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How to expect the Spanish Inquisition

Getting an interview is only the first step on the road to securing a job. Sasa Jankovic offers her tips about how to tackle interview questions, as well as what not to say.

If you’ve applied for a job and been invited for interview this is your chance to impress a potential employer face to face but, as the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Be prepared

There is plenty of preparation you can do to make sure your interview goes as well as possible, and rehearsing your answers to some common interview questions is a good place to start.

This is because the company will almost certainly be interviewing more than one person for a role, so they’ll ask each candidate a pretty standard set of questions and see which responses best fit what they’re looking for in an employee.

Below are some of the most common interview questions that you can expect to be asked, along with what to say and – sometimes more importantly – what not to say. Why not try role-playing these with a friend to practise how you’d answer them.

Q: How would you describe yourself?

It is fine to say you are “friendly”, “organised” or other positive things, but what they really want to hear are attributes that explain why you are perfect for the job, based on the skills and qualities that fit the role in question.

Don’t say: “I’m really disorganised and late for everything.”

Do say: “I’m not at all fazed by learning new things.”

Q: Why are you interested in this job?

Your answer should be about wanting to expand your experience and knowledge in a company that values those things.

Don’t say: “I heard you have a really good pension scheme.”

Do say: “I know that your company is very proactive about staff training and I’m always keen to add to my skills.”

Q: What qualities do you think you can bring to this position?

This is where you talk about your understanding of the role on offer, and explain how your skills fit what they are looking for, whether or not you’ve had a job like this before.

Don’t say: “I’m a bit of a comedian and every office needs someone to cheer everyone up.”

Do say: “I have lots of skills and experience which match what you’re looking for,” and then describe them.

Q: What are your strengths?

This is the time to talk about things you have achieved which are relevant to the job on offer, and mention positive qualities about yourself, such as being motivated, organised or confident.

Don’t say: “My boss says I make the best cupcakes she’s ever tasted.”

Do say: “I consider myself to be very flexible and always consider other points of view.”

Q: What are your weaknesses?

This can be a bit of a trick question so don’t put your foot in it by reeling out a list of negatives. For example, don’t say things like “I hate talking on the phone”. Instead, mention weaknesses that could also be considered plus points, such as “I’m a bit of a perfectionist”.

Don’t say: “I’m not really a team player.”

Do say: “I am not happy until I am confident a project is properly finished.”

Q: What do you know about our company?

This is your chance to impress by showing that you are interested in the company and what they do. If they’ve expanded, won an award or a new contract recently, mention that you’ve heard about it.

Don’t say: “Lots of my mates work here and say you have a really good canteen.”

Do say: “My research shows that you have a reputation for being an innovative leader in your field, which must be why you won that award for excellence last year.”

Q: What salary are you looking for?

Avoid answering this question if you can because if you say a figure lower than what they had expected to pay then they will be delighted to offer you just that. On the other hand, if your figure is too high then you might be edging yourself out of the running.

Try to leave salary talk for the second interview or for when you are offered the job and have a bit more leverage for negotiation because you know they want you in the role.

Don’t say: “I am clearly worth £50,000 a year minimum.”

Do say: “Tell me what you had in mind and then I’ll tell you if that’s around the figure that I am looking for.”

 

Most of all keep your cool and don’t be afraid to ask for a moment to consider your answer to any question that temporarily stumps you. Rehearsing your responses is a great idea, but it won’t guarantee that you’ll always know what to say.

If you can demonstrate a level head and polite good humour, no matter what they throw at you, you’ll go a long way to impressing a potential employer.

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