As a former recruitment consultant, I engaged with numerous candidates who had been asked some crazy questions at interview:
“If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?” or
“If you could take just one thing on to a desert island, what would it be and why?”
I mean, what is the correct answer to such questions?! The interviewer would argue that they wanted to see how well the candidates could think on their feet and that the actual answer they gave was irrelevant. One could argue (and I often did) that if the answer was irrelevant, then why bother asking the question in the first place. Yet there were – and still are – some interviewers who insist on asking such cryptic, needless questions.
During your interview is not the best time to pull someone up on their poor questions, so give some thought to how you might answer. My well-educated guess is that the animal question is to assess your characteristics, while the desert island question is assessing your common sense. But if the interviewers themselves sometimes struggle to know why they ask such questions, you or I have little chance of knowing. Good luck!
Competency based interview questions
Thankfully however, more and more organisations are rethinking the questions they ask candidates at interview. Often interviewers will use a structure of questioning known as competency-based interview questions. They will typically sound something like this:
“Tell me about a time when you demonstrated [insert competency here, e.g. teamwork, problem solving, customer service]. What did you do and what was the result?”
These questions allow the interviewer to assess a number of things:
- What previous experience the candidate possesses in a given competency;
- How they behaved;
- How well they can articulate what they did and
- Whether they achieved results through their actions.
These questions are useful, as they focus on actual examples as opposed to hypothetical situations, unlike the animal and desert island scenarios.
Preparing for a job interview
As a candidate preparing for an interview, start by considering some of the main competencies required by the role you are applying for. If you are feeling brave then ask the organisation what type of interview structure they use. If nothing else, it shows them you want to prepare well for the interview.
Then consider your experiences that could support your answers. The great thing about competency-based interview questions is that, regardless of your background, you can generally answer them successfully.
As an example, let’s imagine they are assessing ‘being target-driven’. If you are a graduate and have only limited work experience, perhaps working in a shop, you can still answer that question. I assume graduates have to achieve certain grades? Particular deadlines? Are these not targets? Of course they are. You may just need to think a little outside the box.
Common competencies that employers look for
Here are a few of the most common competencies that are assessed. Be careful not to commit these so much to memory that you give answers that sound scripted. But do give some thought to how you could answer them based on your own experiences:
- Problem solving
- Dealing with conflict
- Accuracy or attention to detail
- Target driven
- Customer service
You can take valuable lessons from considering competency-based interview structures. Fundamentally, an organisation isn’t particularly bothered about where you worked (they already know this and invited you for interview knowing this). What they want to know from you is how you did what you did, how you made a difference through the work that you did and how you could replicate those skills in a new role with them.
Whatever animal you may be, learning to navigate the jungle is one of the most important skills for interviewing. If you do it well, you can avoid getting stranded on a desert island in the first place. And that is probably the greatest competency of all.
Jackie Handy is director of Runway Global. She supports individuals around the world, equipping them with the tools to accelerate their personal and professional performance.