Tools to ensure a job interview goes your way

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2014

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Heading to a job interview can be a scary experience. With your nerves on edge and a lot at stake, the last thing you want to do is wing it with no preparation.

Many interviewers use cookie-cutter questions. There will be some variation in the way they are phrased, but you are almost guaranteed to run into them.

That means you can come up with a crib-sheet of answers ahead of time, to save yourself from long, awkward pauses while you rack your brain for an example.

Frog Recruitment director Jane Kennelly tells clients to shoot for the STARs - that is: Situation, Task, Action, Result.

"It really helps them roll their examples out in the interview really well," she says. "It just allows them to be quite seamless, keep on point, and to choose really good examples that have got a sequence to them."

Be sure to practise reading your responses aloud too; it will make you more confident and flow better, Kennelly says.

Here are some of the most common questions to swot up on:

WHY DO YOU WANT TO WORK HERE?

This is meant to be one of the fluffy warm-up questions, but it is also the first test of whether you have done your homework.

Careers New Zealand career development team leader Pat Cody says it is important to familiarise yourself with the company or organisation.

"You've got to gain a strong sense of what the company is about in terms of its products, its services, its culture."

At the very least that means checking out its website, if not following it on social media and reading up on company news. That way you can align your answers to the values of the company - without gushing or being insincere.

WHAT SKILLS DO YOU HAVE? HOW CAN YOU ADD VALUE?

It is awkward for Kiwis with typical "aw, shucks" modesty to sell themselves, but it's vital in a job interview.

"The hiring process is about you, but it's not about you," says Cody. "It's about how you add value to the company."

The employer is effectively making an expensive purchase, he says. They don't want to make a bad investment. So don't be shy to talk up your skills and strengths.

WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?

The sleazy "sometimes, I actually work too hard," is not an acceptable answer. Nor is a flat-out denial of having any weak points.

Be honest, says Kennelly, but couch it in a way that is still constructive and positive. For example: "My managerial skills are something that I've continued to develop - I would still like to be able to hone those skills."

WHAT ARE YOU LIKE TO WORK WITH?

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Cody says employers typically ask a series of questions to try to learn more about you as a person.

"There'll be a whole bunch of people who have the competency, but it's more around the cultural fit," he says. "What you're trying to get a sense of is that magical thing called attitude."

You will probably field questions about your values, teamwork and communication. "For example, can you give me an example of how you've dealt with conflict in the workplace?"

WHY DID YOU LEAVE YOUR LAST JOB?

This is not an opportunity to start slagging off your horrible ex-boss and lazy, incompetent former colleagues.

"Always keep it positive," Kennelly says.

If you have left a job without securing a new position, you will almost certainly be asked why. In this job market, redundancy is a common reason.

"My advice is to get that on the table and off the table quite quickly," Kennelly says. "It creates, for some people, an awkwardness. That's one I absolutely think should be practised."

WHAT SORT OF ANIMAL WOULD YOU BE? WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE DINOSAUR, AND WHY?

These sort of whacky, abstract interview questions are popular with hip Silicon Valley companies, but they crop up in New Zealand too.

"It's not common, but it does happen," Kennelly says. "What they're really looking for is gauging your confidence level, and how you react to something that's unexpected. Have you got that sort of creativeness and inventiveness?"

Obviously there's nothing you can do to prep for this. If you do get stuck for an answer to any question, don't panic. "Everyone knows this is quite a nerve-racking situation," Kennelly says. "You just need to take a moment to collect your thoughts. You can get yourself back on track again."

WHAT SALARY RANGE DO YOU THINK IS APPROPRIATE?

This can be an awkward question to dance around if you have not given it any thought. "If the interviewer brings it up, you can pose it back to them," Kennelly says.

Ask for a typical range, and if you are happy with it say, "I don't want to price myself off the market here. The range suggested sounds fine". Don't start making hard-and-fast demands unless you know you're in a position of real leverage.

FINAL CHECKLIST

Find out the interviewer's name

Arrive early

Dress sharply

Turn your phone off

Take your sunglasses off your head

Shake hands and make firm eye contact

Say thanks for the interview 

- BusinessDay

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