These questions look at the length and nature of your work experience. In particular, interviewers will be keen to explore the positions that you have held, the responsibilities that you had, and the depth of your technical knowledge and expertise in key areas. They will also be looking to fully account for any apparent gaps or breaks in your career history.
Questions in this area can cover four themes:
1. Your career direction
These questions focus on your career path to date and where you would like it to go. Typical questions include:
- ‘Tell me a bit about yourself.’
- ‘Where do you see your career heading?’
- ‘What were you doing between (a particular gap in your employment record)?’
- ‘What attracted you to that role?’
- ‘Why did you leave the previous role?’
Plan your responses to these and related questions about where you have come from and where you want to go in your career. Pay particular attention in your preparation to your important lifeline junctions’, such as career changes, and to any employment breaks – particularly in the last 10 years. However, career paths, like train journeys, do not always proceed smoothly. At times they do not go as planned and to schedule! The key is to talk comfortably about the choices you have made, and the lessons and skills you have learned, and the positive aspects of the experience. In preparation for a question along the lines of Tell me about yourself?’, have in your mind a short (maximum 2 minutes) summary of yourself, covering your key experiences, key strengths, and the main reason why you are applying for the role, identifying how it fits in with your overall career goals.
2. Positions and responsibilities you have held
These questions focus more specifically on the positions themselves and their responsibilities. They will tend to focus on your more recent roles, but an earlier position may be explored more fully if it is felt to be particularly relevant to the job in question. Typical questions include:
- ‘What were your main responsibilities in that role?’
- ‘What was the purpose of the role?’
- ‘Who did you report to?’
- ‘What were you accountable for?’
Plan your responses to these questions, particularly for your last three roles or for the last 10 years (whichever is the shorter). Differentiate clearly between the purpose of the job (why it existed) and the tasks you did.
3. Your technical knowledge and skills
These questions focus on the depth of your technical knowledge and skills in relevant areas. For example, an Office Manager may require technical knowledge about Microsoft Office and a Personnel Manager will be expected to have knowledge of employment legislation. Typical questions include:
- ‘What are your technical strengths and limitations?’
- ‘How do you keep your technical knowledge up to date?’
- ‘What professional publications do you read on a regular basis?’
- ‘What would you see as the key technical demands of this role?’
Plan your responses to these questions. Be clear about your areas of strength and how you can tackle / are tackling any areas where you are not as strong. If appropriate, ensure that your professional memberships are up to date and keep yourself abreast of any relevant stories in newspapers/journals relating to technical products / processes in your areas of relevant expertise.
4. Your achievements and successes
These questions focus on your key achievements to date and the particular successes that you have had in relevant areas. It is less about the roles you have held and the tasks you performed (which are covered in questions about your position and responsibilities), but more about how successfully you did it and what you achieved. It is worth noting that candidates often sell themselves short in this area. This is a pity, because employers are looking for people who can replicate their previous successes in a new setting. Typical questions include:
- ‘What are your key achievements to date?’
- ‘What were your main successes in that role?’
- ‘What challenges did you face in the role of…?’
Plan your responses to these questions, and in particular try to have at least two achievements for your last two roles clear in your mind. Focus on your achievements: avoid the royal ‘we’! Make your achievements as relevant as you can to the role you are applying for. Be specific if you can, and quantify your achievements as much as possible, for example:
- ‘I improved the company’s financial performance by 10 per cent.’
- ‘I reduced staff turnover by 20 per cent.’ ‘I was sales representative of the year.’
- ‘I successfully passed my professional exams whilst studying part-time over those 2 years.’
Make sure your achievements are justifiable, because you are likely to have further questions on them during the interview. Your achievements may also be verified with your referees.