5 Tough job application questions
Many employers these days want more than just a CV and covering letter from job candidates.
Online application forms have become increasingly popular - and increasingly detailed. So to help you navigate the inevitable, we've compiled a list of some tricky questions you are likely to encounter.
1. "Why do you think you are suited to this role?"
Variations: "Why do you want this position?", "Why should we hire you?", and "Tell us about yourself."
"Why you?" is a big question for employers. They want to know that you can handle the job requirements, as well as what you can bring to the position that no one else can. You should know from the job description what employers are looking for, and your answer should directly address those points.
Remember what you learned in GCSE English? Point, Evidence, Explanation. Point: where you gained the experience or skill you are highlighting. Evidence: what you did that helped you gain that skill. Explanation: how that skill can be applied to this particular role. Simple and concise.
And don't forget to make your answers specific to you—your goal is to show why they should hire you over other applicants.
2. "Tell us about a time when…"
Variations: "…you dealt with a difficult customer", "… you took initiative", "…you managed a team", and "… you had to solve a problem for a client."
These questions are designed to give employers an idea of your experience and competency. The challenge is to be detailed enough, while keeping it under the word limit. Don't forget that what they are looking for is how you handled the situation. So talk concisely about a specific event, and keep the focus on how you used your skills to successfully navigate the issue.
3. "Who are our key competitors?"
Variations: "What do you know about our company already?" and "Why do you want to work for our company?"
Employers want to see that you have a basic knowledge of the company, and how they fit into their sector. This is called Commercial Awareness, and it is vital for applicants to be able to demonstrate.
When answering this question, keep an eye on the department or area of business where you're applying. For example: say you're applying to work for teapigs, a recent addition to our site. You would need to be aware that they aren't competing with the likes of Yorkshire Tea or Tetley—teapigs offers high-end specialty teas on a small scale, so their competitors are other boutique tea brands.
Demonstrating an understanding of where the specific company fits into their specific business—and what it is about them that you find appealing—will help you get this one right.
4. "What are your career ambitions?"
Variations: "Where do you see yourself in five years?" and "What are your career goals?"
Employers ask this to get a sense of where you are going, and to see if your goals line up with the company's. For many positions, employers also want to know that you have a long-term interest in working with the company, and won't be looking to jump ship as soon as your initial contract is over.
It can be a difficult question to answer. Some graduates have big goals, and know how they want to get there, and others really aren't sure. Ultimately, you just need to keep in mind that employers are looking for a connection between the particular role on offer and your ambitions further down the line. And don't forget that it's okay to believe in yourself and show some ambition—just make sure you can demonstrate how your goals connect with theirs.
5. "How do you spend your leisure time?"
Variations: "What are your hobbies?" and "What are your other interests?"
"Watching TV and Films? No, can't write that. Going out? Nah. Socialising with friends? Sounds tragic. Watching sport? I'm getting desperate here… What DO I do with my spare time?"
The trick to making your answer to this question sound interesting is to be specific. Instead of saying watching TV and movies, highlight something you're really into, perhaps a specific show or genre. The same goes for listening to music, it sounds much better if you mention a love of 1980s California punk rock, or that you are really getting into Scandinavian Prog. And don't forget to keep your audience in mind. If you are applying for a position that involves social media, it is relevant to note your interest in Instagram. Or if the position is with a company that makes novelty t-shirts, an interest in comics and videogames is completely acceptable.
Whatever your outside interests are, remember that employers are looking for personality and dedication. Let your passion shine through.
Application forms can be tricky, especially when employers opt to ask detailed questions while sticking to a word limit. While there is no way of knowing for sure what the employer is looking for, being clear, honest, and specific in your answers should give you the best shot at success.