James’ Blog: My Top 5 Killer Interview Questions

July 10, 2015

We’re all familiar with the typical interview jargon, questions like “tell me about yourself” and “what’s your five year plan?” that you’re almost guaranteed to be asked in any interview you attend. Preparation is key so I’d expect every candidate to prepare answers for these sorts of questions, but you’d be surprised at how many people trip up here because they clearly haven’t thought long enough about a strategic, informative and concise answer.

Interviews are all about getting to know your character and deciding if you’re a good fit for the business. Nine times out of ten, the interviewer will know if they’re going to hire you the moment you walk out of the room so every minute should be treated like a pitch, like you’re selling yourself in front of a few dragons.

Never one to follow the crowd, through my 30 years’ experience interviewing candidates I’ve fashioned my very own set of questions designed to throw them off course and get down to the nitty gritty – to see a little of the real McCoy, not just your interview alter ego.

My questions are actually interview jargon in disguise but I always end up receiving a wealth of knowledge because you’re not expecting it, you have to prepare right there and then so your responses are true and unrehearsed.

If I called your manager and asked what one thing irritated them about you, what would they say?

This question will instantly throw a candidate off because they probably haven’t thought about it before. In reality, it’s just another way of asking what your biggest weakness is, a question you will definitely be familiar with.

The secret to answering this type of question is making it relevant and relative to the role you’re interviewing for. For example, if you were interviewing for a role as a PA and you told me that your old boss hated how messy your desk could get, that’s not going to make a good impression, A. because as a PA you need to be organised and B. because a cluttered desk could mean things get missed. If you’re asked this question try and think of a positive you can mask as a negative, something that adds value.

For example instead of having a messy desk, how about saying that your previous employer found it really annoying how much of a stickler for time keeping you were and you’d always be on their case about it. As a PA, this is exactly what I need so although being constantly reminded can be irritating, it will show me you have what it takes to keep me in line.

What was your claim to fame in your previous role?

AKA what are your strengths? Here I want to know what you excelled at in your previous role; what would your previous colleagues tell me you were known for? Give me something character building. For example, if you told me you were known for organising the best staff social events, immediately I would think you are fun to work with, a good team player and you understand the importance of culture in the workplace.

Or perhaps you’re best known for putting in the hours and staying behind at work to complete a task. If so, this shows me you’re committed to delivering the best possible work and you’re not scared to get stuck in and go over and above what’s expected.

If you had a magic wand and could have any job, what would it be?

This is one of my favourites, I use it in every interview and I like it because I’m always surprised by the reaction it receives. The general rule for this question is always answer with something in the same or similar industry or role you’re applying for. You’d be surprised how many people forget they’re in an interview when I ask this question – some of the answers I’ve had are priceless! Feel free to try something a little witty (depending on the interviewer) but in most cases, the best thing is to always make it relevant or at least give a good reason why you chose this particular career path. Employers don’t like the thought of candidates applying for roles they’re not passionate about so if you can’t illustrate this, you’re immediately at a disadvantage. Take this one for example, I was interviewing for a finance manager once who told me they’d like to be a professional wrestler. That’s great I thought, but how is that going to positively impact the business’ finances?

Don’t make the same mistake, your interviewer is looking for reasons to hire you, I’m not sure wrestling will really help you clinch the deal.

If you’re offered this job how could you transform the role?

Employers are looking for more than just somebody to ‘do the role’ – they want you to bring something exciting and new to their team, something that makes you stand out from the crowd. I only recruit the best and the people I do recruit always communicate how they intend on understanding, mastering and improving the role. I want candidates who show ambition, drive, innovative thinking and above all, passion – if you don’t do that, I’m wasting my time.

You’ve got 2 minutes left to ask me anything you like. What’s it going to be?

This is the ultimate killer question because it could be the difference between securing the role or not. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; it is absolutely essential to say yes and ask some worthwhile, researched questions.

If you don’t ask any questions, this illustrates that you don’t want to know anything else about the business and you’re not interested enough to carry on the conversation. Think about what you want to ask and use it to your advantage. For example, if you know the business has just launched a new product, show you’ve done your research – tell them and ask about it. These last few minutes is your closer, use this time to sell yourself and why you’re the perfect person for the role.

If you’re feeling particularly brave, ask straight out what they thought of you and if they have any reservations about hiring you. This way, you can gauge their reaction and they will like your spunky attitude.

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