Interview questions – a real-life example

I’ve decided to test the job market and obtain some interviews, so that I can provide my readers with a real-life interview experience. Using my own resume, I had no trouble gaining interviews within a week of applying.

When it comes to interviews, in addition to preparation, nothing beats real-life practice. So never feel despondent when you fail that first, second or third interview. They are all practise interviews for your final dream job.

The following is a recap of interview questions that I was faced with and relevant sample answers. They are the typical interview questions you will be asked during an interview (or variations of these questions). When preparing for your interview, practise with these interview questions.

Tell me about your experience/background?
Having rehearsed my sales pitch, this was an easy answer. This question gives you a chance to sell yourself. Don’t give them a background history lesson, they should already know from reading your resume. Tell them what you’ve achieved in your career history. Highlight your core strengths. Rehearse your own 2 minute sales pitch and be confident in answering questions such as these.

I have 5+ years experience in [insert industry/role here], where in my previous role I managed a team of 10+ people to achieve the successfully delivery of a $1M project that subsequently gave my team recognition by senior managers

What made you want to apply for this role/company?
Refer back to when you first saw the role advertised. What was it that captured your attention? Was it the company? The required skill set matched yours? The problem the company was facing, that you could solve?

I was attracted to the advertised skills set that you listed. I believe I match each of these and so will be capable to hit the ground running in this role.

What are your strengths/weaknesses?
Strengths is quite simple. You already know what you’re good at. Remember to always provide examples to back up your claims. Weaknesses is a tough one. A common suggestion is to provide a weakness that can be turned around into a strength. Use this tactic if it makes you comfortable. Though I don’t recommend it, as it’s not really a weakness if it’s really disguised as a strength, is it? A better approach is to give a weakness and then explain how you are learning to overcome it. Interviewers will appreciate your honesty and you will get bonus points for self-awareness and trying to improve yourself.

I have trouble saying no and am often overloaded with requests, which can affect the quality of my work. I am trying to overcome this problem by learning to be more assertive and setting expectations with my co-workers/managers.

What are your key achievements?
This should be easy as you would have no doubt listed them in your resume. Give the interviewer an example of when you went above and beyond in your role, incorporate how you used your strengths to achieve your desired results.

Being very strong in process improvement, I automated our weekly reporting process, saving our consultants 2 hours per week in billable time.

What do you think makes a successful [insert role title here]?
Incorporate your strengths in this question. So if the role is a sales consultant for example, identify key skills that are crucial to a sales consultant, that conveniently match your core skills and abilities ie. negotiation and persuasion.

A successful sales consultant requires strong persuasion abilities, in order to convince the buyer who may be reluctant during the final stages of the sale. This is one of my greatest strengths, having a 60% conversion rate.

Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult client/boss/stakeholder?
When answering this question, it requires some sensitivity. Do not highlight how difficult the person was but rather emphasise the situation that caused the friction/issue, and then what you did to resolve the conflict and hence saved your relationship with your co-worker.

The deadline was fast approaching and we had many outstanding tasks to be completed. The client was extremely on edge, and rightly so, concerned that we would not meet the deadline. I kept the communication lines open and monitored the teams responsible for each tasks and regularly updated the customer on the progress. The result was that the project met the deadline and I was able to cultivate and strengthen the relationship with my customer due to the regular communication.

My questions to the interviewer
This is your chance to interview the interviewer. Here are some of the questions I asked:

  • What are some of the clients you work with? – To establish the credibility of this firm and the ongoing availability of work
  • Can you provide some information on projects that I may be working on? – To understand more about the work I may be performing
  • Why are you hiring? – To learn more about their needs for someone like me and also to identify the potential growth of the company.

I asked these questions because I was interested in knowing the answers. Don’t ask questions just for the sake of having questions to ask, as many people will advise. Question time is for you to turn the interview around on the interviewer. Think about questions that will help you determine your fit within this organisation.

How to really write a graduate resume

A resume for a graduate program or entry-level role will probably be one of the most important resumes you’ll ever write. For most, it is your first foray in to the corporate/working world. It can be tricky to produce a standout resume without any solid work experience to highlight your skills.

However, it doesn’t have to be impossible. You will acquire marketable skills throughout your life, whether it is at a part time job, through university or through other personal interests. These skills are what the employers want to see, and so it is what you must present on your resume. You just need to make sure that you can clearly identify these skills and communicate them well through your resume. Here are some quick tips on how to write a Second Look graduate resume.

Contact Details
Keep this simple. All that is really required is your name, contact phone number and an email address so the potential employer can contact you for the next round! Don’t waste valuable resume real estate adding multiple contact numbers and email addresses (just make sure that the phone/email you’ve entered is accurately entered of course).

Career Objectives
I am not a big fan of career objectives. It is assumed that your objective is to obtain employment with the company you are applying for, and establishing your career with them. However, if you want to add a career objective, keep it succinct. Incorporate how you can add value to the organisation (TIP: Research the company and identify their corporate values and how your values align).

Key Attributes/Skills
Here is where you write a short summary of your resume. Use about 3-5 dot points and highlight your top strengths. Don’t just write a list of skills. Whatever your strengths are; support them with examples. For example, developed strong leadership skills as a the President of the Business Student Association.

This is important information and should sit somewhere on your first page. With limited work experience, your degree/qualification is usually a major selection criteria for graduate programs. If you’ve done well, it’s well advised to highlight your average score. If you’ve also achieved something important during your time studying, also highlight it. Ie.:
Bachelor of Business (Majoring in Marketing)

  • Distinction average
  • Competed in and won first prize for the Company x corporate challenge
  • President of the Business Student Association

List the above in bullet points but keep details to a minimum, you can provide details further in the resume. You want to keep the remaining first page to include another important piece of information; your work experience (if any).

You can also include your high school VCE certification (again highlight scores if you’ve done well) and/or any other certification (ie. Certificate III in Customer Service).

Employment Summary
This section is where you can highlight and show off your many talents! Even if you’ve worked part-time in a call centre, or a casual role as a retail assistant, you will have developed valuable skills that are transferable in the corporate environment.

  • To figure out what core skills you can highlight, put yourself in the employer’s shoes; good customer service skills can be developed into great client management skills
  • Don’t just list your duties. Identify what it is the employer is after and cater your duties to fit. So if the employer is looking for someone that works well in team, you could say working together in a team, coordinated stocktaking activities to increase efficiencies and completed earlier than required time
  • Last but not least, include some concrete, quantifiable achievements, such as exceed KPI of +95% customer satisfaction and received employee of the month award as a result.

Technical Skills
List skills including computing, business, customer service skills etc. Again, where possible, support them with examples. This section may be particularly important for certain roles ie. Technical or IT roles, so you may want to include this on the first page.

Extra-curricular Activities/Other Interests
Here you can go into further detail about university club participation, other achievements and/or personal interests. Again, as per your employment summary section, highlight your skills and provide good examples that support these skills.

Do not disregard the formatting. Of the hundreds if not thousands of resumes that the recruiter must scan through, yours will be a breath of fresh air after the 99th careers website’s template resumes. The following formatting tricks will create a point of differentiation

  • Use easy to read fonts such as times new roman, cambria or arial. For a modern twist, try calibri or century gothic
  • Widen the page margins slightly and use 1.15 line spacing
  • Use dot points where possible, and keep them short and to the point. Don’t waffle on
  • For added differentiation, use colour. Try and incorporate the company’s corporate colours. That will really make your resume stand out!

Remember, you will require a functional resume for graduate jobs; a skills based resume. Don’t just list your history, list your developed skills and provide examples/achievements to support these acquired skills. Best of luck!

PS. Of course, if you are still in doubt about your abilities to create a standout resume (or even if you are too busy studying for your final exams ;)), get Second Look Resume. I’ve had 100% success rate for my own graduate program applications. I know exactly what the employers are looking for and will endeavour to help you reach the same success!

5 must-do’s prior to the all important interview

Congratulations! You got through to the interview stage. Here are some helpful hints to prepare you for the all important interview.

1. Get a notepad. Write down interview details, contact names and numbers etc. It is also a good idea to write down a few points about the organisation and some practice questions and answers in your notepad. You can then refer to the notepad during the interview if you get nervous and forget what you’ve prepared. Interviewers will look upon this favourably knowing that you’ve come prepared.

Prepare your materials for the interview. In addition to your notepad, include a pen, 2-3 copies of your resume and a copy of the job description provided by the recruiter (if any) in your interview ‘kit’. This will show your organisation skills by being thoroughly prepared. Having a notepad also allows you to jot down any important information the interviewer is providing during the interview, showing your interest

2. Practice, practice, practice. Practice answering interview questions with a friend, or in front of a mirror, or in your own head. However you do it, this step is crucial. Even if the questions in the interview are completely different, at least you have come prepared. Also, by practicing, you will come up with some key sample situations that you can apply during the interview, which brings me to my next point…

Prepare 3-4 examples of achievements you’ve had in your work/university experience, i.e. that time you went above and beyond for a customer. Practice applying these situations in the ‘STAR’ format. Write down these examples in your notepad (see point #1). Once you have prepared these examples, you’ll find that you can adapt and apply them to almost any question the interviewer may throw at you.

Here are a few sample interview questions:

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Reasons for leaving your current job?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why did you select this particular career path?
  • What are your key strengths/weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a particular time when you had to deal with a difficult client?

Note: It is ok to get confirmation from the interviewer after you’ve answered a question, whether it is what they’re after or if your answer was clear.

3. Review your resume again, so you can easily and confidently address any of the interviewers concerns regarding your resume.

4. Prepare your outfit for the interview. Make sure it is appropriate. This seems obvious, but many people can get it wrong. Attention to detail is key here. If you have the best, well cut suit, but your shoes are unpolished, it will stand out. Dress smart, don’t choose too many bright/distracting colours and/or patterns, and make sure you are well groomed.

5. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Try not too worry too much about the event. Visualise succeeding the interview with flying colours. Worrying will only lead to fear, self-doubt and anxiety, which will show through in the interview. Portraying a positive and confident image and behaving as though you’ve already got the job (though be careful to not cross the line into arrogance), will in return give the potential employer equal confidence in you.

The difference between you and the other potential candidate is how well you prepare for the interview. Putting in a few hours for your preparations will set you up for your dream job.

Knowing when it’s time to leave

There are always those people in the workplace who continue aimlessly and never actually consciously make a decision about what they want out of their career. You know the type. They complain endlessly about the people, the processes, the location, the workload, the tea and coffee facilities, and so on. Yet they continue to show up for work. Ever try having a conversation with one of these people before? It might go something like this:

  • Person A: How’s it going?
  • Person B: Terrible! My boss is a ——. I’m so so busy and now they’ve got that new process in place, making us do even more work! I just had a holiday but I wish I had another one! I hate this place!!
  • Person A: Wow that sounds awful, maybe you should tell your boss about the crappy process, work through it with him, get a better process put in place? Or have you tried looking elsewhere? Have you updated your resume? Contacted some agencies?
  • Person B: No… Not yet, I might leave it for a few months to see how things go…besides it’s not that bad all the time…

Sound familiar? Whether it’s someone else or yourself, our routine, habitual nature sometimes makes it difficult to recognise when we’ve got a problem on our hands.

In the corporate world, there are those old timers that have been with a company for over 25 years and those that last no longer than 6 months at each company; otherwise known as “job hoppers”. I’m not here to argue the pros and cons of either, or which path is best for your career. The best path is the one that you choose. Though if you’re unhappy in your current situation, here are some pointers to help you make the change.

It’s a scary world out there
You start making excuses; it’s easy here, I know everything, I know everyone. So basically your excuse is knowledge, thus it leads to the conclusion that your trepidation to leave is fear of the unknown.

Yes the fear holds us all back. You knew everything, now you’re the newbie. It gives most of us scary flashbacks to year 7, when we changed from the cool grade 6 leaders of the school, to little kids again bullied by the year 8’s. It’s unfortunate how past experience conditions us to live in fear of all future events.

I was like that. Working for a very large well-known Fortune 500 company. I knew everything. New people came to me for help. I was nominated for awards; I was my manager’s star performer. But I was bored. I wanted a change. So I asked for a change and got the ‘soft’ no; I’m too important in this role, there’s no one to fill my role, it’s the GFC it’s hard to find something else for me, I’m better off here. So I left my company and have not looked back since. I didn’t get bullied at my new organisation, I learned new things, and am now helping other new employees.

Your life doesn’t end when you make a change, your life just changes. The fun is in the growth process you make throughout the change. Feel the fear and go out there and meet the challenges.

Dreaded Monday becomes dreaded Friday
Do you start the countdown to Monday morning on Friday night? Your mind thinks about it all weekend that you really don’t get to enjoy your weekend? You’d rather just sit around doing nothing so you can savour the weekend time? So you end up not actually doing anything on the weekend. Sound confusing? Or does that scarily makes sense? Move on into a new environment and start enjoying your week again. That’s Monday through to Sunday, not just the weekend.

Personal growth can happen wherever you are
People get caught in the trap that they don’t know everything yet; there is still lots to learn where they are now. Truth is, there is always more to learn, whether it’s where you are now, or some place else. More importantly, is the stuff you’re yet to learn in your current situation, relevant to your self-development? Does becoming an expert in the software development life cycle important in your career as an OH&S workplace trainer? Probably not. Then is this definitely not a valid reason to stay.

Yes I’m sure there is still room to grow in your current position, but if you are unhappy where you are now, you can make a change in your environment and continue the growth in your learning; if not even accelerate it. It’s a win-win.

You decide

Whether you choose to stay or go, make that decision. If you want to leave but are too afraid of the big wide world, recognise that and stop rationalising your decision to stay. If you are not ready to go, make the changes within your job to your best capability. Find a new way to challenge yourself, revamp your work style, and start new social gatherings at the office. Let off steam outside of the office. Find a new hobby, go hiking, or do boxing at the gym. Make some changes in your life overall, not just at your workplace, and it will be like you’ve moved into a new environment.

However if you’re ready to make the big leap, recognise the issues and trepidations discussed above, process it, let it go and just make it happen. What’s the worse that could happen?