Interviews are always tricky. It’s usual to have long periods of time between each job search.  Hopefully most of us won’t have to attend interviews on a regular basis.

Recent research shows that more than a third of the working population in the UK move jobs between 2 and 5 years.  Which confirms our belief that there is no longer a “job for life” culture, expectation or desire perhaps.

We live in a rapidly changing environment which has an impact on recruitment trends and patterns and the World of Work.

  • Politics
  • Demographics
  • Technology
  • Economies
  • Regulations and legislation

Interview styles and formats will change due to technology.  It’s not one of those skills you can easily maintain or a skill you particularly want to continually devote time and energy.

Competition is higher than ever, however here is some good news. The general principles of conducting a good structured interview haven’t really changed over the last decade. The main principles are the same.

  • Research the company
  • Ensure you have a good understanding of how your skills and experience match the job role
  • Prepare some specific examples for any behavioural competency questions you are likely to be asked.

It’s normally the really simple questions that get forgotten about in your haste to prepare.

At face value these questions are so simple and appear “innocent” – ask these questions in a social setting and no problem.

BUT be very aware – these questions can trap even the most confident candidates and weed out the unprepared in one or two questions flat!


Tell me about yourself?


The hiring manager isn’t actually asking you to tell your life story. They’re not normally asking for your hobbies or interests either. Most good recruiters won’t be asking about your personal life anyway.

Their job is to assess you against key criteria for the job and assess your corporate cultural fit.

Get the “Tell me about yourself?” question wrong and you can so easily talk yourself out of any job offer. You must understand the role, the organisation and the corporate culture. However, this equally isn’t the time to pretend or make it up to fit the requirements.  Even if you’re desperate for a job!

What tends to happen if you try to fake it?

  • Your answers won’t be consistent because you are making it up as you go along.
  • You won’t be able to confidently answer follow up questions.
  • You’ll get uncomfortable and this will show in your body language.
  • You will also leave the recruiter with an equally uncomfortable “gut feeling” which will not be in your favour.

Leaving hiring managers or recruiters with any doubts or unanswered questions will most likely end in a “We’ll call you” scenario.


The “Rules” for answering the “Tell me about yourself” question:


  • Match your experience, skills and knowledge to the job.  This requires you to do your homework, read job descriptions and any other material.
  • This question is a great opportunity and an open invitation to highlight your match and fit to the job requirements and the corporate culture.
  • Once you’ve done your homework it’s time to prepare a script.  This is just a guide for you to practice communicating concisely. This shouldn’t be memorised word for word.  Otherwise you won’t come across genuine at the interview.
  • Do be clear and concise in your answer.  Not many recruiters will be impressed if you go on and on without coming up for air.  It’s considered disrespectful of the interviewers time too.
  • Include your career aspirations.  Be careful they match what the organisation can offer. If it’s a small local business with little chance of promotion or progression then be sensible about over doing your big ambitions!
  • Don’t cram in lots of buzz words or lots of adjectives.  Don’t use this question as an opportunity to brag or show off about how wonderful you are and they are lucky to have the opportunity of interviewing you!
  • Get the balance right between what you can bring to the organisation and what value you can add with your skills, experience and knowledge and how you will benefit from a career aspiration point of view.

It’s amazing how much you can say in just a few minutes when you’ve prepared what you are going to include in your answer.



What are your strengths and weaknesses?


This very simple looking question can trip up the most confident candidate and not necessarily because they cannot answer this question.

Confident candidates are able to “sell” themselves very well and don’t have an issue with talking about themselves. However, there’s a danger that the confident candidates will only talk about themselves without any real link or connection to the business or position they are actually applying.

If you think you can “wing” this question on the day then you could be making the recruiter’s job very easy to screen you out. This question is often asked for many different types of jobs – however, it’s not the question that’s the issue it’s your answer.

It’s nothing to do with the question itself – it’s your answer that will be scrutinized in line with the visible and hidden criteria.

What are the hidden criteria for measuring the answer? Well you might not ever find out the whole story but you can still give a really good answer if you’ve researched the company before the interview. It’s all to do with the job requirements, the corporate culture for the company and the sub-culture for the team or department.

What are your weaknesses?

The trickiest part of this question is answering adequately the “what are your weaknesses?” Most people in HR or in any people management role no longer like to use the term weakness – it implies that it’s something that cannot be changed or overcome.

We now like to think of it in terms of developments and if you re-frame the question is it somewhat easier to answer.

Think of a “weakness” as a skill you need to learn or an existing skills that needs some improvement or some new knowledge you have the opportunity to gain. It’s a much more positive way of viewing this question.

The Rules to answering the “What are your strengths?” question:


  • Ensure you have reviewed the requirements for the job very carefully. The clues are all there in the job description and job advert. Look at what the job requirements are and match them to your existing skills, knowledge and experiences.
  • You’ll need to match the essential requirements for the job and hopefully they have already seen that from your CV – however, make sure you highlight the key skills you can bring to the organisation.
  • Even better if you also have some of the desirable requirements – this may give you the advantage over other candidates.
  • Check out the operating principles of the company, values or behavioural competencies. Then match your strengths and career values to the company’s.

Your aim during the interview is to demonstrate you are a close match to the company’s value structure and operating principles.

The Rules to answering the “What are your weaknesses?” question:


  • You must prepare for this question – it’s a very commonly asked question. The risks of not preparing for this answer is you’ll focus too much on the “weakness” and potentially waffle on trying to justify or worse blame someone or something and not taking ownership.
  • Remember to do your homework and don’t inadvertently mention an essential or desire skill.
  • Avoid using the widely and over used “I’m a perfectionist”.
  • Recruiters that have been around for a number of years (or even decades in my own experience!) won’t be at all impressed with this answer. It can be perceived as arrogant. Of course this really does depend on the industry or sector you work – arrogance may be a good fit!
  • If you do mention something you’re not particularly good at or have only basic skills be sure to mention how you are now aware of it and addressing with some self-taught training maybe or attending workshops or being mentored or coached (as long as this is true of course!)
  • Try to start the answer positively and end with a equally positive twist! So you are leaving the interviewer with a good “gut” feeling.


Why should we hire you?


Unlike the “Tell me about yourself” question – this question really isn’t about you personally.  It’s about giving the right information to ensure the hiring manager goes out of the interview room justifying the decision to hire you instead of the next candidate.

Your answer needs to be punchy and interesting.  This really isn’t the time to go on and on. It’s not about you this question.  It’s far more about giving the person / client / hiring manager food for thought.

Satisfying the needs and requirements of the client (job fit, team fit, corporate cultural fit, motivational fit). Offering solutions to their problems and being able to meet the main objectives of the role, the team goals and organisations strategy.

“From our conversation and my understanding about the role you are looking for someone to take ownership of several projects.  You are looking for someone to ensure challenging objectives are met with limited resources. As we’ve discussed I’ve looked after and managed multiple and complex projects over the last decade and have delivered these in very challenging environments. I feel I’ve demonstrated my exceptional planning and organisational skills.  The ability to remain focused and tenacious in times of ambiguity and chaos.”


The Rules to answering the “Why should we hire you?” question:


  • Ensure you have thought through your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What skills, experiences and knowledge can you bring to the role?
  • It’s not worth faking it.  You might want to emphasis certain aspects of your characteristics and match to the company’s values.  Why would you want to work in a company where you didn’t really fit in? Think about it.

Applying for jobs is hard work and often time consuming.  So you want to go for jobs you really want not just jobs that will do.