out a lot more in today’s meeting”.
What is your salary expectation for this job?
The interviewer is fundamentally trying to find out if they can afford you, or if they can get less than budgeted. You do need to be realistic and keep both of these things in mind.
It is okay to bat it back to the interviewer, you could say: “I’ll need more information about the job and the responsibilities involved before we can begin to discuss salary. Can you give me an idea of the range that you have budgeted for this position?”
How do you keep up to date and informed about your job and the industries that you have worked in?
The interviewer is trying to ascertain if you are engaged within the industry and once you get the job whether you will continue to learn and grow, stay challenged and motivated.
A great answer would be: “I pride myself on my ability to keep up to date with the latest developments in my industry. I am a keen reader and I regularly study the business section of the newspapers and industry magazines. I belong to a couple of professional organisations and I enjoy networking with colleagues from these. I take seminars or training whenever they are of interest or offer new information or details of the latest technology”.
Tell me about a time when you had to plan and coordinate a project from start to finish….
Your interviewer is trying to gain an understanding of your experience and how you have behaved previously. There is quite a lot to consider within this: how did you work with a team, how did you work with outside agencies, were there any difficulties along the way and how were these overcome.
A good answer should acknowledge the involvement of others: “I headed up a project which involved working with customer service personnel and technicians. I organised a meeting to get everyone together to brainstorm and gain their input. From this meeting I drew up a plan, taking the best and most popular ideas. I organised teams, balancing the mixture of technical and non-technical professionals. We had a deadline to meet, so I did periodic checks with the teams. After three weeks we were exceeding expectations and were able to begin implementing the plan. It was a great team effort and a big success. I was commended by management for my leadership, but I was most proud of the team spirit and cooperation which it took to reach success”.
What kind of people do you have difficulties working with?
Your interviewer is trying to see how flexible you are and whether you can work in a diverse environment. You need to be able to explain a coping mechanism for any issues that you have previously had.
A suitable answer could be: “In my last three roles I have worked with men and women from very diverse backgrounds and cultures. The only time that I have had difficulty was when working with people who are dishonest about work issues. I worked with one woman who was taking credit for work that her team had accomplished. I had an opportunity to talk to her one day and explained how she was affecting morale within the team. She became very upset that others saw her that way and said she was unaware of her behaviour or the reactions of others. Her behaviour changed after our talk and she became more receptive to others and credited them with their work. From this experience, I learned that sometimes what we might perceive about others may be more complex when we look into it properly”.
How would your former colleagues describe you?
Although it might sound like an intimidating question, this is a sure sign that the interviewer likes you and is already thinking about contacting your previous employer for a reference. This is the time that you realise how important it is to choose your referees wisely. You should answer your question in a way in which you think your employer is likely to respond.
A suitable answer could be: “I have an excellent working relationship with my manager and we have mutual respect for each other. He considers me to be hard working, dedicated, reliable and able to work well using my own initiative”.
We expect managers to work more than eight hours a day, do you have a problem with that?
The interviewer is trying to see if you are a ‘workaholic’ or a person that requires balance.
A simple and straight forwards answer could be: “I am flexible and I have no problem with working longer hours. I have worked twelve or fourteen hour days. What I have found works for me is to work smarter, not necessarily longer. My goal is to get the job done efficiently and to a high standard, whatever it takes”.
When have you been most satisfied in your career?
The interviewer is trying to ascertain what motivates or demotivates you.
A good answer could be: “The job before the one I am currently at was the most rewarding experience for me. I worked in a wonderful team environment. There was a lot of camaraderie. I worked with a team of four people and we did some really original thinking. It is that kind of environment that I want to be involved again”.
Why do you want this job?
The interviewer is trying to determine if you are applying for everything and anything, or if you are genuinely interested in the job and their company.
Our suggested answer would be: “I’ve been very careful about the companies where I have applied. When Hamlin Knight told me about this role, it ticked all of the boxes in regards to what I was looking for and I feel that I am a good match for the ethos of the company. What I can bring to this job is my seven years of knowledge and experience within the industry, plus my ability to communicate and build solid relationships with clients. Additionally I am flexible and have strong organisational skills, which make a perfect match for this position. I see some challenges ahead of me here and that’s what I thrive on. I have what you need and you have the role that I want”.
We are ready to make an offer, are you ready to accept today?
Your interviewer wants to ensure your commitment and doesn’t want to risk you leaving and changing your mind. That said you still might have things that you want to ensure before you accept the role officially.
Here is a sample answer: “Based on my research and the information that you have provided during the interview process, I feel that I am in a position to consider the offer. I do, however, have a personal policy that I give myself 24 hours to make major life decisions. I could let you know by tomorrow”.
Unfortunately there is no way to accurately predict all of the questions that you might be asked. Preparation is key. Do your research into the background of the employer and consider anything about your history that might concern your employer, or raise questions. If you follow these steps, you can walk into the interview feeling confident in your experience and that you fit the role.
A handy checklist to read before you walk into the interview:
- Always wear business attire, even if the company dress code is casual. A smart business suit, clean shoes and minimal jewellery can create a professional impression from the off.
- Before the interview, prepare questions to ask, write them down and take them into the interview with you, along with any job specifications, company literature, certificates and a spare copy of your CV.
- Throughout the interview remember to maintain a professional but friendly manner. Always shake hands with your interviewer, on arrival and then on departure.
- Maintain an appropriate level of eye contact throughout the interview.
- Ask if the interviewer has any reservations about employing you. This way you have the opportunity to overcome any of the worries that they may have.
- Tell the interviewer if you want the job!
Below are some examples of general questions that your interviewer may ask. We would recommend that you prepare and rehearse answers for any that you think might be appropriate. Even if these questions are not directly used, revisiting your experience will be beneficial preparation.
- Why are you interested in this role or department?
- Why are you interested in this company?
- Tell me about yourself? (Your answer should be brief and last for one to two minutes).
- What can you bring to this role/company? (Your answer should be longer and last for around four minutes).
- Why did you leave your previous jobs?
- What did you dislike about your previous jobs?
- What aspects of your work do you consider to be the most important?
- What is the most responsible or challenging task that you have performed?
- What else would you like to tell me about your qualifications for this job?
- How do you like to be managed?
- What motivates you?
- What makes you angry or frustrates you at work?
- What kind of things would you worry most about at work?
- Which three words would best describe your personality?
- What are your ultimate career aspirations?
- What else should I know about you?
- Why should I offer this job to you, rather than someone with more knowledge or experience than you?
- How much are you hoping to earn from your new role?
Some employers will set tasks to test how competent you are. In asking relevant questions that draw on your personal experience, the employers can gain an understanding of you.
Suitable questions might include:
- Describe a situation where you have had to communicate a complicated idea to a colleague. How successful were you? What made it complex?
- What kind of written work does your current job require? Can you give me some examples of the more significant pieces of work? What made them significant? How were they received?
- What is the most difficult or important presentation that you have had to make in your current or past roles? How did you prepare? How did you hold the attention of your audience? What was the outcome?
- What experience do you have of working within a team? What role do you tend to take? What impact does that have?
- How do you share ideas or encourage ideas from others? Give me an example?
- How have you made the important decisions that have affected your career for the future?
- What has been the hardest decision that you have had to take in your current or last job? What made the decision hard to make? What helped you to make the decision?
- Can you think of an example of a good decision that you have made recently? What options did you have? Why do you think your choice was the right one?
Whilst a telephone interview may seem preferable and more informal, we would still recommend preparing in the same way that you would for a traditional interview. The benefit is that you can keep the details that you have given on application, the job description and your research into the company close to hand to use during the interview.
We would recommend following these tips for success:
- Be aware of how you present yourself. Do not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum on the phone. They will be heard by the caller and do not give the best impression.
- Smile – whilst the interviewer can’t see you, they will be able to detect this from your tone of voice. It will help you to feel more relaxed, confident and positive, which the caller will be able to pick up on.
- Keep calm – even if you are surprised by the call and caught unawares, be calm, positive and friendly. You can politely answer the phone with “I’m glad you called and I would be delighted to talk, please could you hold for one moment while I close the door/pop into my office?” This gives you time to compose yourself and to get your notes to hand.
- Concentrate – avoid distractions, so that you can concentrate and present yourself at your best. If you have the TV or radio on, or if you were undertaking a task like cooking or operating machinery, take a break and switch off any background noise.
- Take your time – it is perfectly acceptable and understandable to want to take a moment to gather your thoughts and to focus your answer.
- Listen and converse – a skilled interviewer will use open questions to elicit detailed answers and avoid one word replies. However, it is important that you are part of the conversation. Try to give factual, honest and detailed answers. Do take the opportunity to answer any questions that you have too.
- Take notes – after the interview, note the interviewer’s name, their role and any other relevant details that you might wish to recall at a later date. If you are called for a face to face interview at a later date, the notes will give you a better recollection of what was discussed. Also note any questions that you have asked and the replies given, to avoid repeating these at a later date. It means that you can pick up from where you have left the phone interview.
Answering Questions and Closing the Interview:
- Be ready for relative trivia like “what’s your idea of a great weekend” and unexpected openers such as “why do you like the look of this job”. The interviewer might try to catch you unawares, so it is important that you are prepared and take the time to think through your answers to feel at ease.
- In the same respect, prepare answers to any difficult or trick questions you can think of. Draft answers to questions like “why do you want to leave your present job” and “what are your worst weaknesses”.
- Take the opportunity to respond with questions of your own, based on the research that you have done in advance, giving them a chance to talk about the company.
- If you are feeling particularly stressed or confused, you can ask your interviewer what they mean from a particular question; “please could you clarify what you would like to learn here”.
- Aggressive interviewers are probably just acting and looking for your response. It might sound difficult, but the best thing that you can do is to stay calm and professional. Your manner under pressure will impress them the most.
- Watch out for indulgent interviewers who encourage your negative traits and give you enough rope to hang yourself. If you feel as though you are being led down a path, consider why that might be. Absolute do nots are swearing, criticising your current employer or giving away the secrets of your current employer.
- Always stick with the truth.
- Do not try out any manipulation techniques that you have learned in sales training or elsewhere. Many interviewers will have been trained to recognise such tactics; if they encounter these they are likely to immediately reject you immediately.
- At the end of the interview, make sure that you close the interview with the equivalent of a warm handshake and a smile. Pass comment on what a positive experience that you have found the interview to be. In the final words you could say something brilliant that summarises the path of the interview, such as “I really like your plans for the new product roll out strategy, it is just the kind of thing that I have been working towards over the last two years…”
Assessment Centres are increasingly popular with employers as an efficient way of managing the interview process. They are thought to provide the most reliable, objective and fair process of selecting suitable candidates. We would still recommend that you prepare for the process as you would a traditional interview, so that you feel confident and at ease.
Organisations use ice breakers to help you to relax and to get the group of prospective candidates to gel. Sometimes they are applied and involve the completion of a task to a tight deadline, or they might be more of an intellectual challenge. The interviewers will be looking for teamwork and collaboration. All candidates are expected to share information. You might be asked to build a tower from straws, paper and pins. If you are asked to make something, try to make sure that the group doesn’t spend too much time discussing and designing so that you don’t run out of time for construction. Another example would be to talk about something which you have done in your past, an unusual event or hobby.
From the group exercise your interviewer is aiming to evaluate your communication and problem-solving skills, to ensure that you can work effectively as part of a team. You need to support the group in completing the task that has been set, whether that involves discussing a particular relevant issue, constructing something, or selling an object in a sales task. The best way to impress the prospective employers is to demonstrate that you are a good team player, be flexible, full of ideas and willing to listen and to help build upon the ideas of others:
- You need to contribute without being overly dominant. Be assertive, but not aggressive. If you are aware that you are usually shy in such circumstances, you will need to try your best to contribute and speak up, think of it as acting a part. If you know that you can sometimes be overbearing in groups, try to show balance and ensure that you listen to others.
- Speak clearly and confidently. Listen and ask questions if you are unclear on anything, which will demonstrate your attention to detail. Be aware of what others in the group are contributing, if you think it is appropriate you could try to encourage the quieter members of the group to participate.
- Be diplomatic, if someone is dominating the group, don’t shout them down, but try to make sure that everybody gets a chance to share their thoughts. Be prepared to compromise.
- Keep an eye on the time that you have been given for the activity and ensure the group remains focussed on the overall objective. From time to time keep summarising the group’s progress.
Your success is typically assessed against a list of competencies which are likely to include communication, listening, being a team player, objective handling, etc. Try to ensure that you demonstrate these skills throughout the activity. Throughout the event you will be assessed across a number of exercises. It is often the case that candidates do not perform well in all of the exercises, so accept that some parts will go better than others. Keep calm and do not crumble if one exercise goes badly.