Let’s talk about interviews. For many people they’re the single hardest part of job seeking, and you might even have found yourself wishing your interviewer could just reach into your mind and pluck out all the good stuff you have to offer to save you from having to try to put it into words. Unfortunately we’re some way off such innovations in the recruitment industry, and interviews are likely to be around for a while yet.
For employers like our Personal & Business Banking business – made up of the NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland branch networks, contact centres, and much of the support and strategy that sits behind them – finding out what you’re like as a person is crucial because we do business with people every day. Our ambition is to be the UK’s number one bank for customer service, trust and advocacy, and it’s only through the strengths of our people that we can succeed. While interview styles might change, we haven’t found a better way of finding out what a person has to offer in a short period of time.
The good news is that forewarned is forearmed, and while it’s not possible to predict exactly what you’ll be asked, there are certain questions that come up time and again because employers find them so useful for learning about you. With a little inside knowledge – and a healthy amount of preparation – you can help manage any nerves you might feel, and put yourself in the best position to make your strengths stand out.
We talked to Jenny Steele and Leah Bracha from our Personal & Business Banking recruitment team to get an insider’s perspective on what you might be asked next time you’re in the hot seat.
1. Tell me about yourself
This is one of the most common questions asked, and also quite commonly one of the poorest answered. The mistake many people make is to under prepare, or to treat the question as part of the small talk which an interviewer may use to ease both parties into the process. If you’re not ready to answer, you might be throwing away a golden opportunity to state your case as to why you’re right for the job.
Instead, try preparing a personal pitch. You might go about it by providing some background to your experience, with an overview of the relevant parts of your career. For example, “I’ve worked in customer services for over five years, starting in retail and moving into a managerial role three years ago. In my current role I have responsibility for three members of staff.” Or you might prefer to focus on the personal qualities that make you a good fit, such as, “I’ve earned a reputation as someone who cuts through complex processes and makes it easy for my team to concentrate on serving our customers.” Just be ready to support what you say if you’re asked to explain it further.
Never answer with, “What do you want to know?”
2. What are your weaknesses?
Another very common question, and one a lot of people can feel very uncomfortable answering. So there’s all the more reason to think about it beforehand rather than try to deal with it when you’re on the spot.
Our advice is to avoid the temptation to go for faux humility, or the ‘humble brag’, as it rarely rings true. That means no “I’m just too much of a perfectionist”, unless that genuinely is your weakness, and you can put an authentic spin on it.
So how should you approach it? It helps to understand why employers ask this question in the first place: they want to know if you’re aware of your limitations, and what you’ve done to improve yourself. Think about something you’ve realised you needed to do better, and how you’ve worked to overcome it. For example, “Time management used to be an issue for me, but I’ve been taking (these) steps to improve it, and now I’m far better with my time. And I’m still working on it with (further) actions.”
3. What do you know about the organisation?
You can get a lot of mileage from your answer to this question, and really let your preparation shine through. Take a good look over the company’s website, and write down important pieces of information to help you remember them. Cover things like the name of the CEO and background information about the company, but don’t feel you need to recite a list of facts and figures. After all, it’s not an exam, and it’s unlikely you’ll be asked for specifics.
Far more important is to build your understanding of the organisation’s values, what it is they do, how they do it, and how they’re building their future. Look for ways in which the things the company places importance on resonate with your own values, and think about how you can show through your interview how and where your values are similar. Do this well, and your enthusiasm and authenticity will make a real difference.
Make sure you spend some time looking at the company’s social media channels, and those of their competitors. Given the speed at which the digital world moves, you’ll often find more up to date information on an organisation’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blog pages than you will on their corporate or careers websites. Following the organisation and reading their updates and articles prior to your interview is a great way to get a strong insight into how they see themselves.
4. Tell me about a time when..?
If you’re being asked to give a real example of a time when you dealt with a certain type of situation, you’re being asked what’s known as a Competency Based interview question. The idea is that by asking you to talk about things you’ve done in the past, you’ll demonstrate the skills (or competencies) you’ll be able to rely on to succeed in the future.
It helps to know in advance what sort of questions you can expect, so don’t be afraid to ask about the format of the interview if you don’t know beforehand. And when it comes to preparing and giving your answers to competency based questions, keep the STAR technique in mind.
- Situation – Briefly set the scene so that your interviewer understands the context
- Task – What did you need to achieve?
- Action – What did you actually do? This should make up the meat of your answer
- Result – What was the outcome? Make sure it’s appropriate to the question
And remember, make sure that you concentrate on what it was you did personally. How did you make an impact? Even if you’ve chosen to talk about a project you worked on as part of a team, it’s only your skills and your contribution that the interviewer will be assessing. Don’t get side-tracked into talking about other people, or the politics of a scenario.
5. What are you good at?
Competency Based Interviews aren’t the only way that a company may try to find out what you have to offer; Strengths Based Interviews are gaining ground in the world of recruitment as an alternative that can be more engaging for both interviewers and interviewees.
The idea behind this type of question is to find out what sort of work you enjoy and when you’re at your best, on the basis that you learn more about what a person’s really like when they talk about what they’re passionate about.
In comparison to competency based questions, strengths based questions are a bit less formulaic and easy to spot. The good news is that a strong answer is less likely to be reliant on careful preparation, but it’s still a good idea to think about what you know about the type of work you’ll be doing in the role, and how that relates to the type of work that brings out the best in you.
6. Do you have any questions for us?
It might feel like you’re home and dry and that all that’s left is niceties and farewells, but having some questions of your own ready should make up a key part of your pre-interview preparation. If you don’t, you’re missing the chance to show how interested you are in both the company and the opportunity, and your interviewers will notice.
Try to prepare at least five questions before the interview, and write them down and bring them with you – that way you can choose the two or three most appropriate when the time comes. We suggest avoiding questions about salary and pay rises at this stage – that can always come later – but topics like training and development, organisational or team culture, and how the company sees the latest developments in their sector can all be good subjects which make it clear you’re positive and thinking ahead. And if your questions get answered during the course of the interview, don’t panic! You can still show the direction of your thinking and what’s important to you with an answer like, “I was planning to ask about the company’s approach to developing its people and what sort of budget is available for further training, but I think we’ve covered that and I don’t have anything further right now”.
If you’d like to explore the topic of interviews a bit further, why not take a look at our blog on 12 tips to prepare for your interview? And when you feel like you’re ready to start putting theory into practice, you can find our latest opportunities in Personal & Business Banking in our branch networks here: