Matthew Burns

Interviews for first timers: Trick questions and being the best you

[ Blog post created by Abigail Thornton – Sedbergh School HR Manager ]

Believe it or not, it’s not easy being the interviewer; we want you to like us too!! We know we can look old and uncool, but interviewers are human too. So be kind to us please! Don’t laugh when we fall over, spill tea down our jackets, can’t pronounce your name properly, and please pretend you haven’t noticed that the baby was sick down the back of our jacket and we didn’t have time to change.

I remember my first time as an interviewer on what we affectionately call the graduate “milk round” circuit at a university, interviewing a particularly nervous young lady. As she got more and more nervous so did I, as I felt I was not doing my job effectively as she was clearly not feeling at ease.

So, that was when I spilt my water into my lap… She then jumped and spilt more into her own lap. We both limped onto the dreaded observed team exercise with huge wet patches!

She emerged from the toilet after clearly having been in tears and managed to drag herself into the team exercise, where a number of over-assertive candidates talked over her.

But when this shy, soaking wet, quiet person spoke, everyone listened and she completely aced the team exercise, blowing away all us assessors and romped into the job, precisely because she was being herself – not trying to assert herself into the model of what she thought we wanted to see in a “leader”.

We weren’t looking for leaders – we wanted team players. The others had tried to be what they thought we wanted from the “leaders” of the future and be assertive and directive towards their other team members.

Not only had she rocked the team exercise but had impressed us with how she overcame all the interview mishaps with me, picked herself up and carried on – demonstrating another characteristic we were looking for in our graduate recruitment programme; resilience.

Interviewers understand that there are a number of things that can cause panic in an interview situation, such as; not understanding the questions, not knowing the answer and not having an answer that you think puts you in a good light.

So, here are some tips;

  • Just ask. Believe it or not, if you don’t understand the questions that reflects on us, not you, so we are happy to explain or re-phase as many times as it takes!
  • There are no right or wrong answers. We are trying to get to know a little more about you and are making sure the role and working for us is right for you too!
  • We may test your knowledge but the things you don’t know are not that important. In this fast-moving day and age, how you approach life, others and how you learn are more important than the knowledge you hold in your head at a precise moment in an interview room.

And yes, there are trick questions – lots!

Things like, “When was the last time you missed a deadline?” is a trick question! We don’t want to hear “I have never missed a deadline”. We really do want to hear about when you did, what you did about it and what you learned.

Tell me about a time when you were in a team where there was conflict or did not get on with someone”. Again, trick question! We don’t want to hear that you have never had conflict. Even the Fairy Godmother had to deal with conflict. What we want to know is how you dealt with it, what you learnt and how you applied that learning the next time you were faced with your version of the Wicked Witch.

Remember the only thing you need to do at an interview is be the best version of yourself, so do prepare and do practise interview questions so you are able to present the best you on the day.

Answering interview questions is simply telling a real-life story about a situation or event; what happened, what you did, said and felt, and what you would do differently, so preparing your stock of examples of “being the best you” will serve you well.

So, in summary, be kind to the interviewer and be you, the best you and only you and you will always succeed whether or not you get this particular job. The right opportunity is just around the corner so pick yourself up (on some occasions even dry yourself off) and move onto the next chapter of your story.

Good luck!

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