How To Avoid Interview Traps
With so much competition for work, it’s no wonder interviewers are upping their game. Here’s a couple of tips on how to avoid common interview mistakes so nothing stands in the way of landing that perfect job.
So, what do you know about the company?
This is a really important question; it’s the opportunity to show that you’re actively interested in the job. You don’t need in-depth knowledge, but enough to show that you’re invested in the opportunity.
Remember: it’s fine to ask them to tell you more about themselves. Just begin by saying what you know first. In fact, if you do it tastefully, you could even use this question to flatter them a little; perhaps, when you researched them, you were impressed to find they did a lot more than you first thought.
- ‘When I was looking at your site the other day, I was actually really surprised by how much you do. As well as news and media, you have financial and marketing sectors too, and…’
Can you tell us about a time when you experienced great customer service?
‘This really cute guy served me and my friends the other day and…’
Find out beforehand what the company regards as good customer service. Maybe their emphasis is on visitors having a ‘unique experience’, or being served as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, wherever you’re applying, companies want customers to have a positive experience so they want to return again. Think of a shop, restaurant or attraction that you love to visit; is there something about their staff that makes you feel good about going back there?
- ‘My grandad is in a wheelchair and we often find that, when we’re out together, a lot of people just talk to me and ignore him. However, the other week, he and I went out to a coffeeshop and the girl who served us was really friendly and made eye contact with both of us. It was a little thing, but I know my grandad really appreciated it.’
Have you ever had to work with someone difficult?
‘I’ve never worked with anyone difficult. I love everyone.’
Let’s be honest: we’ve all worked with someone difficult before, whether that was at a previous job or on a group project in an academic situation. Answer the question honestly but don’t go into details!
The interviewer is trying to find out two things:
- What you consider to be a ‘difficult person’, and
- What your interpersonal skills are like. Do you clash with people? Avoid situations? Or work out solutions?
- ‘In the past, I’ve worked with people who didn’t pull their weight or who simply had an unprofessional or unpleasant attitude. In these cases, I believe communication and actively trying to understand and get along with a colleague is far more useful than clashing head-on.’
You described yourself as a team player. Tell us about a time where you supported another member of your team.
- ‘Oh, did I write that? To be honest, I prefer working independently…’
Even if you do prefer working independently, there will be a time where you have to work with someone else. How will you conduct yourself? What can individuals do to make a team run smoothly? Make sure you give an example of something you did, not just the group as a whole.
- ‘As part of my final module, my friends and I had to give a group presentation. It was going well but then one of my friends started stumbling over her lines. I stepped in and prompted her which helped get us back on track. She thanked me afterwards and ultimately we all passed.’
How do you deal with conflict? What would you do if another employee was losing their temper?
- ‘I have a black belt so, if they started anything, I could totally take them.’
Logic and a level head is king here. Think of this question like a fire drill. If someone asked you what you would do if you found a fire, you could probably quote a step-by-step protocol: ‘I’d close the fire door, hit the fire alarm, tell people to get out as I got out myself.’
It’s the same kind of thing here. If someone is getting angry, you need to take the necessary steps to diffuse the situation.
- ‘When there’s conflict I think the most important things to do are stay calm and try to empathise. Often, conflicts seem to occur because of misunderstandings and people feeling like they haven’t been heard, so I think talking things out is a good strategy. This should also help prevent future conflict.’
What would you consider one of your weaknesses?
- ‘I’m a bit of a perfectionist…’
Please don’t say that! Everyone says that. Taking a good thing and styling it as a weakness for the purpose of the question isn’t clever; it’s avoiding what the interviewer asked and they will see right through it. Instead, maybe pick something that you struggle with but that a) doesn’t really affect the type of work you would be doing for them, and b) is something you’re working on.
- ‘I’ve really struggled with public speaking in the past but, a few months back, I joined a local drama group with my friend and I’m actually becoming a lot more confident. In fact, I recently volunteered to perform a monologue in the production a couple weeks from now. I’m still a bit nervous, but I’m really pleased how quickly I’m improving.’
Where do you see yourself in five years?
- ‘I’m shaking hands with Dumbledore… I’ve won the House Cup.’
For this question, avoid anything cheesy. Think about where this role could take you and what your long-term career goals are. If you’re applying for a job in accounting, don’t tell them about your dream of becoming a Hollywood actor. While this is a great goal, what you’re saying to the employer is that you’re probably not as invested in this opportunity as other candidates – i.e. that you might jump ship as soon as something better comes up.
- ‘I’d like to see myself moving up through the ranks of the company and being a valued member of the team. I’d love to be someone with more responsibilities who’s trusted with leading future projects.’
With so much competition for work, it’s understandable that you want to come across as amiable towards your interviewers – but don’t let that catch you out. Think carefully about each question asked before you answer. What are they really asking? Research the company and the reread the job ad as well as your CV and cover letter (especially if you applied a while ago) before you arrive.
Don’t be afraid to be honest. Prepare some answers in advance but don’t follow a script – you might not be asked a question in the exact way you expect so don’t set yourself up for a fail. Finally, answer the question they actually asked, not the one you wish they had!
Best of luck!