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Tackling those awkward interview questions.

by Emily Wilkinson at CY Partners

Interviews are designed to be challenging. If you have previous experience in an interview scenario, you may have come across a question that has perhaps thrown you off your guard.

We’ve tried to think ahead of a few examples of these questions that you might not have thought to prepare for – to help you to expect the unexpected.

“Explain why you changed career paths / why you want to leave your current job?”

Whatever the actual reason for your career change, try to demonstrate an ambition, eagerness or passion for the new role, and a focus on your own career development over everything else.

It’s always really important to remain positive – try and hold yourself back from having a rant about your previous employer or company.

You are really trying to demonstrate to the Hiring Manager that this is your dream position, rather than that the new position is, for example, closer to home and offers a shorter commute. Some good examples of answers to this question are:

“From the job description I really liked that this position offers … and … which my old position did not offer.”

“I have been working in … for the last five years. The new challenge that the … position offers therefore really appeals to me.”

“I have basic experience in … and found it really interesting. This job offers more experience to expand my knowledge of … which really appeals to me.”

“Why is there a gap in your employment history?”

Your employer will understand that this could potentially have been for a very personal reason – so it’s ok to be honest. You may have taken time off to have children, or perhaps you went travelling.

If you can, try to think of a skill that this time off enabled you to develop. For example, going travelling develops skills in organisation and forward-planning.

Turning what could potentially be a negative question into a positive will demonstrate that you are unique and personable over other applicants.

“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”

It’s perhaps easiest to discuss this question in terms of Do’s and Don’ts.

Do: Be honest and demonstrate your ambition. Although it is honourable to be humble and say that you want to be doing a good job and have become an integrated member of the team, five years is a long time – impress with your ambition.

Do: your research into the company. It is great to really think about these aspirations prior to the interview to show your passion for the role that you have applied for.

If you are a recent graduate, demonstrate how you feel this position will help you to reach some of your professional goals, and ultimately progress up the authority ladder within the company.

If you are applying for a more senior position, instead discuss your ambition for the impact that you can make within the company, and how you plan to contribute to growing success.

Don’t: say something along the lines of that you feel that this role could be a stepping stone to your dream job at a different company. Yes, the company wants to see your aspiration, but also your commitment.

“Tell me how you think other people would describe you.”

Try not to let the open-ended nature of this question throw you. Make it your own.

This question is based more on your personality – to find out who you are as a person. A confident and simple answer you can give is: “what you see is what you get.” This demonstrates that you are honest, open and reliable. Expand on particular skills that you want your employer to know about you – that you are friendly and personable, for example.

This demonstrates that you are a really impressive, well-rounded candidate that they will no doubt wish to hire.

An employer is looking for someone that will be a good team-player, as much as a good worker, so emphasising that you have personable skills is really important.

“What would your previous employer rate you out of 10, and explain the reason for this rating.”

For obvious reasons you want to give a high number – I wouldn’t recommend stating 10/10. An employer likes to know that you understand that there is always room for personal improvement and development, and the arrogance of 10/10 may not sit well with a Hiring Manager unless you can really support your reasoning for this.

Again, always make sure that whatever statement you make, that you back this up with a good example:

“I started with very little experience, and in six months had taken on my own project completely independently which was met with success (expand on this success). I think my employer would say that I really took a step out of my comfort zone and made the role my own, which is why I think they would rate me an 8/10.”

“What do you like to do outside of work?”

This is again an open-ended question which encourages you to let your guard down to see who you are as a person. Don’t let this question relax you too much (into discussing how smashed you got on the weekend, for example).

As with the previous examples given in this article, always discuss your answers in terms of professional skills and experience. Relating something that you do outside of work back to these things really demonstrates your competency.

An example would be to say that you enjoy rock-climbing.

"I like to get out of MY comfort zone and test your bravery, determination and self-motivation. Although I strive independently, it can also be a great team sport, which tests your communication and listening ability on difficult climbs."

This statement emphasises wider qualities desirable in the workplace, reinforcing your application.

Don’t feel that you have to exaggerate or really big yourself up – if you are an avid baker, for example, this can be just as impressive if you really take the time to prepare examples of how this again demonstrates work-related skills. Baking, in it’s own way, demonstrates that you have creativity, originality and flair – again, all valued work-place skills.

“what other companies are you interviewing with?”

We are currently experiencing a candidate-driven marketplace in the recruitment industry. This essentially means that good, highly-skilled candidates are scarce, giving you the autonomy to choose the company that is best for you.

The company are aware that you will be exploring similar options in the same industry and area, so don’t be afraid to state this to demonstrate that you are in high demand- this will encourage them to snatch you up before anybody else.

DO, however, make sure the Hiring Manager knows that this role is your firm favourite choice.

“Questions about salary”

It is recommended not to bring up salary in the initial interview unless you are asked about this directly.

Do your research on websites such as Glassdoor.com prior to your interview so that you are aware of what similar positions (in terms of experience, location and responsibility) are being paid. Use this research to justify your answer.

State your current salary, the range of salaries that you have seen in your research of similar positions, and state where you feel you personally stand within this range.

There is nothing wrong with asking for a salary from the higher end of this range – if you can justify why.

We wish you the best of luck in your interview!

Find out more from CY Partners

Interview Tips


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