Updated: Mar 29, 2021
So, potential career changers, what is an interview??
In short, it’s a series of questions and answers, all aimed to help you tell your story, which makes it compelling for the interviewer at the organisation wanting you to be part of their organisation!! It is more than your typical answer the question - you do answer the question, but you ensure you weave in your story coherently all throughout your interaction with the interviewer / hiring manager.
We, humans, have been hard-wired to be hooked on compelling stories - a good story takes everyone of us on a journey, leaving us wanting more and its by far the best verbal means of communication we have at our fingertips. Ultimately, it creates the essence of that good impression, that will leave the interviewer wanting to hear more!
Use the power of the story teller in you to deliver your story, weaved through the various questions you are likely to get asked. Below I have set out some common questions / themes that you are most likely to get asked in a typical interview question - the actual questions may well differ from below, but will largely focus on the same themes. So, whilst these are ideally fit for career change advice, in fact they can quite easily fall into general professional career advice that you may well ask yourself as you weigh up where to take your career next.
My answers to these themes are based on hundreds of hours of interviews conducted by me as well as others, whose best ideas I have cherry picked and served it on a platter for you; packaged neatly into what I call my job interview tips, which hopefully brings about interview success for you. I hope this helps in your preparation!
1) Best way to answer the dreaded, “So tell me about yourself”
This is quite often the most common interview starter question you will get asked. It helps the interviewer / hiring manager and you settle into the interview. If you have prepared well for this, it should be a good place for you to start introducing snippets of your story, which can act as hooks for the rest of the interview. It is in essence, the interview equivalent of the “Elevator pitch”. So, it's vital that you create a good impression right at the onset.
The good thing though is that unlike a 10 second “Elevator pitch”, you can take a bit longer (and should). Your answer here needs to be about 90 seconds long at most – any longer, then you run the risk of providing too much information.
The structure of your answer should loosely follow A) who you are and why that is relevant to the job you’ve applied for, B) what skills you have acquired over your career/university/school, C) demonstrate that you can point to how these skills would be relevant to the job you’ve applied for, and D) connect it all back up to why finding the role you are applying for in the Company got you excited.
Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes – they are not looking for your life story! Even if you have an amazing, one in a million life experience, there will be other opportunities in the interview to bring those relevant stories into your answers. They want to see that they are interviewing someone who is interested in their company and the role at hand – so any elements of your answer that helps to demonstrate that will go a long way.
So keep it brief and try not to ramble; you want to keep their attention. Say enough to grasp their attention, but not too much or you run the risk of them losing track of what you are trying to convey.
Top Tip: Brainstorm your key story under the four sections (A, B, C and D above) and then write out your answer in full, just as things come to your mind. Let it free-flow at first. Then start deleting the bits that you feel are less relevant or offer less of what you would like to portray.
Then, record yourself saying it out loud. Once you have it under 90 seconds, start summarising your written answer into bullets – you don’t want your answer at the interview to seem scripted, so just be prepared with your main bullets in your head. If you have prepared well enough, your mind will do the rest in the actual interview.
2) What to do if you are asked a question and it totally stumps you?
Pause….Breathe in and out slowly……Think. Silence is good – in what might feel like an eternity to you, in reality might only be 2 or 3 seconds; embrace that silence. It might be the simplest of questions, but often those ones where the interviewer/hiring manager has left you a lot of room to take it in multiple directions require careful choices to be made. Or, it could be that you just weren’t prepared for such a question.
Don’t just launch into a half thought through answer – by doing so, you run the danger of A) losing your composure and more important, B) leading the interviewer/hiring manager through a long and meandering road, often to nowhere!
Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes – they most likely know that the question is a hard one and chances are that they have asked this (or something similar) to all other candidates for this position to test out their fit. They are looking for A) how you deal with difficult situations under the pressure of gazing eyes and B) under such conditions, are you able to maintain your composure and be credible with your answer.
Top Tip: Practice interview silence over zoom and record yourself…better still practice going through difficult questions with another person; nothing beats practice! If helpful, you could buy yourself 2 or 3 seconds of thinking time by saying something along the lines of “Hmmm, that’s an interesting question….let me think”
3) What will you bring to the role/what are you looking for within the role?
This is a great question to demonstrate what you consider to be your key strengths and skillsets, how they match up to your own views of what the role is looking for, and qualifying all of the above with impactful real-life stories that better help the interviewer empathise with your experiences. You might already have a pretty good idea of this, as chances are that you have set out some of these arguments in your cover letter already - so all you are doing is bringing that letter fully to life!
In order to answer this well, it will require significant research from you of both the company and the role. The company website and other sources of information such as Linkedin profiles, annual statements, social media posts; often industry publications / videos / new articles can help build the initial knowledge base.
To ensure that you are hitting the mark on the day to day expectations of the role, it often helps if you can connect with someone in the company or find someone who perhaps does a similar role to the one you are applying for. Nothing beats speaking to someone about the role – they will either love to talk about their job, or maybe even loathe it. Either way you will soon start to get a feel for whether the position, the company culture and whether these would match you and what you are looking for in the role.
Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes – they want to see someone who has invested time to understand the company and the role. They would be expecting most serious candidates to have a pretty good understanding of what the daily working life involves – perhaps even be able to demonstrate that you know which of the skills / traits are what it takes to have a successful career in the role.
Where candidates often slip-up is by not being able to demonstrate their knowledge of the company / the company culture / role (whether through a lack of research or otherwise), or not being able to construct their answer with stories that best highlight the traits that you would like to exhibit in front of the interviewer/hiring manager.
Top Tip: If there are things from the role that you would expect in return, you could also always pose the question back to the interviewer/hiring manager. This will often start a dialogue, which is ultimately what you would like the interview to become….a conversation that leaves them with a very good impression of you.
4) Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
This question is likely to come up during the middle / late part of the interview, if the conversation up until now has been going well. If you have convinced the interviewer / hiring manager of your preparedness and general fit for the role, through this question they may look to see your ambition / how you plan to shape the role to continue your professional development. You have already given them some indication that you might be able to have a successful career in the role; so now its all about where will that road take you.
You shouldn’t approach this question from the overtly optimistic or a self-deprecating manner; that is you want to avoid answers such as “I would like your job” or “I am sure others in the team are very talented, so once I join I would gauge where the role takes me”.
Instead try to bring your answer to the story of what the role will offer you in terms of career and professional development; discuss the skills that you think that the role will allow you to build / sharpen and how that in turn will be of great value to the organisation. Of course there is no harm in mentioning that as you continue on your journey of growth, you hope that the organisation sees your value and rewards you accordingly. Your research also will give you some indication of what company culture points you may highlight when answering this question.
Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes - they are looking for someone who they can picture working with and who ultimately will help ease some of the burden on their shoulders. Hence, the best answer to this question should focus on how you developing further in your role ultimately helps make the interviewer’s life easier.
They also want to see ambition, enthusiasm and generally someone who wants to develop continually. The logic goes that if employees take their own personal and professional development seriously, then this will ultimately positively impact on the organisation's own growth and ambitions. They want to see you forge your own career path, which benefits everyone in the equation.
Top Tip: Once you have worked through your answer, you have a choice of turning the question back onto the interviewer / hiring manager as well. Such as, “do my thoughts on my own projected professional development match with your own experiences since you joined the organisation?”. More often than not, the interviewer / hiring manager will give a lot of their own journey, which again would be invaluable insight on whether the organisation truly is the best fit for you or not.
5) Best way to answer “what is your weakness”
This is the typical wolf in sheep’s clothing question – you are bound to get asked this question in one guise or another. As for most of the interview conversation, this is yet another great opportunity to turn this into something that reflects positively on you and makes a good impression.
It's best to try to be genuinely honest here - the interviewer / hiring manager wants to see authenticity in a person they are considering hiring. They want to know that they can trust you. Being honest can also help you to hook them into your story, as its real and humans are hard-wired to relate to a good story!!
But the caveat here is that be honest, but not too honest that it raises concerns...
This question is basically about demonstrating how aware you are of your limitations, how you can admit them, how you can reflect on them, how you know when to seek help / solve the issue and move forward.
Often a follow up to this question from the interviewer is how you resolved the weakness / issue or how did you use your team / superiors to help guide you. No matter how it ends, do always end on what you learnt from the experience, that is leave them with a memory tag line / punchline to remember your story.
Your answer here needs to be centred around a trait which can often be associated as a successful behaviour, but one which through a real-life story you can demonstrate that you recognise a certain aspect which didn’t go so well, and most importantly how you are continually learning from it and applying your new learnings as you develop your professional self. Taking an example, you may choose to highlight that your go-to behaviour is to dive straight into a task that’s been assigned to you and drive it forward single-mindedly to completion….but importantly, you recognise that in the past when you’ve behaved like this, you have managed to alienate other team-members and exclude others from the collective success; you might recognise that by doing so you haven’t considered multiple perspectives and perhaps not be as successful in your task as you might have thought. End on how you are working to improve this trait and that you feel that have indeed overcome this "weakness".
Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes – they are not looking for someone whose weakness could prove to be problematic or a liability. Similarly, they would have heard a hundred examples of traits are generally perceived to be a positive but have elements which are negative – thus, its vital that you personalise it and bring your own story. Take the interviewer / hiring manager on your journey. You want to demonstrate to them that you are a well-rounded, reflective person, who if they worked for the Company would be an asset and can make the position into a successful career.
Ultimately, even if you have improved the trait which you highlight as your "weakness", there are always going to be weaknesses in some aspects of an employee - the interviewer wants to know that you can accept these, be aware of them and take on the personal responsibility of seeking to change and continually improve yourself.
Top Tip - Honesty is the key to hooking the interviewer to your story. But, don't be so honest that you make yourself sound detrimental to the role! It's a balancing act after all.
Don't take someone else's example, but rather (if you are comfortable) ask those who know you well and you trust to share their thoughts on your "weakness". You can then work with that example to construct a well-thought out story/answer.
Good luck in your interview and if you have found this useful or if you have any further questions, please don't forget to leave suggestions on the website. I wish you a whole heap of interview success!