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How do I answer that?

Shaun Pulman

Need help working out what to say? Shaun Pulman and Lusi Atiga of Auckland University of Technology's Employability and Careers service unpack how to answer ten standard interview questions.

What made you want to become a career advisor?
Quite a few reasons really – I remember being really directionless when I finished my tertiary study, and I would really have benefitted from the direction and guidance that careers advisors provide.
I trained as a teacher initially, and I’ve always been drawn to education because of the positive impact it can provide. I liked the idea of being able to help young people in their transition to education and then into the world of work. Having worked in a few different industries I feel I can bring other perspectives to the role as well. 

How did you get to your current position and how long have you occupied it?

My first role was at Careers NZ, and I also worked at the University of Auckland for five years as a careers consultant. I was brought into AUT as a writing consultant for a career resource project. Once that finished a part-time role as an Employability Specialist came up. I’ve been in that role for three years.

What does your work involve day-to-day? 

Our Employability and Careers service helps students with all aspects of their career and employability journey, building their skills and resilience in job search and networking as well as helping them with career decisions. We have six employability and career specialists working directly with students, as well as two industry facing staff, a resource and communications writer, social media manager and extracurricular award administrator.

As an employability specialist, I have a student facing role, which involves one-to-one guidance and workshop design and facilitation on all aspects of employability – applications (CVs and cover letters, psychometrics, assessment centres), interviews, job search, networking, LinkedIn, goal-setting and personal branding.
There’s quite a bit of employer contact and event planning involved – our team organises over 200 employer events every year, such as expos, workshops, panels, networking and so on.
AUT is also really supportive in promoting innovation. Since I’ve been in the role I’ve been involved in two or three interesting projects – the latest of which is called Wiser, which is a well-being initiative aiming to improve students’ lives holistically. I have designed and delivered a workshop on making better decisions, which will be continuing next year.

How should students and graduates answer these questions?

Answered by Shaun, with the help of colleague, Lusi Atiga

"Why do you want this job?”

It’s really important to demonstrate a distinct awareness of their company and the job itself when answering this question. Who are their main clients/their competition/their software/their products and services?
And then find ways to connect to that – have you studied relevant material in your degree? Have you had work experience where you’ve developed skills you’d like to enhance further through employment with them? Have you done an industry-related project in your degree that they might be interested in?
Look at obvious resources like the company’s website, their LinkedIn page and the job description, but also search more broadly – has their CEO been quoted in any industry publications or the National Business Review? Has the company appeared in mainstream media?
Try and demonstrate alignment with them – do they do a lot of community work? Find your fit, then be specific about it.  Are they known for their commitment to environmentally-friendly practices? Are they sporty? Family-oriented? Work hard/play hard? If so, talk about how this really interests you and how you share similar values/interests.
Avoid answers like “I want to put into practise the skills and knowledge I’ve gained in my degree”, and try not just to parrot back obvious things about their company, or awards they’ve gained – this gives very little insight into your awareness of their company and your specific motivation to join them.

“Can you tell me about yourself?”

This is a very common way to start an interview, it and can really catch you out if you’re not prepared.
Aim to say two or three specific things that are distinctive to you. What inspired you to start studying your degree? What’s the most interesting thing you learned in your degree? What do you do in your spare time? Have you travelled? What do you think you’ve learned as a result of your part-time work experience? If you’re an international student – why did you move to NZ? What is the most surprising thing about living here? (but don’t be negative)

The obvious thing to do is to just repeat your CV back to them – ‘I’ve just completed my degree in …, and I’ve worked at …’. But they already have your CV, so you’re not really giving them much insight into your motivations and skills if you just do this. Bear in mind that they are interviewing a number of other people – you need to stand out for them to select you. This answer can really enable you to articulate your points of difference.

“How did you hear about us?”

Start with exactly how you first heard about them (eg job ad, careers event, word of mouth etc), and then expand into how you’ve researched them and what you’ve discovered that makes you really interested in working for them. 

Lusi Atiga working at Auckland University of Technology's Employability Lab.

“What are your strengths?”

Start with the job description or ad, look at the requirements, and select two or three that you think you can do well. State those and give a specific example of how you have demonstrated that competency – either in your degree, work experience, or in extracurricular activity.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Try and indicate an awareness of how a career in your industry can unfold. LinkedIn is a great resource for you to research this. Look at the career progression of people who have held the position you’ve applied for, and see how they have developed.
Don’t be afraid to show imagination and ambition because organisations should respect that. It’s also good to indicate a commitment to professional development, so think about training that you’d like to take and how you think that could benefit you and the organisation.

“How do you deal with stress?”

Always refer to specific situations when you deal with this type of question and give concrete strategies that show how you have worked through stress issues in the past.

“When was a time you overcame a professional challenge?”

As above – be specific and detailed. Clearly set the context that the challenge occurred in (Uni or work etc), and then go into detail about what you did step by step. This needs to be logical and clear, so you need to make sure you don’t go off on tangents. It’s advisable to write your answer out so it can be edited. And then be sure to give the result of the actions that you took.

“What do you think we should do better?”

This question is really testing your level of awareness of their organisation. Do your research and give them something specific but not too threatening. Perhaps try and approach their website from the perspective of a customer rather than a job seeker, and give them feedback about how easy it is to find products or resources. 

Lusi Atiga

What do you consider a weakness of yours?”

Avoid the word weakness, turning the question into a positive by saying… 

“Yes, there are some things I need to improve on.”

Then prepare 2 - a work  example, and a personal example 

  • A work example might be “ I need to improve my use of Excel and to do this I’m currently doing an online excel course” 
  • A personal example might be “I’m not confident talking in groups etc, so I’ve recently enrolled on the AUT Toastmasters course.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

Always have questions - otherwise, you don’t seem committed. 

You could ask about performance measures, or ask questions around professional development in some area of the job description, or ask does this role lead into….other areas of organisation because you are keen on them. You can also ask questions about the company culture etc. 

A word to the wise...

  1. Get a mentor
  2. Foster and demonstrate a commitment to ongoing professional development
  3. Value yourself and your skills. Don’t just take a job because it’s the first one offered.