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How to Approach Questions in Interviews

How to Approach Questions in Interviews. Interviews are the most awaited situations for both candidates as well as employers. At the same time, these are probably the most anxious and dreaded hour for both. Candidates suffer from an anxiety on how to succeed and get selected, the employers suffer from an anxiety on how not to hire a wrong candidate and repent later. Both parties are equally worried and in their own ways. Interests of both of them are equally at stake. Read this article to understand how to approach some of the general interview questions…

How to Approach Questions in Interviews

As freshers, when you face an interview, you often wonder why they ask such obvious questions and there by actually miss their point. While responding to them, you never think of the reasons behind their questions and expectations—it usually is a mystery for most of the candidates as to what exactly the interviewers pick from your responses; most of the times, to think about that realm is a waste of time.

Interviewers prepare their questions keeping in mind their organisation’s goals, objectives, mission and vision, i.e. what the organisation ultimately requires from their employees, which type of employees will be the best suited to contribute to the organisation’s productivity and eventually its vision, etc. Questions
could be many varying in content and form. Popular general questions like, tell us about yourself, tell us your strengths and weaknesses, why should we hire you, why do you think you are fit for the position, what are your hobbies and interests, how do you see yourself professionally 10 years from now, how will you handle a particular situation (by providing a case/ business example), who has been the most inspiring person in your life and why, tell us something about our company and what are your expectations from us, etc., appear archaic and clichés.

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Let us consider those questions here to have an understanding on the organisations’ expectations and interviewers’ takeaways from your responses. Let us understand that organisations are not just looking for whether you can respond correctly, what you respond, etc., but also for how you respond. You will have to learn how organisations derive their takeaways from interviews from the way you approach their questions and answer them. Interviewers often hit at your psychology and try to understand that. Mostly, they are of the view that candidates are untrained employees and they almost never expect the candidates to be know-all and understand-all in interviews. So, candidates are supposed to be inducted, trained and guided, after they join the organisation. Therefore, organisations often have a mandatory induction-cum training programme cut out for their new employees, which is administered to them as per their profile.

Both (Employers and Candidates) are Worried

Through their HR interview processes, interviewers often shortlist the candidates that have been selected through written tests, group discussions, etc.; they examine the selected candidates and trim their list further keeping in mind the objectives behind hiring. Organisations by the time of interview are well aware of their candidates through their respective CVs, accompanying job applications, etc. As candidates, you should understand the insecurities of organisations too (don’t get amused here!)—they have their own sets of anxieties and dilemmas behind hiring—what they should do to get to the right candidate for their organisation. So it is a two-way game. Neither the candidates nor the organisations in interview situations are relaxed or are supposed to take the selection process easy; both are equally anxious as interests of both of them are at stake. Imagine when an organisation discovers to its horror after a year of hiring that the candidate they have selected is not fit for them. Similarly, as candidates you also need to determine if the position you apply for suits you—if the position includes what you look for in your dream job.

Let us try to understand some of those interview questions one by one that appear general to most of you:

Interviews often start with an exchange of pleasantries like ‘welcome to…’, ‘how are you’, ‘how do you do’, etc., to make the interview comfortable for employers as well as candidates. Candidates should appear cheerful and enter the interview room with a pleasant and genuine smile and they should attempt this situation positively and briefly. Always remember, —smile relaxes the candidates too, and brief responses are what employers expect here, since they are just trying to make the situation comfortable for you.

On Introduction

Tell us about yourself—candidates here get an opportunity to explain their story, i.e. their background especially with regard to why they are at the interview. You need to suitably answer and explain your educational background and training, if any, along with one or two achievements highlighting quantifiable evidences; justifications as to why you call them achievements will help the interviewers. Keep yourself brief as you will have further questions on your education, training and achievements, in due course. In fact, it will be better if you could ask back— it will help both of us if you could tell me what exactly I should talk about in response to your question. Interviewers will like your forthrightness and will be happy to guide you there.

Probably they would not like you to talk about your family, particularly your parents and their achievements. Please decide if you should mention your parents’ achievements. Keep your response simple and brief while describing yourself. Th is will help you in building rapport with your interviewers.

Although this appears to be a harmless question without any challenge, your response may inspire them to ask more questions further. For example, while talking about yourself, when you say: I am Radhika from Munnar…, be prepared to hear: Aha! Munnar, what a place! Recommend me 3-4 things to do if I am in Munnar.

On Strengths and Weaknesses

What are your key strengths and weaknesses? This appears to be a very common and popular interview question across sectors. Interviewers want to understand whether you analyse your conduct and understand yourselves, besides actually wanting to know your strengths. While describing strengths, keep yourselves brief, and describe two of your strengths that interviewers could easily relate to the key responsibilities of the said job position. Substantiate your response with examples from your life. Idea is to clarify why those characteristics are your strengths.

Simply saying you are a very positive person won’t help unless you explain how being positive has helped you in resolving your issues. You need to analyse beforehand and prepare a list of your strengths. When you say: I learn quickly or I communicate really well…, please consider if these could be part of the job profile you have applied for. This is another area of concerns. Great communication skills should not be mentioned as strengths unless these directly affect the job performance in the organisation; employers often find that out from the interview itself. Basically you are required to understand the company and its goals and objectives, its mission and vision, and so on, and analyse whether you and your strengths are in sync with them.

Responding to what your weaknesses are is a little tricky. Employers want to know if you know yourselves. Of course, all of you are aware of your weaknesses. Idea is to understand that you know which weaknesses can directly affect your job performances. Some experts advise not to give out any weakness that can affect your job or to say something very general, use humour, or, to say something that could actually be good from other perspectives. But there is nothing general or good about weaknesses. If we have weaknesses, they will directly or indirectly affect our professional matters too. It is all a matter of time and degree. Better present your assessment correctly along with your corrective measures.

Even when you say—I am a perfectionist, I tend to take up many things at a time, or, I always say yes to people who ask for help, you cannot say these could not negatively affect the organisations; if you think these are good for organisations, better call them your strengths. Be honest as dishonesty never pays in the long run. When you know you have a weakness, you must have worked out a plan to come out of that. And you should already be doing something methodically about them to remove that from your persona. So talk about your weakness while explaining your efforts to get rid of them. You don’t need to deceive.

On Professional Vision

Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years from now? Responses to such questions help employers in knowing your professional aspirations and realize if their organisation will be able to retain you while dealing with those aspirations. By preparing a response to this question in the context of an organisation, you will discover how the organisation could support your aspirations in future. And, this will help you decide in accepting the off er if you get one. It is a win-win process as both you as well as the organisation will get to understand each other in terms of your aspirations and their fulfilment. When you articulate your professional vision, you in a way inspire your interviewers to explain how the organisation could help in actualisation of your aspirations.

You do not need to mention any position, i.e. I want to be the CFO or COO of the company, since this actually speaks about your attitude to work—what you are bothered about is a position and not learning. On the lighter side, imagine if the organization’s CFO or COO is present in the interview. So, it is better to talk about your performance and learning curve—what you want to be good at, how you would contribute to the organizational goals, and so on, so that you would communicate your drive to grow on the one hand and you will not appear selfish or just a grabber on the other. Also be logical about your vision keeping in mind your present professional standing—how you would professionally grow. Whatever, you should be able to logically defend your standpoint.

On Real-Life Situations and Responses

Then there could be case-based questions—what will you do when this happens? Often the interviewers supply you with a professional/ business situation and ask you to respond with a plausible strategy to deal with the critical situation. You should be able to assess the problem while ignoring its symptoms. Once you know the problem, you should suggest some options to help the situation. Start by asking how much time you have to resolve. Th is will serve two purposes— one, you can prepare your response better and second, they will know that you are capable of planning. Be ready to defend your solution.

Or, the interviewers may also ask you to pick a challenging situation from your past and narrate how you resolved that. Experts say that this is another chance for candidates to explain their strengths, i.e. how they took on the challenge, what they did and how they fared in overcoming that situation. Basically, you can derive your response in this case from your preparations for the question—what is your strength?

On Hobbies and Interests

There could be questions on your interests and hobbies that give you an opportunity to talk about non-professional aspects of your life, i.e. what you like doing when you are free. Hobbies and interests reflect on your attitude to life. You can very well talk about your hobbies irrespective of your degree of expertise in them, e.g. this could be I like listening to songs… to I like singing songs. Be genuine, so that you could handle cross questions if the situation arises so. Dishonesty, if discovered here, will be fatal.

On Other Popular Questions

There could be questions relating to the most inspiring person in life. Be genuine. If you have not thought about it yet, it is better to think about it now. This could be a person in your family, i.e. your mother, father, or your elder sister or brother, your uncle, etc., your friend or some public personality. Once you know that, try to know your reasons behind your choice. Find out how these reasons could be helpful professionally. Anything positive in your life, socially or professionally, has a potential to transcend its energy to all domains of your life.

Then there could be some stress questions that interviewers ask in order to test your ability to judge and contain yourself in crisis. How would you deal with a change in your role or profile in the organisation? As a fresher, your foremost goal should be to learn and develop yourself. So, diversity offered in your role should be considered enriching. Plus, this will be a proof of your flexibility in the interests of your organisation. Of course, the organisation will acknowledge your generous conduct of keeping the organisation’s interests above yours.

A similar question could be—will you be willing to relocate? You should note that you would not be relocated against your wishes unless there is some crisis. Organisations pop such question to understand your accommodative nature. Unless you have strong reasons for staying in a place, you should agree for relocation in principle, since this gives you an opportunity to learn, make new bonds and know new places.

The question on change of shift hours is again to ascertain your flexibility. Unless there are valid reasons, any shift should not be a problem.

Why should we hire you? Of course, you should not say that you are an expert. Talk about your strengths. Knowing the organisation and its culture can help you prepare your response here, i.e. how the organisation could benefit from your strengths. Mention your organisational qualities, i.e. flexibility, team work, ability to work in groups, etc., while referring to your internship or past experiences to argue how organisations have benefitted from your qualities.

Since so much of authentic information is available online or in print, you should try to read about the organisation in advance, especially about its objectives, goals, mission and vision, domain expertise, etc. This will help you in responding well to questions relating to the organisation (e.g. Why do you want this position? What do you like most about our organisation? What are your expectations from the organisation?), and in communicating the keenness about your application.

Usually at the end, interviewers ask: Do you have anything to ask? If you have studied the organisation in advance, you can ask your questions, which may be on your opportunities to grow, your profile, your department, your colleagues, social activities (if you are interested in social welfare) and your superiors and peers in the organisation. Th is will present your inclusive outlook and approach.

Normally, freshers are ready to work anywhere in any comparable profile, you must remember: your organisation as well as you both need each other to prosper. You must have a preference. If you have applied for a position, this means you must have found something good about that—you can use that information in response to the question, why you want to work for them. Th e same can go in your response to what you like most about the organisation.

So far your expectations from the organisation are concerned, your response should always hint at strengthening your professional knowledge and expanding your profile. If you really think about your expectations from your organisation, you will end up thinking about your knowledge and profile, at this stage of your career.

On Other Important Concerns

Your approach to your dress and your overall appearance reflects on your approach to the interview time if you are casual or careful about the interview.

Your appearance will communicate that. Your punctuality also communicates. Wear a dress that doesn’t take the organisation’s attention away from you. It is better to avoid a perfume since in most of the cases, people have very strong tastes, either they love the perfume or they hate that.

Communicate what you also believe to be true. Do not tell a lie. You are before experts and your lies if discovered could be very embarrassing, besides being fatal for you. Do not get into arguments with interviewers; if you feel strongly for something, convey that once and drop the topic from your side. There has to be more than one side of a story. You may not be aware of that. Th is will refl ect on your flexibility. Just because compensations and positions appear lucrative, and you can perform, you should not apply for them. Check your life examples to understand what actually suits and interests you, as these will help you in sustaining yourself in job with passion.

Finally, before you apply for a job—analyse the profile and draft that on the basis of job description given in the job advertisement. Th is will enable you to identify the personal characteristics and qualities that would be required to carry out the duties and responsibilities at that position. Once you identify the
characteristics and qualities, tally them with your own and see if they describe you. If not, the job probably is not meant for you. Th is will never be your dream job. Do a little homework to understand your dream job. Jodi Glickman recommends—start by identifying your strengths and the things you enjoy.

So if you want to be a successful candidate who responds effectively, you should first listen to the interviewers’ question (and do not avoid if that appears difficult; just accept the reality), and answer what has been asked in brief without giving out unnecessary details (and keep your answers relevant
and brief). Experts say that among many other things in a candidate, not listening to questions irritates interviewers the most.

Article by Dr. N. K. Ranjan

(The contributor is an Assistant Secretary and Curator of Accountancy Museum of ICAI.)

Suggested Reading

HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job, 2012; Harvard Business Review Press.

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