A guide to answering interview questions - Think before you speak
I hear you – answering questions at interview is hard. Our palms are sweaty, we’re under pressure and we’re desperate to impress. This anxiety is often what drives people into a bumbling mess of incoherent sentences.
Fear not – it needn’t be that difficult! As a seasoned interviewer, I assure you – my job isn’t to catch you out – nor is it to pile pressure on you. It is quite simply to get to know you and assess whether you and your skills can drive forward my company or that of a client.
Sourcing top talent is the number one priority for any business – human capital is paramount to the success of a business and employers are therefore more committed than ever to getting the best people to join their teams.
So, how are you going to answer those all important questions and land yourself the next step in your career? Here are my top tips:
Stay calm and collected
Try and be calm. After all, this is just a conversation. Arrive in plenty of time so you’re not flustered and take a deep breath before answering your questions. Sit upright, wear something smart, but comfortable and ask for a glass of water if you feel yourself getting overheated.
Remember, silence is golden. Don’t feel the need to fill gaps with waffle. When asked a question take a moment or two to comprehend what they have asked – clarify you’ve understood the question if you need to. Then stop and think. A moment of contemplation before launching into your answer will help you formulate your response. I’d rather wait for a good answer!
If you’re unsure exactly what they’re asking – ask again! Don’t take a stab in the dark and go off on a tangent – clarify exactly what it is that they are asking. Try:
“Sorry, could you repeat that please” or
“Am I right in saying that you’re asking me….”
After all, you can’t answer a question if you don’t know what you’re being asked.
Order you answer
Get the key point of your answer in first – your opening line should roughly answer the question. Justifications, examples and further details can be given further down the line but be concise with that opening line. Your interviewer hasn’t got all day to interview you so do your best to be succinct in your answer.
Use your knowledge of the company from your research to help answer questions. Reference information you’ve seen on their website or in the media. Refer directly to the job/person specification when discussing your skills and capabilities. You must demonstrate that you’ve prepared thoroughly. If that means having some notes with you to refer back to then do it. If you look well prepared then you’ll be forgiven for any mishaps along the way.
You’re the only person who’s going to do it. Identify your core skills and personality traits and ensure you drop these in when given the opportunity. The client needs to clearly see what you’ll be bringing the role and their business. Ensure you speak using positive language and make reference to your key successes in your career to date to highlight why you’re going to help drive their business forward.
Nobody likes to be speaking with a ‘know it all’. As above – you, of course, have to sell yourself to a client. What’s important, however, is that you can identify where you would like to develop and progress. None of us are the finished article – clients want to feel that they can be part of your personal development so highlight areas for self-improvement. Being extremely talented yet modest is the key.
Wherever possible always try to explain a time when you’ve done something. These are called competency-based answers. Reference a time when you have demonstrated that skill or personality trait. Identify a time when you have used that skill and explain what the outcome was. This brings life to your answers and allows the interviewer to envisage your qualities in the work environment. Try:
“I’m particularly strong on Excel. For example, in my last role I had to consolidate information from several sources and used Pivot Tables and VLOOKUPs on a daily basis to analyse information”
“I’d say I’m particularly good with people. One of my colleagues once commented on how approachable I was and how she liked that I took the time to listen and support her if she had any problems”
Talk about the future
Show that you want to develop and progress. Discuss your personal development goals, your ambitions and your career goals. Clients want to understand the part they’re going to play in your future and how that fits into their plans. Discuss the client’s future – where they are looking to drive the business and then explain how you plan to be part of this.
Show your passion
Discuss your hobbies, personal interests and passions. Nobody wants to hire a one-dimensional candidate who is wedded to their job. Businesses want team members who can work hard and play hard – they want to feel that someone can bring a little more to a business than just their work – they want someone who can fit into and enhance their current team. Understand why you come to work every day – supporting your family, fuelling your passion for travel, fulfilling your life’s bucket list? Share this with an interviewer.
Check your answer
We all waffle sometimes – if you feel like you’ve gone off on a tangent and may have missed the point – check! Try:
“Did I answer your question?”
“I feel as though I may have gone off point there – have I answered your question?”
“Is there anything else you’d like to know?”
Now it’s your turn!
Interviews aren’t a one-way interrogation. They are your opportunity to identify whether a company is right for you just as much as the employer sussing you out. It’s important that you prepare questions for the interviewer. Check out my top 10 questions here.
There’s no shying away from it – interviews can be tricky – but give yourself a fighting chance of succeeding.