Do you work well under pressure?

While the answer to this question is obviously yes, be careful not to exaggerate the extent to which you can cope with pressure. Try to relate your answer to the demands that the job is likely to make on you.

For example, if the job is likely to involve significant pressure, the following response may be fairly appropriate:
I positively thrive on pressure. My worst nightmare is a job that is entirely predictable and mundane. I really enjoy the fact that my job is different every day and you never know what new situations or challenges you may be facing.
If the job is more gently paced, saying that you love working under pressure may raise doubts in an interviewer’s mind as to whether you would be bored by the job. So try an answer along the lines of: I can cope with occasional bursts of having to work under pressure – for example, for the final couple of days every month it always gets a bit frantic. But for the most part, I enjoy the fact that this is a job that I can really learn and understand in detail and get good at.

If you need to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that you excel under pressure, use the acronym CAR (see the sidebar ‘Driving toward great examples’ at the start of this chapter) to provide an example. Make sure that the result at the end of your story is a positive one!

What makes you lose your temper?

If you can truthfully say that you never lose your temper at work, then by all means say so. Explain to the interviewer
exactly how or why you manage to keep your temper at bay when you’re at work. For example:

just isn’t productive and even in a crisis it’s more important to figure out what can be done to sort out the situation than to shout and scream and point the finger of blame at people.

If you do occasionally lose your temper, word your response as carefully as possible:

I guess that sometimes I do let my frustration show. For example, when colleagues promise to do something and then let me down at the last moment, I have been known to have a few terse words with them.

How do you deal with disappointment?

Being able to deal with setbacks and disappointment is a really important quality. Life (and work) doesn’t always go the way you want it to, and candidates who admit to giving up immediately are frankly a pain to work with! Employers want people who live by the adage ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try

Of course I don’t enjoy being disappointed, but rather than dwell on the past I try to focus on the future. As such, I always try to make the best of any situation. If I feel that I can do anything to better the situation, then I try to do it. But if it looks as if the chance has gone, then I try to see what I can learn from it.

If you can, give an example of a situation when an initial rejection or rebuttal actually spurred you on to make a greater effort or take further steps that eventually led to success

When I first wanted to work in music production, I sent off my CV to more than 80 companies and didn’t get an interview from a single one. But I knew that I really wanted to work in the industry so I took my CV round to some of their offices and literally knocked on companies’ doors. I physically visited 30 or 40 companies and got offered a week’s unpaid work experience at one of them, and at the end of the week they offered me a job.

How do you cope with job stress?

The interviewer isn’t asking you whether you can cope with stressful situations at work, but how you cope with them.
Engaging in sports or exercise is probably the most socially acceptable way of letting off steam: No matter how bad the day

I’ve had – perhaps it’s due to a difficult case or just too much to do – when I get home, I get changed and go for a 20-minute jog. Whenever I do that, I can literally feel the tension leaving my

Other ways of unwinding may include:

  • Socialising with friends or colleagues
  • Cooking dinner for friends
  • Talking about a day’s stressful activities with a friend or partner at home
  • Engaging in relaxing activities such meditation, yoga, or having a bath with scented oil

Think about how your chosen method of unwinding may be viewed by the interviewers. An activity that seems completely acceptable in one organisational culture may be frowned upon in another. For example, interviewers at an investment bank or a fashion house are more likely to view having a drink in a favourable light, while they may be less impressed with people who go home to meditate. If you want to get maximum brownie points, emphasise any common interests you have with the interviewers or the people who typically work in their organisation

In your last appraisal, what was said about your performance?

Unfortunately, appraisals often have the tendency of focusing more on development areas and weaknesses than what you are good at, but your answer to this question should focus on your achievements rather than your failings.

I was pleased that my manager said that I had made significant progress toward becoming an area manager. I had succeeded in restoring good relationships with our suppliers and putting in place new service level agreements with them. Our performance is also rated across five key skill categories and I was pleased that I was rated as ‘above average’ on four of them, and ‘ exceptional’ on one.

Another common variant on this question is: What goals did your boss set for you in your last appraisal? If this question is asked, describe the goals briefly, but then spend most of the time talking about the actions or steps that you have been taking (or intend to take) to reach those goals

My boss thought that I should aim to boost my department’s staff satisfaction score from its current 75% to 80%. I now plan to have a number of away days for the entire team to discuss our quarterly targets and how best to achieve them. And I am putting in place a coaching programme to ensure that the junior managers are spending at least an hour a week talking to each of their direct reports about the issues affecting them.

Talking about Problems, Perceptions, and People

What would your colleagues say about you?

This question is a common alternative to What would your boss say about you? (a question covered earlier in this chapter). While your boss may say that you are better than others in the team at certain skills, your team mates are unlikely to use the same sort of language.

Think about the contribution that you make to the team. What is it that you can always be relied upon to do? Or what sorts of problems or issues do your colleagues tend to come to you with? Make sure that your answer marks you out as an invaluable part of the team:

  • I think they would say that I tend to play the devil’s advocate. I’m the kind of person who can see the problems with
    an idea or argument quite quickly. That doesn’t mean that I’ll automatically be negative about an idea, but it does
    mean that I can ask the right questions and point out the flaw so that we can think about how to make the idea more
    workable instead
  • My colleagues tend to see me as the person that they can come and talk to when they’re feeling down. If they’re
    having a bad day, they know that I lend a sympathetic ear. Sometimes they just take the opportunity to vent their frustrations and let off steam. But sometimes they are stumped by a problem and I tend to be quite good at seeing how they might deal with a situation.

How would your team describe you?

This question only applies if you manage or are sometimes responsible for a team of more junior people. You’re being
asked to rate your own ability as a leader, manager, or supervisor

I think my team would say that I’m a fair and open manager. I try to get to know what sort of work they enjoy and what they are good or bad at. I try to give them work that they will find challenging but at the same time enjoyable. Once I’ve set my team a piece of work, I try to avoid checking up on them too much. At the same time, I have an ‘open door’ policy so that they can come to me with any problems whenever they need to.

Other key words used to describe desirable management styles include ‘empowering’ and ‘democratic’

Do you prefer to work on your own or in a team?

Team working skills are highly prized in most organisations. At the same time though, don’t imply that you are completely hopeless and unable to concentrate when a task requires you to work independently of others

This question has no single right answer. Your approach to the question depends on the nature of the job. Take a few seconds to think about how much time the job would require you to spend working in a team versus working on your own.

If, for example, the job requires you to work almost constantly in a team, an answer such as the following may be appropriate:

I can work on my own, but to be honest I get the biggest buzz from working in a fast-paced team. I like having people around me constantly to bounce ideas off. When there are lots of creative people around you, it doesn’t feel like work to me.

If a job requires extensive periods of working independently but also intense bursts of working in a team, try:

To be honest I get my best work done when I can sit quietly and think on my own – so that’s why I’m attracted to this job because you’re offering the successful candidate the opportunity to work from home for up to three days a week. However, I couldn’t work from home all week because I’d miss the human contact – so again this job is attractive because I would get the opportunity to share ideas with the rest of the team on those days in the office.

Do you have good presentation skills?

Be careful of falling into the trap of saying that you are fantastic at absolutely everything. If good presentation skills are one of the key handful of skills necessary for the job, then of course you need to talk up your ability. But if you would only need to give presentations occasionally, be more measured in your response.

Some people are good at standing up and talking to a large audience on the spur of the moment with no preparation;
others need to prepare their PowerPoint demonstration, write their speech, and rehearse it. Which approach do you need to be good at in the job that you’re applying for?

Compare the following two examples relating to different jobs:

  • Standing up and giving presentations is something that I really enjoy and I’ve had a lot of practice at it, so yes, I
    think I have excellent presentation skills. I do lots of different presentations from standing up in team meetings and giving a brief summary on my week’s work to writing out a speech for an hour-long keynote presentation at a legal
    conference last month, which they actually filmed and put onto a DVD for the delegates.
  • I would say that I have quite solid presentation skills. We pick a teacher every week to give a seminar to the whole
    college. When it’s my turn, I always spend a couple of evenings creating a PowerPoint presentation and writing bullet points onto pieces of card. Doing that preparation means that I can get my point across in a clear and effective way.

How do you take personal criticism?

A person who can’t take personal criticism is a pain to work with. No one wants to work with someone who automatically takes offence at the slightest suggestion that her work is not perfect. And, no one likes a person whose bottom lip starts to wobble because he perceives criticism as an attack on his self-esteem. Here’s a good response:

I welcome constructive criticism if I think that it is justified. If I think that my manager has a valid point, then I take it on
board and think about how to improve my performance the next time that situation crops up. But if I don’t think that it is fair, then I will keep asking questions until I understand where my manager’s coming from. And if I don’t agree with all of their points or feel that they have got the wrong end of the stick, then I try to explain my point of view.

Responding to Questions about Your Work

What does your day-to-day job involve?

Don’t get bogged down in describing all the details of your current job. If you list every single action or duty that you
have, you will quickly bore the interviewer. The way to shine when answering this question is to focus on three, four – or at most five – key areas of responsibility that you think the interviewers may be looking for

  • I am responsible for all our company’s graphic design needs. In practice, this breaks down into three main areas. The first is to produce the monthly newsletter that goes out to all our customers. So I have to chase different departments to write the sections of the newsletter and then assemble them in an attractive format. Secondly, I work with the marketing team when they want to design new logos to accompany new products. And thirdly, I’m responsible for ensuring that all the correspondence that goes out to customers is consistent with our brand by checking up on employees at all levels of the company and educating them about our standard document formats
  • As a senior associate, I run a team of six lawyers in the corporate law practice working directly with the partner. I am responsible for the day-to-day management of the lawyers, which includes managing their workload, ensuring that their work is of a high quality, and coaching and developing them so that they can take on work of an increasingly more difficult nature. I also act as a liaison between the firm and the client, making sure that the client is happy. But most importantly I’m looking out for opportunities to deepen the client relationship so that the client will use us for other transactions.