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The worst answers to interview questions and what they should’ve said instead!

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The worst answers to interview questions and what they should’ve said instead!

As recruiters we spend all day every day speaking to candidates about jobs and managers about candidates. Bringing the two together is what we do. Obviously, we want a match made in heaven, so we do what we can to prepare candidates when it comes to job interviews. We offer practical advice on everything from where to park and dress code to more in-depth guidance on the kind of questions that will be asked, and the answers expected.

It doesn’t always go to plan. Whether it is nerves or lack of preparedness, despite our best efforts, interviewees frequently drop some unbelievable clangers! Without naming and shaming, we have complied some of the worst examples of answers to questions and suggest more suitable alternatives!

Question: How was your journey here, did you find us OK?

Let’s start with the basics. This kind of question isn’t a trick one, and in fact most of the time the interviewer is just making small talk or being polite. Department Manager Dave Kua shares, “A real red flag for hiring managers is when a candidate walks into an interview and shares the horrors of their journey.” Answers such as “It took longer than I thought”, or “Great, although I almost took someone out on the M25 because I was rushing to get here in time” do not set the right tone. In fact, they give the impression that a difficult commute might be an issue in the future, that you maybe frequently late for work, or withdraw from the interview process further down the line because it is impractical for you to get to the office daily.

We are obviously not suggesting you should lie, but you should be more measured in sharing information of a terrible journey. You should instead find a positive angle, and give a short and succinct answer along the lines of, “It was fine thank you, I haven’t been here before but I allowed myself plenty of time to find my way”.

Question: What made you apply for this role?

Absolutely the best worst answer we have heard for this answer was “It’s a back up in case I don’t get an offer from another job I interviewed for last week. But hopefully I will.” With an equal amount of hope, we don’t really need to explain why this isn’t a good answer. If you are seriously job hunting, there is a high chance that you will be juggling more than one application process, and that these will be at different stages.

Cameron DeWit, town planning Lead Consultant says “If an interviewer asks you outright sharing that you may have options conveys you are in demand. The question is also a good opportunity for you to reiterate how interesting you find this role and how you are keen to hear more about it.”

Sadly, for our aforementioned candidate, he didn’t get offered his dream job, and the feedback from the interviewer was that they would’ve offered him the job if he hadn’t been so set on working somewhere else.

Question: Why are you looking to leave your current role?

This question is almost guaranteed to be asked at some point during an interview, and is the kind of basic question you should definitely give some thought to. Ben Hitchman, Lead Consultant in our town planning team, shares his experience. “If you want interviewers to make a negative judgement before you really get started, then telling them how you don’t get on with your current manager is a good start. I had one candidate share in an interview with a direct competitor that they wanted to get the job to spite their current managers.”

OK, so this is a difficult one, because clearly there maybe push factors that mean you want to move on. Ben goes on to recommend, “I always advise candidates that they need to mentally move on from all the reasons they made the decision to job search in the first place, and focus on why the are sitting in the room interviewing for that particular role”. This is sage advice. A better answer is one that looks forward. “I am looking to develop my career in an organisation that will be supportive and help me develop.”

Question: Where to you see yourself in 3 years’ time?

A job, or even a career is not for life. We get it. But three or even five years is not that far in the future, so it stands to reason that if you are being asked this question the interviewer is looking for evidence of ambition, goals, a plan, or at the very least that the investment they are going to make into you will not be wasted. Claire Shinar, Lead Consultant in the buildings sector says, “I have lost count of the number of times a client has reported back to me that a junior candidate has told them they plan to go travelling. I struggle to understand why candidates would think that they are worth the time and investment if they are not showing commitment to their careers.”

A consultant in our water team, adds, “I had a candidate tell an interviewer that they saw the role as a stopgap before they decided what they really wanted to do. It was a real face palm moment for me and one that has stayed with me. I always take time to talk through the basics with candidates now and not leave anything to chance. I think that they are genuinely just trying to be honest, but there is always another way to showcase why you should get the job. Besides, you may change your mind and this could end up as your dream job!”

MD James Fernandes adds, “I don’t like it when people answer ‘in your position’. It is a cliché answer and shows that the candidate hasn’t really got a proper goal or career plan, they come across as showboating.” He goes on to say, “the best answer will always demonstrate that a candidate has a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve professionally, that they are open to learning and that they understand that their career is a journey.”

Question: Can you give me an example of (insert skill required) …

Using examples that draw on your experiences is the best way to really highlight that you have the skills that an employer is looking for. Town planning Senior Consultant Ben Rose gives an example of how a candidate completely misunderstood the point of this question. “My candidate had been working in the planning sector for a number of years, but when asked to give an example of excellent customer service, instead of speaking about their current role, or indeed any of their planning roles, they spent five minutes talking about the time they worked in a supermarket as a student.”

Sometimes drawing on experiences outside of the industry maybe relevant, if you are a graduate for example. However, relevancy is key. You can only share so much of your knowledge in a short period of time, so preparing answers that tell stories of successful outcomes, challenges that you overcame or something you have learnt in your industry is the best approach. Start your answer by telling a story that gives context, and then showcase your role in that story.

Question: What salary are you looking for?

This isn’t an ideal question for interviewers to ask, but many do and they are normally asking which end of the advertised range you think is reasonable. Chas Earl, Senior Consultant in the water sector gives the example of a candidate that really overinflated their worth. “£1 million is not a reasonable answer to this question, or in fact any unreasonable figure plucked from the sky. It is a given that salary is important and everyone in the room understands that there maybe a negotiation to reach common ground. The candidate that started his negotiation at £1million didn’t receive a counteroffer, it was all over before it really started.”

Perhaps the best way to tackle questions around salary and benefits is to really prepare you reasons for why you are asking for a figure. You need to be fully armed with the information about what is on offer and what is reasonable in relation to your current salary and your level of expertise and experience. We recommend framing your question around general market rates and what you will bring to the table. A good answer would be “I have researched salary levels in the market and I am happy that we can reach an agreement which allows me to meet my financial obligations and is line with what I will bring to the table.” Then you can pitch an optimistic figure in a realistic ballpark to start the negotiation!

Interestingly it is not always the candidates’ answers that are way off base. Obscure or irrelevant interview questions need to be thoughtful and considered. Our consultants have plenty of examples, but these are stories for another blog!