Category: Recruitment

Common interview questions

If you’ve got a job interview coming up you need to prepare for it. Whilst it’s tough to predict which technical questions you are likely to be asked, you can prepare well for the non-technical questions which are almost entirely predictable. The ones listed below are the most common ones. Most questions are variants of these. The key is to prepare at least two answers for each one of them, with examples, and then to recognise which question you’re being asked, even if it’s worded differently.

When preparing for each question, don’t write your answers down like a script unless you want to sound like a bad actor, get lost and then dry up completely. Write down bullet points, and always think of examples to back up each one of your answers. Good interviewees always back up their claims with examples.

Tell me about yourself
What did you do in your last job?
What challenges did you have in your last job?
Why are you leaving your current job?
What can you offer this company?
What are you looking to get out of this job / What are your expectations of this job?
What are you strengths?
What are you weaknesses?
What is your greatest achievement?
Tell me a joke
B*llsh!t question
Do you have any questions?

Tell me about yourself

Lots of people get stuck on this simple ice breaker. The interview just wants to hear you talk. Give a brief life story that increases in detail as it gets closer to the present day. Depending on how much experience you have  you don’t need to explain everything. If you’ve just left university then it might be interesting that you were head of the AV club at school, but if you’ve got fifteen years experience this fact is unlikely to be of any interest. Focus on your achievements that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.

What did you do in your last job?

The mistake many people make here is to bang on about their last company, what the product was they were working on or what technologies were being used. What the interviewer really wants to hear is what your inputs, responsibilities and achievements were. Speak about yourself, not the company.

What challenges did you have in your last job?

The interviewer wants to hear a story or two about how you identified  a problem, found a solution, did some stuff to resolve it (ideally inspiring a team effort) and demonstrated a lasting improvement. If this story is obviously true, then so much the better.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Bear in mind that references can and will be checked, so be honest. It’s a bad idea to slag off your previous employer, even if they thoroughly deserve it. You need to leave the interviewer with the impression that you are positively progressing in your career, you are  not a job hopper and you don’t go around bad mouthing people behind their backs.

What can you offer this company?

Keep the examples flowing here. A list of positive attributes is utterly meaningless unless you can back them up with evidence. Pick examples that demonstrate your technical and problem solving  skills as well as your interpersonal and team working skills.

What are you looking to get out of this job / What are your expectations of this job?

Be realistic here. The interviewer will know the actual career progression opportunities available in the company, and if your expectations are way in excess of that you’ve highlighted a mismatch. They will also know what sort of training budget is available, which might not be very much. It would therefore be a bad idea to start saying how you expect to be sent on lots of courses and you expect promotions every year and expect to be running the whole department in two years. You’re best off saying how you want to be able to achieve your full potential and demonstrate you are worthy of any training and progression the company can offer you. Be ambitious but realistic.

What are you strengths?

This is your invitation to shamelessly sell yourself. Don’t be shy. Go for it. Focus on the things you are actually really good at, not the things you would like to be good at. A good interviewer will probe you here. For example, if you claim you are great at using SQL to query databases, don’t be at all surprised if the interviewer asks you a difficult SQL question next. Again, examples, examples examples.

What are your weaknesses?

This is a rubbish question that everyone knows is likely to generate a rubbish answer. “I work too hard! Ha ha ha!” is the text book answer. I would advise you to make a better joke of it and pick a weakness entirely unrelated to the job. This will show you are not so arrogant to think you’re perfect, but doesn’t invite you to prove you can’t do the job.

What is your greatest achievement?

Again, this is a great opportunity to sell yourself so go for it. You must have prepared not just two answers for this, but a whole album of greatest hits to play out on command. If you don’t get asked this question you can use these examples in other questions too. Even if you haven’t been asked, look for opportunities to shoe-horn them into the conversation. You absolutely don’t want to ever leave the interview thinking “Damn, I never got the chances to tell any of my really great stories.” If you can get away with it, spend the whole interview telling these stories.

Tell me a joke

Some David Brent-a-likes will put this one in to see if you’ve got a sense of humour or not. Even if you don’t, its’ a good idea to have a joke up your sleeve anyway. Keep it short and non-offensive.

B*llsh!t question

Some interviewers delight in asking utterly irrelevant and pointless questions to “put you on the spot” or “see how you deal with unexpected situations”. How many ping pong balls can you fit in a whale?  This sort of thing is just an excuse for the lazy interviewer to watch you squirm and feel superior to you. Sadly there’s nothing you do about this, nor can you really prepare for it. Just roll with it and bear in mind they’re not looking for the right answer, they’re only looking for how you approach it. Chances are all they’re really doing is waiting for you to finish so they can tell you the right answer and prove to you how much more marvellously clever than you they are.

Do you have any questions?

You must have some questions, however exhaustive the interview has been. Prepare a list of questions that will help you decide whether or not to accept the job, in the event you are offered it. Not to have any, or to only have incredibly basic or irrelevant questions just shows that you’re not really interested in the job. Everyone likes to be flattered and talk about themselves so how about turning the tables and interview the interviewer for a bit?

This is of course not a list of all the questions you will ever be asked. Nor is it necessarily a set of “good” interview questions.  But if have carefully prepared  answers up your sleeve for these questions, they will serve you well and help you represent yourself to the fullest. Good luck!

How to hire someone

Recruiting good people is a pain. There’s few things that feel as pointless as spending an hour interviewing someone who you know isn’t going to get the job, or trawling though a huge pile of innaporpriate CVs. Life is too short and your time is too precious to be inefficient when you are recruiting. Futhermore, hiring bad people costs you way more than their wage. Here’s my top tips.

1. Decide in advance what you’re looking for

It boils downs to three things: Skills, experience and domain knowledge. Skills might include technical skills, but also things like people skills and communication or language skills. Be clear about what you actually need, and what would be nice to have. It sounds too obvious that you should do this at the start of the process, but it’s amazing how often candidates get all the way through the process only to be dismissed because they are too junior, or too expensive.

2. Restrict the number of agents you use

If you throw your vacancies open to every agent who wants to place a candidate you will quickly become inundated with CVs, many of which will be duplicates and you’ll be fielding calls from agents all day. Your life will be a misery. Pick your favourite two agencies, and politely decline CVs from anyone else. Don’t give any agency exclusivity, however much they ask for it. An element of competition is good.

3. Brief your agents really well and establish ground rules.

Make it clear that candidates who don’t meet the minimum standards you have set will be rejected, and to not bother submitting them. The better you brief your agents, the fewer CVs they will send you for review and the better quality those CVs will be. To avoid a continuous trickle of CVs, I like to agree a date with my agents when they will send me their ten best CVs. I then know that on that date I can expect to spend the afternoon reviewing 20 CVs, and I can arrange my diary accordingly.

4. Eliminate early

The key to efficient recruitment is to eliminate as many candidates as possible as early in the process. If you get 20 CVs and progress them all to a face to face interview, you will be spending at least 20 hours interviewing people, at least 19 of whom won’t get the job. 20 hours is a long time. Much better to eliminate the worst 10 of those CVs from the outset. This is normally pretty easy and it’s ok to be brutal at this stage. In any pile of 20 CVs they’ll normally be a couple with “I Are goods at comoonicatings” in the personal statement, a couple with overly long or overly short CVs from which it is impossible to make a judgement, and a handful who don’t meet the criteria you have set, or don’t meet it well enough.

Telephone interviews are a great way to funnel the number of candidates down further. As a matter of principle, I do not even consider doing a face to face interview with anyone unless I have spoken to them on the phone first. The objective of a face to face interview is simply to ascertain whether it is worth investing an hour of your time in interviewing them face to face. This should take no more than ten minutes, after which you’ll know whether they can communicate verbally, whether they can substantiate some their claims on their CV, whether they know anything at all about the job they’ve been put forward for, and whether they are interested in it. Ask they a few technical questions by all means, but don’t start trying to work out whether you should hire them or not. Just work out whether you want to see them or not.

If you reject half of your pool of candidates at this stage, you’ll be left with about five. Chances are you’ll naturally lose a few along the way if they accept other job or decide to stay in their current jobs. There’s nothing you can do about this, so don’t worry about it.

So you’re left with maybe four people who you know have the skills, experience and domain expertise you need, you know you can talk to them and you know they’re interested in the job. Invite these four people to attend face to face interviews.

By halving the number of candidates at each stage of the process, you spend the minimum amount of time on candidates who won’t get the job, leaving you more time to spend on candidates who might get the job.

5. Act fast.

If you keep candidates in the process too long you will lose the good ones to other people and you’ll be left with the chaff who are desperate for any job. The quicker you can progress candidates, the more likely you are enthuse the good ones. When you are briefing your agents, you can even agree a timetable for when you will do each stage. “I want CVs on Monday morning, and I’ll get you feedback by Tuesday morning. I’ll do telephone interviews on Thursday morning, and Friday afternoon, and I’ll be looking to do face to face interviews on Wednesday or Thursday the week after.

6. Feedback

It’s in your interest to give the best feedback you can to your agents. They will (should) use that feedback to send you better candidates in the future. This really doesn’t take too long, especially if you’ve made a few notes during the interview. Obviously there’s no point giving detailed feedback to candidates you are progressing.

7. Making a decision.

Once you’ve found what you think to be a good person, it can be difficult to make a decision on whether they are exactly right or not. I’ve seen many good candidates disappear whilst hiring managers dither about whether to hire them or not. It is a big decision. You’re about to spend a lot of the companies money on someone, and you’re going to have to work with them day in day out, and you’re staking your team’s success and your reputation on that person. But if you’ve done a god job with the previous stages of the process, this ought not to be too difficult. Here’s the decision process I use.

Do they have the skills, experience and domain knowledge? Are they bright and able to get stuff done? Do they want to do the job? Do you have a warm fuzzy feeling about them? Then hire them!

Hiring decision process

8. Trust your gut.

If in doubt, don’t hire them. You know when you come out of an interview with a smile on your face, feeling excited about the person. These are the people to hire. If everything else stacks up, trust your instincts. I call it the warm fuzzy feeling. If I don’t have the warm fuzzy feeling after interviewing someone, they don’t get hired.