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10 killer interview questions

24 May 2013
10 killer interview questions

Whether you're an employer looking to attract top-quality staff to your company or a candidate looking for your next big break, there 10 killer interview questions could be the difference between success and failure. Elly Earls reports

A job interview is a two-way exchange. Not only does the interviewee need to pull out all the stops to impress a potential employer who is likely to be inundated with applicants, any employer looking to attract, and retain, high-quality, talented staff needs to make sure their company is presented as a place these top performers will feel comfortable, respected and challenged.

Step one for job applicants, of course, is making it to the all-important interview stage. "The first key to getting noticed is having an excellent CV," says Krishnan Doyle, managing director of COREcruitment. "Employers will have to deal with hundreds of CVs for one job opening so you need to make sure it stands out from the rest."

Then, once you've made it through the door, don't fake it under any circumstances. "Be positive, enthusiastic and engaging throughout all communication," advises Hannah Horler, managing director of Cartwheel Recruitment. "However, always be yourself. Being hired under false pretences will backfire."

Flexibility is also key. "Show willing and flexibility when it comes to arranging an interview," Horler suggests for job candidates, adding that employers should also heed this advice. "Take on board the time people will be taking out of their current job and consider this when planning venues, days and times for interviews. It's not just about what suits you, the employer."

Just like job applicants, employers also need to put the time into selling themselves if they want to attract the best staff. "Communicate why your business is better than your competitors," Horler emphasises. This could include evidence of employee engagement and retention, details of mentoring schemes and personal development opportunities or simply flexible working hours.

And finally, employers must never forget to portray the right image at all times. "Even those you don't employ will speak about you positively or negatively depending on how you treated them," Horler warns.

1 What's the most challenging situation you've had to deal with in your life and how did you overcome it? "You will always be asked a question that tests your mettle and ability to deal with life's curveballs," Horler advises. But don't feel that you have to choose a work-related situation to answer a question like this. "Think about a situation that really put you through your paces and tested you as a person and have this ready to recite," she says.

You could also be asked how you handle stressful situations more generally, and, in this case, Doyle advises you to focus on the positives. "Discuss what you do to relax, refresh and refill," he suggests. "Give positive illustrations of how job stress makes you work harder or more efficiently."

2 If you were a product, what would you be and why?

The key to answering this question successfully is preparation. "Having something prepared and thought through as well as reasons why you have picked that item demonstrates that you have really got to know who you are and how you have evolved in your career," Horler says.

3 Why should I hire you? You'd be lucky to escape an interview without being asked this age-old question, so prepare for it by doing thorough research on the company you want to work for.

Remember, answering this question is not just about listing your strengths - although these are very important, and you should prepare at least three reasons that set you apart from other candidates - it's also about showing 
that you are an ideal fit for the job you've applied for.

"Get a feel for the company, the potential boss and what the job entails and write this all down on one side of an A4 page," Horler advises. "Then, on the other side, against this, identify what you can bring and why you would be the ideal fit."

Be specific, with key examples that show how you fit the criteria asked for or the culture of the company, and don't offer woolly reasons or textbook answers. "Look at where the company is heading and demonstrate how you can contribute," Horler says.

Emphasising something unusual or unique about yourself that will make the interviewer remember you is also an excellent idea, Doyle recommends.

4 What would your colleagues or boss say about you if asked? If you haven't thought about this or found this out, it's worth doing so ahead of an interview. The likelihood is that you'll already have the answer, be it thanks to a recent appraisal or a team building session; take the time to sift through what was said and summarise it succinctly.

"When answering this question, think about your work persona or profile," Horler suggests. "The interviewer will be looking for how your team look to you to set an example, how much of a team player you are perceived as and how your boss rates you."

A similar topic many potential employers like to cover is your ability to work as part of a team and whether you would rather work with others or alone.

"Discuss your adaptability and flexibility in working with others or alone, as a leader or a follower," Doyle advises. "Give concrete examples and mention the importance of every team member's contribution."

5 Give me a breakdown of current budget/financials/business KPIs When asked about key financial information almost every candidate in Dragons' Den is utterly stumped. Don't make the same mistake in your job interview.

"You've all seen it," Horler stresses. "So make sure you know your financials. What turnover do you manage, what profit do you have to make, how much do you make, what cost lines do you have to keep to budget?"

If you run a budget or manage a P&L, make sure you know it intimately. Even take it with you if appropriate.

6 What has been your most memorable achievement to date and why? This is another question you'll almost certainly be asked at a job interview. "The interviewer wants to know what your greatest achievement is at work and why it is your greatest achievement to date," Horler explains. "So be sure to have the detail of this ready when asked."

Think about something you either led, created or delivered that you are immensely proud of and that had a significant positive impact on the business you were working within at the time. "Think about how it came about, how you put it into practice and what the outcome was," she says.

As well as giving details about the accomplishment, remember to relate the accomplishment directly to the job for which you're interviewing and clearly describe the results, Doyle adds.

7 What has been your biggest failing and what did you learn from it? We've all done things in our career that, on reflection, we would have done differently, but showing that you recognise the mistakes you've made and have done your best to 
learn from them is a positive in any interviewer's eyes.

"Think about a situation you might have handled differently or a decision you took 
that didn't pan out as well as it could have done and what you learnt from that experience," Horler says.

For Doyle, it's all about talking about your failings positively. "Show how you turned a failure into a success or discuss how and what you learned from the failure," he notes.

"Again, always have an example ready for when you're asked a question like this," Horler adds.

8 Where do you want to take your career? If your ultimate goal isn't to be the CEO of the biggest hospitality company in the country, don't pretend that it is. Your career goals are personal to you; just make sure you've given them some thought.

"Be honest about what you wish to achieve by when, and where you would like to see yourself two to five years down the line," Horler says. "It's important to demonstrate that you are working towards something and that you have a goal in sight; otherwise you will be perceived as just drifting from one thing to the next."

It's also essential to show how the position you are applying for fits in with your long-term career objectives, Doyle is keen to emphasise. So describe short-term, achievable goals and explain how they will help you reach your long-term objectives.

9 How do you need developing? What are your weakest areas? Honesty is always the best policy, so don't be afraid to talk about your development needs, Horler recommends. We're not all excellent at everything and by identifying your weaknesses - whether they be in finance, creativity, marketing, management or any of the countless other skills that are needed in the hospitality sector - it's better to admit to them up front and show a willingness to improve, than trying to brush them under the carpet.

That said, it's also a good idea to balance a weakness with a compensating strength. For example, if your weakness is spelling, you could counter this with the fact that you always spellcheck and proofread everything you 
write twice.

If you're asked a question about development, this is also a great opportunity to respond with your own question about what your potential employer offers in terms of training and mentoring programmes.

10 Why do you want to leave your current job? If asked this question, whatever you do, don't put down your current company or the people that you work with. A personality clash between you and a colleague could be seen as a cause for concern.

Rather, focus on things such as your need for a new challenge or your desire to specialise. Don't trash your boss!

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