Our friends over at TARGETjobs have collated this list of tricky interview questions with tips on how to answer them. Read the full article here.
‘What is your most significant achievement?’
This question is designed to assess your values and attitude as much as your achievements, and employers often want you to talk about your activities outside education. You’re more likely to come across well if you choose to discuss something you’re genuinely proud of, which could be because it involved leading others, overcoming obstacles or persisting in the face of the odds.
‘What motivates you?’
You are particularly likely to be asked about your motivation in a strengths-based interview, which focuses on what you enjoy doing and what you do well. This is an approach that graduate recruiters are increasingly using alongside or instead of competency-based questions.
Your answer should draw on an example from your extracurricular activities, work experience or studies that suggests you would be strongly motivated by the job you are applying for.
‘Give an example of a time when you showed initiative.’
If an interviewer asks you to describe a situation in which you showed initiative, avoid giving an example of an idea you had but never put into action. It’s much better to talk about a time when you not only came up with a solution to a problem but also acted on it.
‘What is your biggest weakness?’
The problem with this question is that you’re being asked about your shortcomings, when your instinct, in an interview situation, is to keep your flaws as well hidden as possible. What you need to do is to frame your answer to as to give it a positive spin.
Strengths and weaknesses can be different sides of the same coin, so another way to approach this question is to think about how you overcome the potential downside of your greatest strength. For example, if you’re a natural teamworker, is it difficult for you to cope with conflict or assume leadership abilities? How do you cope with this?
‘Are you innovative?’
Graduates are sometime asked to give an example of when they were innovative, ‘thought outside the box’ or used creative thinking to solve a problem. Many graduates are concerned that their examples are just not innovative enough, but the interviewer won’t expect you to have given the prime minister tips on handling Brexit! Instead, talk about times when an idea from you had a positive impact: for example, if you came up with a fundraising idea for charity or found a way to save time on an assignment.
Employers want to know how you would tackle problems. Can you use logic and imagination to find solutions? Better still, can you anticipate problems and find ways to prevent them?
Good problem-solvers possess the following skills:
innovative and creative thinking
a lateral mindset
adaptability and flexibility
resilience (in order to reassess when your first idea doesn’t work)
teamworking (if problem solving is a team effort)
influencing skills (to get colleagues, clients and bosses to adopt your solutions).
How can you prove your problem-solving skills?
You might be asked in an interview to talk about a time you solved a problem, or you could be given a hypothetical situation and asked how you would respond to it e.g.
Give me an example of a time when you ran into a problem on a project. What did you do?
How would you react if given negative feedback by a manager on an aspect of your performance?
In both these cases, you should refer to the above list of skills and how you demonstrated each when giving your answer.
Developing your problem-solving techniques
The following situations are all good examples of using problem-solving skills:
Sorting out a technical problem with your phone, device or computer.
Resolving a dispute with a tricky landlord in order to get your deposit back.
Carrying out DIY.
Serving a demanding customer or resolving a complaint.
Finding a way round a funding shortfall in order to pay for travel or a gap year.
Turning around the finances or increasing the membership of a struggling student society.
Organising a student society’s trip overseas, overcoming unforeseen difficulties on the way.
Acting as a course rep or as a mentor for other students.
Course assignments that involve problem solving
Articulating your skills
You will need to explain how you identified the problem, came up with a solution and implemented it. Follow the STAR technique outlined on our website. If you tackled a problem as part of a team, explain how your role was important in ensuring the positive solution, but also explain how your group worked together. This could be an opportunity to promote your teamworking skills as well – bonus!
This is a very open question but it is important to be succinct in your answer. Focus on the key points you want to make about yourself.
A starting point might be ‘I am currently a level two History student, I chose History because I really enjoyed the subject and knew that the course would further develop my communication and analytical skills and I believe these skills are useful for lots of different jobs roles.’ When interviewing for a specific job, you would cite skills that you feel you have/can evidence and are relevant to the job role
You might then go on to talk about what you do in your spare time/extracurricular activity (if interesting or appropriate) or elaborate a bit more on your degree. If you have a part time job or have undertaken any voluntary work then again this is a good opportunity to mention them briefly.
In many ways this questions allow you to provide a brief summary of your CV. The important point though is to draw out the skills you have gained from experiences and relate them to the job role. You might want to end by expressing your interest in the position you have applied for, having already showcased the skills you have that relate to the role.
Question 2: What skills and abilities do you have which you believe make you a good candidate for the position you are interested in?
In answering this question it is vital to show a good understanding of the position you have applied for (your pre-interview preparations in reviewing the job and person specification will be important in helping you to answer this type of question).
Demonstrate that you meet the criteria set out on the Person Specification: So for example if team work is mentioned on the Person Specification you might want to begin to answer this question by stating ‘I believe I have the right skills and abilities for this position because I work really well in a team environment and I know this is a key aspect of the job role.’
Expand on this introduction by specifying what you understand those skills and abilities to be and give examples from both your degree and extra-curricular experience of how you have utilised these effectively in the past.
Example: If team work is an important skill in job role: detail your team work experience and how you acquired it – perhaps you have experience from your part time job, DegreePlus and/or degree. It is advisable to touch upon all the main skills and abilities associated with the role.
Question 3: Can you give an example of a project that you did at University, what problems you encountered and how you overcame these?
This is a competency-based question and most interviews will feature at least one of these. They are usually recognisable as they tend to begin with ‘Can you give an example of a time when…….’, ‘Can you tell me about a time when…….’ or ‘Describe an occasion when……….’ Competency based questions are used by employers to establish if you have the skills they are looking for.
They therefore use these questions to get an indication of a time when you have used a skill in the past – employers believe this is a good indicator of future performance. So for example in the question above they will be trying to establish if you are good at overcoming obstacles and problem solving to reach an end goal.
The key to answering these questions is to provide a specific example of a time when you have demonstrated a particular skill. Do not generalise. Avoid speaking generally about your skill by using the S.T.A.R. acronym to answer this question –
S. – Situation. Briefly describe a situation that you have been involved in that demonstrates the required competency
T. – Task. Describe the task you had to complete A. – Action. Describe the action you took and keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project, describe what you did, not the efforts of the team R. – Result. What was the outcome? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?
For all interviews it is advisable to prepare answers using the STAR acronym for each of the skills or competencies listed on the Person Specification. The experiences you draw on to provide your examples can come from a wide variety of sources – academic work, part time jobs, voluntary roles, sports or any extra-curricular activities.
Question 4 : Can you tell me why you are interested in this role or sector and what experiences you have that are relevant to it?
This is a great opportunity to demonstrate enthusiasm for the position you are interested in. Employers love to see passion and enthusiasm so endeavour to get this across. This question is also an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the job role as laid out in the Job Specification and your understanding and knowledge of the wider sector.
It is therefore advisable to research the sector thoroughly and have a clear idea of what the job role actually involves as part of your interview preparation. So for a role in the care sector you might want to begin to answer this question by saying ‘I am really interested in this position because I love working with people and I want to work in a role where I can have a practical, positive input every day. I can see this happening in this job because……’ You might then go on to demonstrate your knowledge of the job role as laid out in the Job Specification and your understanding and knowledge of the sector in general.
You should conclude your answer by mentioning previous relevant experience you have. Where you do not feel you have relevant experience instead draw on the skills you have that demonstrate that you are well equipped to carry out the requirements of the role.
Question 5: Lastly, can you tell me why we should hire you, rather than another candidate?
Again this question is a great opportunity to show the employer how much you want the job and to once again demonstrate that key attribute – enthusiasm!
This question provides you with an opportunity to summarise the skills and experience you have allowing you to demonstrate to the employer that you are the right person for the job.
It is also a fairly open question so if you feel you haven’t been able to mention other experiences or skills that might make you stand out then this is the opportunity to do it. Make it clear to the employer that you are a very good fit for the Person Specification that they have set out.
This is your chance to really sell your skills so make sure you do and finally remember to tell them how much you want the job and how much you want to work for this particular employer.
What they mean: Talk me through your CV and tell me how your experiences relate to this particular job.
They don’t mean: Tell me your life history, hobbies and interests and take 20 minutes to do so.
What they ask: What do you know about the company?
What they mean: Are you up to date with what our company is currently doing, our main successes and where we plan to go in the future. Prove you want to work here.
They don’t mean: Please recite the first page of our website like everyone else and show you have done no original research.
What they ask: What skills do you have for this job?
What they mean: Give me a summary of your top three skills and make sure you’ve taken them from the Essential Criteria. Prove you know the job.
They don’t mean: List me over 20 skills and make sure 90% will not relate directly to the job.
What they ask: What is your main strength?
What they mean: Pick something from the Essential Criteria that you believe to be most relevant to the position and give me an example of how you have used it. Prove you can match your skill to the job.
They don’t mean: Tell me something totally unrelated to the job and don’t explain it. Or
tell me the heaviest weight you can lift in the gym.
What they ask: What is your main weakness?
What they mean: Tell me about something work related you struggle with and how you have been taking steps to overcome this. Show me you are proactive and looking
to progress. Prove you have self-awareness
They don’t mean: Tell me something critical to the job that you can’t do or that you have no weaknesses. Or tell me about a health condition you have.
What they ask: Can you give me an example of a time when….
What they mean: Talk me through a practical, relevant example that will show me you have experience in this area. Tell me the Situation and set the scene, explain the Task, detail Action and what YOU did then tell me the Result (STAR). Prove you can transfer your previous
experience to this job.
They don’t mean: Please spend 20 minutes rambling about a story and with as much excess and unnecessary information as possible so that I forget the question.
What they ask: Why should we hire you?
What they mean: Give me a summary of your key skills and how they fit this position.
Prove your suitability and your passion
They don’t mean: Give me an arrogant answer that will negate anything good you have previously said.
What they ask: Do you have any questions?
What they mean: Ask me something original and relevant that shows you are serious
about wanting to work here. Prove you can use your initiative.
They don’t mean: Tell me I answered them all in the interview without saying what you had planned to ask.
Find something you’re interested in! Blogging is a great way to improve your employability, as regular articles will show off your content-writing skills to employers. On the other hand, playing a team sport will demonstrate that you understand how to work in a team. You could even try a hobby that is a bit more ‘out there’ – pushing the limits of what is considered the norm will give employers a reason to look twice at your CV!
Write, write, write
Queen’s has its own newspaper and other platforms which provide plenty of writing opportunities – get involved with these to hone your content and copywriting skills to stand you in good stead for graduate jobs. There is always a reason to improve your written communication, and journalism also contains elements of research. Ask around and find out what you can contribute, and don’t forget to keep a record of what you do to show employers later on!
Learn a language
Having a second (or third) language under your belt can help you to stand out in a competitive jobs market. Business in all forms is increasingly international so mastering a well-used language such as Spanish or French will often give you an edge. What’s more, the hard work and dedication that learning a new language entails is bound to impress employers. There are plenty of online resources and apps available to help you to become bilingual!
Take a short course
There’s no better way to improve your graduate employability than by embarking on a short course to improve your skills. Short, online courses from providers such as FutureLearn and Coursera are available in a range of subjects, so if you want to discover what’s involved in a particular role or brush up on soft skills there will be a course for you. It doesn’t have to be related to your career – any course taken demonstrates to employers your initiative and organisational skills!
Become an ambassador
Being a student ambassador is the perfect chance to demonstrate your drive and commitment, all without doing too much strenuous work. MyFuture often advertises opportunities for student assistants in the university and students’ union in a range of areas. Often these jobs will pay, so it can be doubly worth your while applying. Lots of companies also have university ambassador schemes, which you can apply to as well!
For more on developing your employability at Queen’s visit our Degree Plus site and find out how you can get an award at graduation on recognition of the skills you have built up.
Sarah McKeag, Associate Director for Talent Attraction and Acquisition at EY Belfast talks skills-based recruitment and how it differs from the traditional recruitment process.
EY are one of the big four professional services firms. We have about 550 staff in Belfast at present and 18,000 staff in 21 offices across the UK. We are traditionally known for bringing staff into their chartered accountancy-based exams, be that an audit business or tax business. We have a large consulting business in Belfast and we bring in students now down different routes, through data analytics, project management, contract and procurement management – so there is a wide opportunity for students at all levels within EY. We are a global organisation in 150 companies worldwide. So, the opportunity for students to move and to travel and gain that vast exposure is there, right on their doorstep in Belfast.
Strengths-based recruitment at EY
We have stepped away from traditional [recruitment] routes, we did this about 10 years ago and we work with an organisation called the Centre For Applied Psychology. They have helped us develop this strength-based recruitment process to assess potential in students. So that is the main difference in strength-based recruitment: we’re not looking for the students to have had work experience or experience in a range of things, we’re looking for the potential they have to become leaders in our business and to become successful in our business.
We review our process every couple of years. We review the strengths we use, the frameworks, to make sure that they are aligned to the people who are performing the highest in our business and then this helps assess this potential in the students coming in. So, if we think about what other employers use, they typically use a competency-based approach and the difference between a strength and a competency-based approach is around the energy and enthusiasm – competency can be learnt, whereas a strength is something where you have that natural enthusiasm and energy around doing. It is something you do well and you do often and you enjoy doing all that time. We use that across all our student recruitment, from the online assessment centre to the final interview. The majority of the strengths we use for EY are the core strengths from across all of our programmes we operate, but when you get to that final interview, we’ll have more focus strengths for the area you applied for.
Strengths that EY recruit against
These are the core strengths that we would measure:
In the know
We are not looking for students to have done reams of work experience, we will give them a situation or a task and we will ask them how they would approach that, how they would feel about that, we may give them a number of tasks and ask them to choose their preferred 5 or we may give them a group activity and ask them to evaluate on how they have done in that activity and what they would do differently next time. We want them to have these strengths in their mind, when they are going through our process and think about how would I deal with the situation, what would I rely on to do that?
For example, if we look at the strength curious, we are looking for people that are always challenging and asking why they are doing something, they are looking for new ways to do something and challenge how something works or what’s driving a change in analytics they see so it is that curious, finding out what’s happening and what’s coming next.
Adaptable and resilience
I think at the moment adaptable and resilience are particularly important. That’s been huge for the students we have brought on in the past 6 months. But equally for the students that are coming towards their last year in university or starting university in a different way than they had ever envisioned themselves. How can they make the most of the circumstances they are in at the moment? Things are frequently changing so there needs to be a level of resilience so they can manage that change process. So that they don’t get change fatigue, so they can have coping mechanisms for stress management, they know when they are stressed and how to deal with that.
The number savvy one is not looking for someone that has done further maths or additional maths, however we are a number business and whether that be in data analytics or it be in our audit business, you will be given large volumes or data, sometimes numerical, and you will need to be comfortable working with that. People have to have a level of comfort around that, and understand what drives business or what drives our customers businesses as well.
The team player one, we will assess on our EY experience day in our new virtual assessment. This is a really good way at seeing everyone’s energy and how they interact withing a group. In our business you will work in teams and they can be small teams up to very large teams. So you need to have an understanding of how to integrate into a team, what roles you tend to take on, what your strengths are. You do not need to be the leader of that group, quite often you just need to be the person who focusses that group or remembers to bring the group back to a certain point or build on someone else’s idea. We are not looking for the person who talks the most or loudest, but the person who brings the most value to the group, this may be bringing in people who are more quiet in the group or bringing a focus back to the task at hand. We also need those people who start the group off, who get everyone focussed on the task.
Prepping for a virtual strengths-based interview
Make sure your technology works
Make sure you’re comfortable to come on camera
Don’t forget you can blur your background in video’s if it makes you feel more comfortable
We want to see your face and your interaction
Virtual interviews are different from face to face as that rapport takes a bit longer to build up, however our assessors are very comfortable coming on to the camera
Make sure your WIFI is as strong as it can be
Make sure you will not get interrupted
Make sure you do all your prep work before hand
Identify your strengths
For identifying their strengths, particularly before the final interview stage, and you’re thinking about the job that you are going in to, quite often it quite difficult to identify your own strengths but if you think about your energy level – something you do well, you do often and you enjoy doing. It might not be the first thing on your list as you know you can do it in 5 minutes, it could be the thing you treat yourself to or the thing you do first because you know you can do it in 5 minutes. It will be the thing your friends always ask you to do, it will be the role you always find yourself in in any camp or society – so if you’re really good with numbers, you’ll find yourself with the treasurer, if you’re very analytical, people will come to you with their problems to find a solution. The things your friends say you never shut up about as well or something you can talk about for ages.
We will give you a situation or tell you a bit about the area you applied to, a bit about the strengths that they look for and then we will ask you about the situation and what you would find yourself doing if you were in that situation.
In our final interview stages, there is a short presentation which we ask the candidates to do and that should be your opportunity to do a little bit of research around EY and that line of service you have applied for. The final thing would be around motivation. You will be interviewed by a partner or director, who is an owner of our business, and they will want to know why you wanted to apply to EY, why you have applied to that particular area, as that is the part they own. It is really your opportunity to show the research you have done into the business and into the pathway you have applied for. There is plenty of information on our website.
What is a good question for a candidate to ask at the end of the interview?
I personally think you should always ask a question at the end of an interview. You should by that stage, have built up a rapport with the interviewer, the questions I would tell you to absolutely avoid would be around salary and benefits, as this information is all on our website. There is plenty of time to ask the recruitment team prior to the final interview.
Our interviewers have typically been in the business for a number of years and have had a number of interesting career paths to that point. Questions I would focus on at the end of the interview would be around what is the best client they have worked on, what has been the most challenging client they have worked on, what has been their career path to date or what has been their most interesting role in the organisation. There’s lots of questions related to the company they can ask us. A lot of questions we are being asked at the moment are about the returns to the office and how we engaged with our teams remotely and what were the biggest challenges. The partners are really open to hear from new graduates about what would work and what they would need to see coming into the business and they are keen to know what they can do.
A question at the end of the interview is an opportunity for the candidate to get a view on if they see themself working for this person? Do they want to work on their team? Do they inspire them as a leader? That is what they should be thinking about shaping their questions around if I was coming in.
I found that it was because of the people who interviewed me that made me join, we built a rapport, we had a good chat and we quite often get feed back that our interviews don’t feel very formal and they turn out as more of a chat. When I got the offer, I made the decision because I really enjoyed the people from the company.
For students, you need to think about what you need to know to be on that team and what else you need to know about the leader of that team you will be joining.
One Queen’s alumna (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) reveals the mistake she made during a recent virtual interview.
“I was due to sit an automated virtual job interview with a big company. I got a shower, washed my hair and wrapped a towel around my wet hair while I did my make-up. With my dressing gown on and the towel still wrapped around my head, I thought I’d jump online and complete the mock interview the company had sent me in preparation for the interview proper. My intention was to dry my hair and get dressed into my interview outfit after completing the mock.
What I didn’t realise was that the mock interview automatically sent you in to the live recording of your actual virtual interview straight afterwards.
“I had no choice but to see it through and attempt to answer the interview questions on camera wearing my dressing gown and a towel on my head!
“It was mortifying to say the least. And no, I didn’t get the job!”
For top tips on doing virtual recruitment the right way read this next:
Many graduate recruiters see piles of CVs and interview hundreds of applicants to fill jobs and placement roles. So, what sets a good candidate apart? We cornered some of NI’s top recruiters at the Graduate Recruiter and Placement Fair last week to find out. Here is what they had to say…
Include skills developed through extracurricular activities
“It is important to appreciate that on paper, all graduates from the same degree programme look the same. However candidates who succinctly articulate how their skills and experience meet the essential and desirable criteria outlined on the Job Description will stand out, as this shows they have considered the requirements of the role and thought about how they will bring value to the organisation. I would encourage students to really think about what they have achieved outside of their academic qualification. Reflection upon the skills developed through involvement in extracurricular activities such as clubs, societies, sports, volunteering and work experience, and setting this in the context of the competencies employers seek, will set your application apart from others.”
Kim McAllister, Talent Acquisition Manager, Almac Group
EDITOR’S NOTE: Queen’s Degree Plus programme provides an opportunity to articulate the skills you have built up through extracurricular activities to employers. Find out more at GO.QUB.AC.UK/DEGREEPLUS
Show that you are keen
“If we get the feeling that you are super keen and can’t wait to get started sometime that is worth even more than a high score in the technical test. “
Elisa Herbig. Talent Acquisition Specialist at AquaQ Analytics
Make sure your CV hits the mark
“Your CV doesn’t need to be elaborate or fancy. A lot of the time what really helps people is having something presentable that is easy to read. For the recruiter who is going to be reviewing it. Making sure the formatting is correct. Making sure there are no typos. Making sure the application is as easy to read as possible. Highlight any relevant experience for the role. Voluntary experience is good to include. Even if you have been working part-time show you have been doing something alongside your academic studies.”
Adrian McCarthy is the manager of For Purpose
Relax in the interview
“Top interview tip – relax! We are just as nervous as you are. We want to sell you the job as much as you want to sell your skills to us. We want to make sure this is somewhere you want to work.”
Joelene Ridgill , Purchasing Manager at Seacoya Group Ltd
Include work experience in your CV
“It sounds obvious but, in terms of a winning CV, good grades go a long way. It shows that the applicant knows how to put the work in to achieve their goals. It’s also very important to have some work experience or extracurricular activities since a candidate will have gained invaluable skills and experiences that they can bring into their new role. It also shows their adaptability and an appreciation for hard work.
For an interview, it’s easy to say but just try to relax and be yourself. Your CV already shows many of your skills and this is a chance to show your personality. Remember that interviewers are just people, and someday it will be you in the interviewer’s seat!”
Sarah Fleming, Senior Manager, Muldoon & Co
Read assessment centre instructions
“At Liberty IT, we don’t ask for your CV when you apply. We only ask for your basic details such as what you’re studying and what year you’re in. If you meet the criteria you will then be invited to complete an online coding test through Codility and if you’re successful in that you get to attend our recruitment centres.
The recruitment centre is broken up into four sections to make sure we get the best idea of your skills, experience and potential. To do well, make sure you read the advice we’ll send you, be yourself and try to enjoy the experience.”
Birgitta Swanberg, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist, Liberty IT
Tailor your CV for the role
Information within a CV needs to be clear and concise. No long paragraphs. Ensure your skills and experience are easily identifiable throughout. Remember the recruiter looking at your CV doesn’t know you so highlight your relevant experience using the job description. To help you refine your CV to the role and make it stand out from the pile. Finally don’t forget to include personal achievements. Competing in team sports is a good indicator that you work well within a team and have competitive nature.
Clodagh Mckeefry, Corporate Recruiter, MRP
Show who you are as a person
I want to see what you do in your free time. An academic record is fantastic but I want to know about your volunteer experience, part time jobs, clubs you’re a part of, etc. It’s all about showing people that you are capable of doing more and pushing yourself.
Jared Kearney, Senior Campus Recruiter, Citi UK and Citi Irelan
Whether you are graduating this year or just want to bank the award early, Eimear Gallagher, who heads up Queen’ s employability programme, is here to answer all your burning questions.
What is Degree Plus?
“Degree Plus is about encouraging you to get involved in extracurricular activities in and around Queen’s, but also to give you the opportunity to get a reward for that; to get an accreditation from the University and have it recorded on your Queen’s QSIS record,” says Eimear.
She adds: “At graduation, in addition to your Queen’s parchment confirming your degree, you also get a Degree Plus certificate. That is confirmation from the University that you completed an activity or activities and it will name the specific activities you have undertaken as well.”
What counts towards Degree Plus?
“There are a large number of activities to choose from, the last count was over 180. There are two different routes – Provider Verified and Combined Experience,” says Eimear.
“There is no compulsion to do it,” says Eimear. “It’s for people who want to differentiate themselves and to stand out from the crowd; stand out from others with whom you’d be competing in graduate labour markets.”
Eimear Gallagher is the Business Operations Manager at Queen’s Careers, Employability and Skills. To contact the Degree Plus team, email firstname.lastname@example.org