Interview nerves can leave the best of us tongue tied, precisely when we would hope to be at our most articulate. But with the right preparation, you can create a framework and structure upon which to build perfect responses to tough interview questions. We’ve worked with seasoned recruitment experts come up with a few powerful tips to help you formulate fluent, thorough and impressive responses to any open interview question that comes your way.
Congratulations! It’s the news you’ve been waiting for … you’ve been shortlisted for an interview for the job of your dreams. And yet, no sooner does your heart leap with euphoria than you start experiencing the unpleasant symptoms of heightened anxiety – sweaty palms, wobbly knees, a racing heartbeat, shaky legs and nausea. If an invitation to interview comes as a mixed blessing for you, then you’re in good company. According to a 2013 survey (Harris Interactive and Everest College), as many as 92% of adults in the US stress over one or more aspects of a job interview, and 15% of those specify ‘difficult questions’ as their main source of stress.
Henry Kissinger once famously opened a press conference by asking, ‘Does anyone have any questions for my answers?’. Perhaps he possessed mind reading skills, had some sort of cheat sheet, or had planted a mole in the assembled ranks? Nope. Quite simply, he was so well prepared that he felt confident that no question, expected or unexpected, could blindside him.
Of course, preparing well for an interview is in no small part to do with ‘doing your homework’. Whether you’re Henry Kissinger facing the press, or good old you, getting your head in the game before an all-important job interview, the principles are the same. You need to anticipate what topics are likely to arise and predict the questions most likely to be asked. But, beyond that, you’ve got to work out a response strategy – and not just to the questions you’re expecting, but also the ones that you didn’t see coming.
Let’s take a moment then, to focus on framing and structure, because they are, without a doubt, what transforms an adequate interview response into an exemplary one. If being the ‘standout’ candidate is your goal, then focussing not just on what you need to say, but on how you say it, will be some of the best preparation you can do. Not only that, you’ll also have a framework upon which to base answers to even the toughest questions, making it far easier to think on your feet if you’re put on the spot.
Working with recruitment experts, we’ve come up with a few powerful tips to formulate fluent and impressive responses to any open interview question that comes your way.
Interview Tip 1: If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail
The message here is simple – do your homework, and plenty of it! You need to review and revise everything you can about the role and the company, and about yourself. Then work through a process of overlaying the two. Put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer. It is his or her job to establish three things: can you do the job, will you do the job, and will you ‘fit in’? So, every aspect of your preparation needs to zone in on highlighting why the answer to all those questions should be a resounding ‘yes’.
Interview Tip 2: Define Your USPs
With all that preparation, you will have a wealth of information at your fingertips. You’ll have made mental (possibly actual) lists of your top 5’s – achievements, strengths, challenges faced, weaknesses, values – and come up with real life examples of each from your past. You’ll have rehearsed your career history to the ‘nth degree, and you’ll have your elevator pitch down pat. Remember that you are in control of the information you give – make sure you exercise this control subtly, but wisely. The interviewer may ask the questions, but you decide how to answer them and what information to convey in response. Above all, you need to be crystal clear in your mind about what crucial USPs (unique selling points) you want to make sure you’ve impressed upon the interviewer before you leave.
Interview Tip 3: Stay Relevant
Most interviews will consist of open ended questions. This means you have an opportunity to steer the conversation in a direction that shows off your best attributes and skills. Be warned though, because in responding to open interview questions it is easy to fall into the trap of going off on irrelevant tangents. A good strategy, especially if the question seems long -winded or complex, is to paraphrase or repeat it (even just in your head) before you start replying. Whatever your response, you must make sure you clearly answer the question you have been asked. A candidate who drifts off point may come across as either evasive, scatty, or a poor listener. Stay on track and on point.
Interview Tip 4: Be Specific & Provide Context
The best indicator of future performance is past behaviour, and that’s exactly why interviewers will place far more stock in those candidates who can demonstrate their suitability through real life examples from their current or past roles. Interviewers are looking for proof, not platitudes, and two common traps you should avoid are either reeling off a list of adjectives with no substantiation or context, or talking hypothetically about what you ‘would’ do in any given situation. The credibility behind your claims comes with the examples of how you have clearly operated effectively in this way in a previous relevant context. And one other small, but important point … talk about your experiences in terms of ‘I’, not ‘we’, with very specific reference to your role and your contribution. Using ‘we’ implies that you may have been a mere bystander, or that you had, in actual fact, little direct impact or influence on the final outcome.
Interview Tip 5: Demonstrate Impact & Outcomes
Which brings us neatly on to the ‘so what?’ factor. To coin a phrase, you need to sell the sizzle, not the sausage. Use past evidence to prove how your approach has added value and made a tangible impact in the past. Then put it firmly in the context of how it will benefit your prospective employer in the future.
Interview Tip 6: Practice Makes Perfect
In the comfort of your own environment, and without the pressure that an interview setting can create, it is much easier to come up with fluent phrases to neatly articulate your qualities, how you’ve demonstrated them and the resulting ‘value add’ impact. Take advantage of this, and spend some time coming up with a mental database of phrases that you can call upon readily when you are face to face with your interviewer. A few examples include:
- I am (attribute/quality)… for example (insert specific example)… which resulted in (insert tangible outcome). If I were to join your organisation, I think this would be important because …. which means that …
- …which adds value because
- …so that
- … which enabled
Interview Tip 7: Humility Over Confidence
There is a fine balance between humility and over-confidence. Your statements need to affirm your skills and abilities, not merely ‘suggest’ them, and the supporting evidence provided from your real-life examples will, of course, add weight to what may otherwise seem like boastful self-congratulation. Another tip is to cite genuine feedback that has come from third parties, for example, ‘In my last performance review, my line manager highlighted x as one of my strengths’, or, ‘A colleague recently commented that ….’.
Interview Tip 8: And Finally …
It makes sense to finish with one very important tip. Your interview starts the moment you are within sight of the office building / receptionist. And it does not finish until you’re out of sight and earshot of the premises. A stellar performance across the desk from the interviewer will all be for nothing if the Receptionist reports back (and believe us, this happens) that you were anything less than the consummate professional in appearance, demeanour or manner on the way in and out.
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