WTF Are They On About?

July 25, 2023
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Common Interview Questions & What They Really Mean.

You have just been through a gruelling interview. The questions were tough, some just seemed off-the-wall and others were rather innocent. And then you start to internally debrief… What was the interviewer really looking for? What did they really mean by those questions? 

Well, if you were interviewed by a seasoned pro, each and every question would have had a very distinct purpose. These types of queries are called competency questions (of which there are many) and are typically used to draw out real-life examples from you to give insights into your preferred way of working.

Situational examples from your own experiences help the interviewer to gain some insight into your personality as well as your skills. How you dealt with a given scenario, your performance, the outcome, what would you have done differently etc. 

When competency questions are asked, the interviewer should share with you at the beginning what they are looking for, but that is not always the case. An easy formula to help structure your answers to these kinds of interview questions is to use the S.T.A.R. technique:

  • Situation – What was the context or the challenge?
  • Task – What did you have to do?
  • Action – How did you do it?
  • Results – What was the outcome you reached?

Listed below are some common and not-so-common competency questions that could be asked, with some insight into what the interviewer is looking for from your response.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

While the obvious answer would seem to be “this job”, you might also talk about your desire to take the next step thereby giving the interviewer the thought that you are an achiever and willing to work hard. Don’t be shy though, if you’ve dreamt of becoming an Astronaut then it wouldn’t harm to mention this and will most definitely ignite further questions. Most employers aren’t looking for robots and by being open about some of your aspirations, realistic or otherwise will help the interviewer get an understanding of what could help motivate you or bring job satisfaction! 

Tell me about the most difficult person you had to deal with?

The interviewer couldn’t care less about the most difficult person you had to deal with. What they are fishing for here is your ability to get along with people. Do not answer this one too quickly. Answering quickly suggests you have had to deal with a lot of difficult people which could suggest that you are the difficult one (or a magnet for it). A better approach might be to tell the interviewer that you get along with everybody and that you do not have problems with difficult people. Assuming that that statement is true, expand on your ability to pull diverse groups of people together to complete a project. If you are a leader we are sure you will have some hairy situations to share. Focus on how you made a positive impact in this regard.

What did you like about your last job and what did you dislike?

Ponder this one – don’t use this question as the opportunity to slate your job or your ex/current employer! Talk about what you learned, the exposure it gave you, etc. Pain points are a good source of conversation, you need to share how you persevered and kept motivated with parts of your job that you disliked. There is nothing wrong with having standards and adhering to them in the workplace.

Can you share an example of when you came up with a creative solution for a problem?

The interviewer is looking to assess your creativity and problem-solving skills, fishing to find out if you’re innovative and can implement your ideas. Recall a time when you thought outside the box and came up with a great suggestion or change at your workplace, ideally focusing on something that impacted productivity or revenue. While answering the question, keep the focus on your creative approach and the outcome rather than the challenge itself.

Be ready to nail that interview!

Competency questions (also known as behavioural) will often be tailored to the job you are being interviewed for; think Professional Hacker vs Insurance Sales Rep! The interviewer wants to understand your potential future performance by understanding your past performance.

So remember to explain the context, what you had to do, how you did it and what the outcome was. Ensure that you’re focusing on the positives and your specific actions and you’re all set!


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