How to prepare for the most common predictable interview questions
You might not be the one asking the questions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in control of your interview. In this article, we want to help you get clear about your message and create your interview ‘agenda’, as well as provide you with easy-to-follow answer formulas for those predictable interview questions…
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what you might be asked and how to answer, let’s first think about WHAT messages you want to get across. What are your USPs (unique selling points) and what skills and qualities can you offer this employer to help them get results? Getting clear about these areas will help you craft your interview “agenda”. To get this clear, make three lists and match up:
Your USPs and why you are different to other candidates
Take a few minutes to think about this one – for many of us who are modest, this can be hard. If you struggle with this, the best next thing is to ask your closest friends and family as they always see the best in us and are happy to remind of us it. You’re looking for something that is individual to you and you have real examples to demonstrate. An example could be: having a unique insight into cultures, languages, a talent such as organising awesome events or your perseverance to achieve anything you put your mind to. Last week, whilst training a group of EMBA’s, the group struggled to come up with their own but within a few minutes of asking each other for help, had more than 10 things to add to this part of their interview “agenda”.
Your special skills, matched to the job specification
Take a highlighter pen to your selected job advert and highlight the words or sentences that describe the core skills the role requires. This could be displayed under the job description or roles & responsibilities section or under the person requirements section. Then try to identify those skills or transferable competencies you have which strongly match what you have highlighted.
The results you could help the company achieve
An essential starting point: what results will you potentially bring to the organisation that would have a significant bottom-line benefit? Another way of approaching this question is: if you were to be hired today and were reviewed a year from now, what would be the most important measurements that would determine your performance? It is important to articulate this from the point of view of the organisation, not you. For example:
- Expansion of client base by 20%
- New processes with 10% cost-efficiencies
- Enhance market share by 5%
- Double sales revenue
- Develop new programmes or system
The most important of these results is known as the ‘ultimate result’ and it is something to keep in mind as it can be woven tactically into answers in many ways to be more persuasive.
These answers outline your interview ‘agenda’ and you should use them them when crafting your answers to the predictable questions mentioned below.
Now that’s out of the way, here are some of the types of questions you can expect…
What is your greatest strength?
One of the most common questions is about what you will bring to the company. For example, what are your perceived strengths? This is a great opportunity to bring your special skills, USPs and results agenda to the table. Here’s an example of a great answer:
One of my greatest strengths is my meticulous nature. I understand that producing good quality research and flawless analysis is important for this role and you really need an organised person who has attention to detail. During my work experience and education I have developed strong planning skills. It has always benefited me to set goals and plan to achieve them – I normally use a project planning approach to do this. Similarly with my hobbies – amateur acting and singing – are things I put not 10 0 but 200 per cent into. In fact I recently played a role in fringe theatre and got an amazing mention in the local newspaper.
What are your weaknesses?
See where we’re going with this? Now let’s deal with that ominous question that everyone fears about weaknesses/failures/regrets. The bottom line is your answer should be a disguised strength – a success story of how you can overcome difficulties by understanding how you work best. So let’s take this answer:
To be honest … when I’m faced with multiple projects of equal priority, I used to sometimes let details fall through the cracks
Then turn it into a positive success story:
I was told at university I was a global thinker – seeing things from top down – general overview first, detail later. Because of this I have learned the hard way to become a list person. I write everything down with a due date and then review the list regularly to make sure things get done on time. It’s a tool that has enabled me to multi task and I have become more effective as a result.
What motivates and excites you?
This is another common one, closely related to ‘what’s most important to you in a job?’ and it will largely be related to the industry or sector you are applying to work in. Refer to the type of duties required for the role and the skills needed, and any research you have done on the company. Use emotive verbs and adjectives and avoid citing any benefits to you. Finish off with:
“…and that’s why I’m here today!”
Walk me though your CV…
When an interviewer asks you to walk them through your CV, they are not asking you to read it for them. This is a chance to tell them a story with your strengths, skills, learning experiences and potential interwoven. Start with the most important and focus on your achievements, decisions, what you’ve learned and wrap it all up with a description of what motivates you:
I’m an MBA grad from Business School Lausanne with an interest in business development. I’m from Brazil and very entrepreneurial. In fact I have been obsessed about making money since I was a kid. I used to buy sweets in bulk from the supermarket and then sell them individually at a higher price in the playground. I would pocket the money and save it until I had enough to repeat the exercise.
A decade later I was the founder of an investment club whose mission was to help a group of teenagers to understand the stock market and gain experience in portfolio management. It’s now time to realise my long term dream to join a large corporation like yours and join a sales team where these skills are well matched and can be put to use.
Describe a situation when…?
We’ve already covered a lot of ground in this article but I want to show you one last tactic. This is one to use for competency-based questions and it’s called STARD – Situation, Task, Actions, Results and Difference. When your interviewer asks you to describe a situation when…. they are asking you to talk them through real life examples of STARD. You might also be asked
to describe what you would do in a certain situation. This is a hypothetical question and can throw you off. For instance:
It’s 20 minutes before you present to a big client and your team have made a huge error in the presentation – what do you do?
Whether it’s a competency question or hypothetical, always share a real life example from your education, training or professional experience. The table below presents the different questions you might receive within the STARD formula – use them to help craft some examples using the STARD structure in advance. Pick out the competences or skills you think you might be interviewed around and then think of some examples which demonstrate these skills:
I hope you found this article useful and it has given you a better idea of what to expect in an interview. I’d love to share more examples with you but we’d need a book to be able to cover all of them. Here are the most common types of questions asked in interviews for your reference:
- Information gathering/biographic
- Competency based questions
- Situational / hypothetical questions
- Commercial awareness/knowledge questions
- Technical questions
- Pressure or “nasty” questions