Talking about your personal qualities during Interview

Posted on 6:59 PM by Bharathvn

# Talking in general terms about yourself
# Demonstrating your ability to get work done
# Dealing with hypothetical questions
You can’t blame interviewers for asking lots of questions. There’s a lot at stake for them. They want to make sure they can hire someone who is right for the job, who will be able to do the job well and help both the team and the broader organisation to succeed. They don’t want to end up hiring someone who will turn out to be a slacker, a bungling idiot, or a
clever rocket scientist with no people skills.

This page deals with the many questions that interviewers may ask you about your skills, your personality, and your motivations. As you read this chapter, remember to keep making notes as to how you would answer each question.

Responding to questions that ask you to rate yourself or to evaluate yourself as others see you need to be handled with some subtlety. When talking about what you bring to an employer, there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, so tread carefully. Similarly, when talking about your negative points and weaknesses, very little separates being sufficiently honest with being foolishly candid.

What is your greatest strength?
From your analysis of the job advert, you should by now have identified the key skills that are required for this particular role. So answering the question should be easy. If you can, talk about how one of your strengths is one of the key skills they are looking for. Remember to offer a brief example of how you have used your strength at work in order to hammer your point home. I’m good at keeping calm when others are getting stressed. For example, a customer rang our team saying that an order had got lost along the way. Some of my colleagues were getting panicky about what to do so I called a meeting and we brainstormed ideas. We decided to hire a pick-up van that afternoon to drive a replacement batch of our product to the customer ourselves. I think that my greatest strength is my ability to take in complex company financial information, build a spreadsheet to analyse its profitability, and make a decision very quickly as to whether the company would be a good venture or not. Recently I did that for an Eastern European business that my boss was thinking about buying
and I completed the financial valuation of it in a single weekend.

What is your greatest weakness?
If you are asked about your strengths, you will be asked about your weaknesses or development needs. However, candidates who are unable to come up with any weaknesses at all are often viewed with suspicion. Are you claiming to be superhumanly perfect? Rather than say you have no weaknesses, which interviewers are more likely to interpret as arrogance on your part, choose a couple of minor weaknesses that are unrelated to your ability to do the job. For example, if your job is only to implement other people’s ideas, you could say that you aren’t very good at coming up with your own ideas. I know that I can get frustrated very quickly when people don’t make decisions. However, now that I am aware of it, I try to remember that colleagues may need time to think something through before giving me an answer.

I like to be quite autonomous in my work. Years ago, I had a very controlling boss who wanted to sit down with me and tell me exactly how to do every little task. But that’s not happened in my last few jobs and from what I understand of this role, I’m going to be working quite independently, so I know it’s not going to be a problem here either. But don’t try to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Two examples that seem to come up are ‘One of my weaknesses is that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I tend to spend longer than necessary making sure that things are perfect’ and ‘you might say I don’t suffer fools gladly. I can’t tolerate poor quality or lack of effort from other people’. These sounds too rehearsed and imply that the candidate lacks any self-awareness. If you mention any weaknesses that could affect your ability to do the job, be ready to describe what actions you are taking to improve or develop yourself.

What is your greatest area for development?
There are many euphemisms for weaknesses. So be ready to answer the same question under different guises.

What are your development needs with respect to this role?
What is your greatest area of under-strength?
What are your three biggest strengths and three biggest weaknesses?

This is just a variation on the basic strengths and weaknesses questions. It pays to plan to have at least three or four strengths up your sleeve and a similar number of weaknesses, in case the interviewer insists on a certain number.

How would your colleagues/team/boss describe you?
Although you may be tempted to present a rounded picture of how your colleagues see you, you should try to get away with treating this question as if you had been asked, ‘What would your colleagues say are your strengths?’ There is no benefit in mentioning weaknesses unless the interviewer specifically asks for them. Simply talk about two or three of the key skills that are required of the job.

For example, a gym instructor being interviewed for a job at a health club might say. I think my colleagues would say that I am very client-focused. I don’t just stand around, waiting for members of the gym to come and ask me questions. I move around the gym, observing how they are getting on, chatting and offering advice. In fact, when the members of the gym were asked to rate the five instructors in the gym, I got a 4.5 rating out of 5. If you can, try to back up your claims with any objective evidence that you may have on how colleagues have described you, such as from an appraisal or from a 360-degree feedback report.

What would your friends say your biggest fault is?
The trick here is to pick a weakness that applies only to your personal life and could never interfere with your work life. I suppose they might say that I’m a bit of an impulse shopper.
I really like technology and gadgets. I like to understand how they work so I end up buying toys for myself that I don’t really need.

How would your rate yourself as…?
You could be asked to rate yourself as a team player, a researcher, a leader, or just about anything else. Obviously you need to start by saying that you are a very good team player, researcher, leader, etc. Don’t let modesty get in the way of making a good impression on the interviewer. But the secret is to then back up your assertion with a short example that
demonstrates that you are as good as you say.

Be careful not to make extravagant claims about yourself unless you have evidence to support it, such as having won an award, being specifically praised by a colleague, or having received the biggest bonus amongst your peer group. I’d say that I was one of the best technicians in our company. For example, we get a set of ratings in our annual appraisal. I was the only technician to get awarded the top ranking in four out of the six skill categories and the second best ranking in the remaining two. I’d rate myself as a good leader because I work hard at developing the capability of the people who work for me. Just a few months
ago, one of my team was promoted. She used to be very shy but I spent a lot of time coaching her and building her confidence in meetings, and now she’s going to work in our New York office.

What unique skills would you bring to our company?
A tricky question, as the interviewer is effectively asking you what you have that the other candidates do not have. If you know that you have some technical skills that very few candidates have, this is your opportunity to talk about them. However, if you are not sure that you have any skills that are unique to you, you could try a different approach.
Talk about the fact that you possess a combination of skills and determination that, taken together, are unique. I’m good with technology, but I think what makes me different is
that I’m also a people-person. I’m not the kind of person who likes to sit in a room and just work on technical problems all day. I like to get out in front of customers and understand their problems and see how I can solve them.

At the end of the day, an interviewer is most interested in whether you can deliver results. Can you complete projects, deal with daily tasks, work with other people and on your own?
For example, teams are supposed to create something that is greater than the sum of their parts. But can you show the interviewer that you are able to navigate the minefield of disagreements, politics and outright arguments that happen in most teams? On the other hand, although employers appreciate the ability to work with other people, it goes without saying that you also need to demonstrate that you are able to work on your own without continual guidance and reassurance.

Would you say that you have good influencing skills?
Of course say, ‘Yes.’ However, it is very difficult to convince an interviewer of your influencing skills if you speak about them only in abstract terms. So continue by providing an example of how you influenced someone as proof of your skill. Yes. For example there was a situation a few months ago when the head of my department said that we didn’t have enough money to upgrade our systems. I took it upon myself to write a business case about the benefits of the upgrade and I organised a meeting with the department head. He was initially quite sceptical, but when I explained it to him, he understood that the new system was
actually going to save us quite a lot of time and make us money in a period of only 18 months.

Are you a good team player?
Of course you’re a great team player, but give an example to demonstrate how you helped the team to achieve its goals. Yes, I’m a good team player because I try to create a good working atmosphere. For example, there was an occasion when two of the team, weren’t getting on. The situation was getting worse and worse and they were barely on speaking terms. Eventually I spoke to each of them individually and arranged for the three of us to go
out together for lunch. I encouraged the two of them to talk through their issues and they now at least understand each other’s perspectives and can be civil enough to work together. I try to be a good team player by checking on the workloads of other people and ensuring that everyone’s happy. Recently I noticed that one of my colleagues, was a lot quieter than usual. I took her aside and found out that her uncle had just died. She had just found out on the telephone and she was really upset. I suggested that she ask our boss for the rest of the day off and I offered to finish the few phone calls that she was supposed to be handling for the rest of the day.

What role do you tend to play within a team?
Before you answer this question, try to think about the kind of role that you might need to assume if you were to be taken on by the employer. Don’t try to tell every employer that you tend to be the leader if they are looking only for followers. I tend to be the one who gets things done. I enjoy working with people who can come up with ideas. But when they come up with new ideas all the time, it’s up to me to turn those ideas into reality. I’m good at following through, delivering what I promise to do, and having good attention to detail. Otherwise our team would have lots of great ideas but no implementation of them. I think I probably have the best analytical skills of the team. So when we come up with a new idea, I often find myself being the one who goes away to research it and come up with a costing.
Try to relate the role you tend to play within a team to the role that you think the employer may need you to play within their team.

What kind of people do you get on best with?
The interviewer may be trying to decide whether you will fit in with the existing team. Avoid ruling yourself out of the running by being too specific about the kinds of people you get on with. That’s a tough question because I’m the kind of person who gets on with everyone. One of my best friends at work is an ex-policeman who is about 20 years older than me and we work really well together. He’s a good friend outside of work too. Another of my close friends at work is a young single mother with two kids and we always have a laugh while we get on with our work.

What kind of people do you tend not to get on with?
Try to understand the culture of the organisation that you are joining. The answer you should give if you are applying for a job at a local library may be different from the one you give for an application to a large aggressive investment bank. I get a bit frustrated when I’m dealing with people who say ‘I don’t know’ all of the time. I like to work with bright, energetic people
who have suggestions to make and aren’t afraid to speak their mind. I’m less likely to become close personal friends with people who are loud, overconfident, arrogant and abrasive. But even though I have occasionally encountered people like that, I bite my tongue. I realise that I’m in a support role and I need to offer my professional services to anyone who needs my help. It just means I’m unlikely to bond with them on a personal level.

How good are you at handling conflict?
Give an example of how you have handled a tricky situation with tact and diplomacy.
I’m good at defusing conflict. For instance, when I took on my current role, I had to go meet a customer who was very angry about a problem that she had experienced with the customer
service manager who had handled her account before I joined the business. I met with her, let her vent her frustrations on me until she calmed down and then I established exactly what she wanted me to do about the situation. That was six months ago and now
she’s incredibly happy with the service we provide and has increased the size of her orders by nearly 50 per cent. I try to avoid conflict if I can. But a couple of months ago, one of
my colleagues John, thought I was ignoring him because I was simply too busy to return his phone calls. Another colleague told me about the problem so I took John out for a coffee and we talked it through. I apologised for not appearing to want to help with the report that he wanted me to do for him and explained that I’d been spending a lot of time at our other location. It was a good conversation though and we patched things up.

Do you enjoy speaking in front of other people?
The job you are applying for may not require that you stand up and give formal presentations in front of hundreds of people. But many jobs may require you to give short talks or informal updates to members of your team or department. Yes, I quite like speaking my mind in front of others. I got a lot of practice at college because we used to give 10-minute presentations to the other people in our class on our thoughts about the essay topic of the week.
How do you respond to personal criticism?
You need to show the interviewer that you can take constructive criticism without taking offence or reacting defensively to it. As long as the criticism is fair and constructive, I try to listen to it, thank them for their candid feedback, and modify my future behaviour accordingly.

Can you describe a situation in which you were criticised?
This is a natural follow-up to the previous question. Avoid giving an example that involves lateness, absenteeism or aggressive behaviour, as these can signal to the interviewer that you are a troublesome employee. Better examples are to do with skills, such as presentation or computing skills, that you may have lacked at one point in your career, but which you
have since worked on and had some success in improving. I never thought it was terribly important to understand budgets and how the business made money. But my boss suggested that I sit down with the finance manager regularly, which was really
instrumental at helping me to navigate a profit and loss account. It was hard at first but I now have a good grasp of how different costs can affect our profit margins.

How will you cope working with people from different backgrounds to yours?
You may have heard a lot of employers talk about the need for people to respect diversity in cultural, ethnic, gender, and other differences. So variations on this question could ask you how you work with people from ‘very different educational backgrounds’, ‘different cultures’, or ‘different countries’. Whatever form the question takes, the best way to answer this
is to provide an example to show that you can work with people who are very different from yourself. If you can, try also to emphasise that you not only had a good working relationship but also became good friends. Use whatever example you have. Even if you have not worked with people from different countries or cultures, perhaps your boss was much younger than you, a colleague was a single parent with a very different view on life from yours, or you worked alongside a team of scientists, actuaries, or lecturers who were
all much more highly qualified than you were. When I transferred to our head office, I found myself working with a lot of the sales and marketing people. I have to say that I thought they didn’t really respect the people who worked in the field and didn’t take my views seriously. But I worked hard to earn their respect and invested a lot of time meeting with them on a
one-to-one basis. It probably took me a good six months, but now I’m pleased to say that they treat me as an equal.

How do you respond to authority?
If an interviewer is asking you this question, it might be because the organisation is quite hierarchical: each employee knows their level and there might be rules on how you deal with people who are more senior than yourself. I have no problem at all with authority. I like to know what my reporting line is and I realise that a big part of my job is satisfying
the demands that my line manager will make of me. If I were to be offered this job, I would really appreciate sitting down with my manager to establish how he or she likes to be communicated with, and how I should deal with problems should I encounter them.

What was the greatest failing of your boss?
Speaking ill of your previous boss could reflect badly on you so resist the temptation to talk at length about his or her faults. Try deflecting the question by emphasising the good qualities of your boss.

I can’t say that there is much wrong with my boss. She has a lot
of experience and has coached me in many ways, especially in my
ability to present confidently in front of large groups of people.
If an interviewer pursues the matter and asks for a weakness, be
sure to finish off your response by talking about how you
compensated for their weakness.
I wouldn’t say that this is a major fault; it’s more of a minor quibble. My current boss can be quite forgetful. Often, you can tell him something and he can forget it even in the same day. So I have learned not to rely on him to remember times and dates of meetings. Instead, I always send him an email and send a copy to his secretary, so that she can politely manage his schedule. Then reinforce the fact that you had a good relationship with your boss
by finishing ith another positive statement. ‘But this relatively minor weakness was far outweighed by the fact that she gave me a lot of responsibility’ or ‘But I don’t want to blow this weakness out of proportion, as he also taught me a lot about project management and
writing press releases’.

Do you prefer to work on your own or with other people?
You do not want to give the impression that you are capable of one but not the other. However, the ‘right’ answer depends on the nature of the job. Before the interview, you should have established whether you would be spending most of your time working on your own or in a team with other people. As such, your answer should depend very much on the
situation. I’m quite willing to work on my own when necessary. Once I understand a task, I can soldier on until it is done. However, I prefer to work with a team as I like to bounce ideas off other people and it makes the work more stimulating.. I’m happy to work with other people when I need to. I think I listen to what other people have to say and can make a contribution to group discussions too. However, I am applying for this job because
I enjoy working by myself. I like having the freedom to think about a problem and come up with solutions on my own.

Would you say that you are reliable?
Of course you should say that you are reliable. However, you need to be able to give a response that makes you stand out from the other candidates. Employers worry about lateness, absenteeism from work, and forgetfulness. As a consequence, punctuality, dependability and a willingness to work overtime to meet deadlines are valued traits.
There used to be five of us running the helpdesk. We were supposed to open at 9.00am for queries, but we also provided early cover from 7.30am. I’m proud to say that in the two-and-a-half years I worked there, I didn’t miss any of my early shifts. I always either turned up or managed to swap my shift with someone else beforehand.

Can you work under pressure?
Before answering this question, you need to decide how much pressure you think the job entails. For example, a journalist for a daily newspaper, a financial trader, or an air traffic controller might respond by saying: I positively thrive on pressure. I couldn’t do a job where I had to sit and watch the clock ticking by every day. I like to know that each day is going to be very different, with its own set of decisions to make and problems to solve. However, if you are applying for a job where you would expect there to be more order in your day and less moment-to-moment pressure, you might want to talk a bit about how you plan and organise in order to avoid last minute crunches. I sit down and look at my workload at the start of each week in order to work out which tasks I need to do on which days. I use a Gantt chart to keep up to date with projects that I am working on However, when things do occasionally go wrong, I resolve myself to the fact that it might be a late night in the office.

How do you unwind and deal with stress?
This differs from the previous question, because it is asking you how you deal with the tension that can result from tight deadlines and tough days at work. However, bear in mind that what is socially acceptable in one organisation may be deemed inappropriate by another firm. For example, an aggressive sales team might snigger at candidates who profess to meditating or enjoying quiet reading. Of course such attitudes are not fair, but I’m afraid that interviewers can be prejudiced as much as anyone. This is where your research into the culture and prevailing attitudes of the company will help you. Avoid talking about relaxing by having a glass of wine. An uptight interviewer may view this in a negative light. I don’t really get stressed. But I do like to go out with the rest of the team. They’re great people and our culture has always been about working hard and playing hard together. I play squash at least once or twice a week, which really helps me to unwind and get ready for another day at work.

How do you cope with disappointment?
Show that you can recover from setbacks, dust yourself off, and carry on regardless. Interviewers want to hire people who are persistent and possess tenacity and determination. I don’t take anything personally. My view is that you have to knock on 100 doors to find the one that will open. For instance, when my boss didn’t like an idea of mine that related to the way we send out invoices, I kept going back to the drawing board to refine my ideas and to ask other people across the organisation for help in tweaking them. I went back to my boss three times before she agreed to try my new invoicing method. If I get offered the job, I’m
sure she’ll mention what a success that was in the reference she gives me.

How do you deal with failure?
Again, in answering this question, try to show that you have a positive approach to your work. I don’t really think in terms of failure. I think that failing to achieve something the first time around shows that only your approach was wrong. So I see failure as useful feedback for how something should work.

Do you pay attention to detail?
This is a slightly silly question as you are hardly likely to say, ‘No’. Think about the kind of situations where you are likely to need to pay close attention to detail if you were to be offered the job. Try to construct an example of how you used your skill with detail in a similar situation in the past. We send out a lot of letters to customers and it’s common practice
to proofread them before they go out. I probably get asked more often than most to proofread the work of other people because I’m known for having good spelling and grammar. I can seem to spot a mistake a mile away!

How much experience do you have of managing budgets?
Given that most organisations are looking to keep costs low, this is an opportunity for you to shine if you have had such experience. In your response, talk about the biggest budget that you have managed and be specific about how you handled it. I was the budget holder for our department. We had a cost budget of £95,000 per annum. I allowed my team to spend at their discretion up to a £150 limit. But for anything over that, they had to come to see me. If they wanted approval for anything over £1,000, I insisted that they write a business case to justify the spend.

How are you with new technology?
If you are applying for a technical job, then be prepared to talk about the technical wizardry that you can extract from your systems: special functions you can use, macros that you have written, speed dials that you have devised, or shortcuts that you regularly employ.
However, most employers are more interested in basic computer literacy. In particular, employers worry that older candidates may struggle with even the basics of using a computer or other systems such as voicemail. I can deal fairly easily with most of the essential functions of the XYZ package. Just last week I created a database of our clients’
details which I used to send out a mail merge document. I learn quickly. For example, I had never built a spreadsheet until I joined my last company and now I can build simple financial
models to keep track of our monthly sales against budget. If you have experience of particular software programmes that might be important in the role you’re applying for, be ready to talk about the sorts of tasks that you can do with them too.

How is your absenteeism / attendance record?
You will have to be honest here, as this is something that many employers check when they ask for references. If you have had a problem, then give a good reason to explain why it occurred at the time and why it will not happen again. I did have to take several months off, due to a back injury while doing DIY about two years ago. But I got back to full health over a
year ago and I have not had any problems since and it’s something that my references will confirm too.

How is your time keeping?
No employer wants to hire someone who is going to turn up late for work and meetings all of the time. I’m someone who is very careful about time. I hate being late so I always find myself leaving a lot of time to get to meetings and so on. I invariably find myself arriving a lot earlier than I need to.

Ours is a long-hours culture – is that a problem for you?
This may be a trick question. What they call long hours might not be what you consider to be long (or vice versa). This is the kind of trick that you should be prepared for by researching and reading up on the company. However, if you’re not sure what constitutes long hours in the mind of the interviewer, ask the question,’What exactly do you call long hours?’ Then tailor your answer accordingly. I understand that this is a demanding job that I am applying for But I really do thrive on the challenge of this sort of work, so I am willing to put in whatever hours it takes to get the work done. If you have worked similarly long hours in the past, you should definitely cite this experience as well.