Classic Interview Questions: How you work/deal with your responsibilities.

We all work in different ways and approach problems from different angles- take some time to consider how you approach your responsibilities in your current role and why that makes you effective.

Your organisational skills, team ethic and commercial sense should all come to the fore as you demonstrate your ability to fill a role better than other candidates.

This area is often overlooked by interviewees when they are preparing- but you will be surprised by the extent to which you have a specific way of working and your own ‘philosophy’ on how to be effective at what you do. Being more aware of your personal Modus Operandi (way of working) is a great help in showing what a good worker you are when answering this type of question.

Alternative and related questions:

How do you get things done at work?

The meaning behind the question:

This is a very simple question. The interviewer wants to know what your working style is – how do you plan and organise yourself to ensure that you achieve your objectives. They don’t just want to hear you say that you’re a very organised and efficient person – they want proof of exactly how you get things done.

Your answer:

Tell it like it is. The interviewer isn’t expecting any magic tricks or a treatise on the latest management techniques. Your answer just needs to outline the systems and tools you use to manage your workload so as to ensure that everything which needs to get done does get done. You should aim to place emphasis on this last point – that the techniques you use are ones which clearly work for you.

Example:

Careful planning is critical to my ability to get things done: planning, organisation and action. I rely heavily on ‘To Do’ lists. These enable me to capture and record everything which I need to action. I maintain a master To Do list but also have separate To Do lists for each particular project I’m handling. I review these at least once a day so as to identify my priorities. I always aim to focus on tasks which have deadlines attached to them and also tasks which will achieve the most in the shortest space of time. Less important items I will either postpone, delegate or, if I am unable to clearly identify the benefits, remove from the list completely. While I have a very heavy workload to juggle I find that these systems enable me to always keep one step ahead and to ensure that nothing slips through the net.

Alternative and related questions:

Can you tell me about a difficult problem that you resolved?
Can you tell me about a major problem at work that you’ve had to deal with?

The meaning behind the question:

Following on from the previous question, this question is, again, directly probing your problem-solving capabilities but, more than that, is doing so in a way that is directly relevant to the job for which you are applying.

The interviewer is trying to identify what you could really bring to the organisation.

They’re also assessing how able you are to think on your feet – because they’ll know there is no way you could have pre-prepared your answer to this one!

Your answer:

Problem ‘x’ could be just about anything. It could be a hypothetical problem but it’s probably more likely to be a real-life problem currently facing your prospective employer.

The main difficulty you face with this question is of course that it’s almost impossible to prepare for in advance. You’re going to have to think fast. However, rather than replying immediately I’d suggest you buy some time by getting the interviewer to talk a little more about the problem. Don’t be afraid to ask them a few questions first to make sure you fully understand what the problem is – and what the circumstances are. As well as arming you with more facts, this will also give you some valuable thinking time.

If you’re asked the alternative question, “Can you tell me about a difficult problem that you resolved?” then you’re lucky – because you can prepare a perfect example for this well in advance of the interview. Please refer to the previous question, Question 14, “Can you tell me about a major problem at work that you’ve had to deal with?” for details of how best to handle this.

Alternative and related questions:

What would you do if you disagreed with a decision taken by your line manager?
Would you make your opinion known if you disagreed with a decision taken by a superior?

The meaning behind the question:

Ostensibly, you might think the interviewer is testing to see how subordinate you are. This isn’t really the case though. It’s not to an organisation’s advantage to be filled with people who never question authority – or who never voice their opinion. What the interviewer is really looking for is to identify the manner in which you would express your disagreement.

Your answer:

A lot depends, of course, on precisely what it is that you disagree with. Is it a minor issue which boils down to a matter of your judgment against theirs – or is it a more serious situation which could potentially call for your having to go ‘over their head’ and discuss the matter with their superior.

You want to avoid talking about the second possibility. Build your answer around the scenario of a minor disagreement and place the emphasis on how you would use your communication and interpersonal skills.

Example:

Inevitably there will be times when I disagree with my manager’s point of view – or with a decision she has taken or intends to take. In my current role, my manager welcomes input from her team and, while I appreciate that it isn’t appropriate to openly disagree with her, I will query issues in private with her as necessary. There may be factors leading to her decision of which I am unaware. Alternatively, once we’ve both discussed our thoughts, we may simply agree to disagree. I have to respect that, at the end of the day, it remains her prerogative to make a decision whether I agree with it or not – and to support her in that course of action to the best of my ability.

Alternative and related questions:

What is your management style?
How do you manage people?

The meaning behind the question:

There’s nothing too complex about this question. The interviewer wants to know what your perception of leadership is and how you go about the day-to-day responsibility of management.

They’re only going to be asking this question if you’re applying for a management-level role and they’re hoping to gauge just how successful you are likely to be in fulfilling such a role.

It’s also going to be of interest to them to see how you perceive yourself. It can tell them a lot about you as a person.

Your answer:

Unless you really are the perfect manager, try to interpret this question in terms of the manager you aspire to be – because that’s the kind of manager the interviewer is wanting you to be!

There are two main aspects to a management role:

  • Getting the job done
  • Handling the people who will help you to get the job done

Your answer needs to cover both these bases.

The precise points you raise in your answer will depend on the kind of management role for which you are applying. Different employers will have different expectations of how their managers should behave and what they are expected to achieve.

Example:

I’m a very hands-on manager. While I am clearly in charge of my team, we are nonetheless a team – and I am very much a member of that team. When the circumstances require it, I will assert my authority and lead my staff in the direction I have determined we should go. However, I’m always open to input, ideas and suggestions and consider myself to be very approachable in that respect. I realise the importance of motivating my staff to deliver their best and I’m tactful and diplomatic when dealing with potential problems; I believe a lot more can be achieved through communication than through conflict. I am nevertheless very results-driven and expect every member of my team to pull their weight and help us to achieve our common goals.

Alternative and related questions:

Can you tell me about a difficult client/customer you’ve had and how you handled them?
Can you give me an example of an occasion when you exceeded a client’s/customer’s expectations?

The meaning behind the question:

Most organisations provide a product or service to a customer. Some definitions of ‘customer’ are obvious: Marks & Spencer sells sandwiches to the public. Some are less obvious: The Job Centre helps the unemployed return to work.

Customer service skills are consequently of importance in many different walks of life – and this question is designed to probe your customer service skills. It is more far-reaching than that, though, because many of the same skills which will enable an individual to work well with customers will also help them to work well with their colleagues.

Your answer:

However the interviewer phrases their question, the main thrust of your answer should be to outline your customer service skills.

If you can illustrate your answer with an example of when you have delivered outstanding customer service then so much the better. Outstanding customer service could include resolving a difficult client’s complaint or it could be a case of your having exceeded a customer’s expectations. Whatever example you select, make sure it is one which shows you in a positive light, i.e. if you want to talk about a dissatisfied client then it had better not be your actions which caused their dissatisfaction!

Example:

I believe the customer is central to everything we do. Profits are certainly our ultimate goal but, without customer satisfaction, profits will suffer. I consequently attach a lot of importance to customer service. A business is nothing without its customers and it’s vital to recognise this. I believe I have strong customer service skills – and working with the public is certainly something I enjoy. It’s not always easy of course. Recently, I had to deal with a particularly difficult client who was – fairly unreasonably, it has to be said – very dissatisfied with the solution our sales team had sold them. Rather than let the complaint escalate, I took the time to calmly and patiently listen to the customer and to demonstrate that I understood and empathised with their concerns. This alone took a lot of the wind out of their sails. I went on to give them my viewpoint, addressing their concerns one by one and explaining why I felt the solution they had been sold was the best one for them. It turned out that they had principally misunderstood what was being offered and, once realisation set in, they were actually quite apologetic!

Alternative and related questions:

How have you changed the job you’ve been doing?

The meaning behind the question:

All job roles evolve over time – some more than others. The interviewer isn’t asking how your job has changed since you were first appointed – they’re asking how you have changed it. They’re looking for evidence of initiative, drive and enthusiasm. The best employees are always looking for ways to make improvements – to change things for the better. It’s all too easy for an employee to sit back and just accept things the way they are but that’s not the sort of employee who is going to help drive an organisation forward.

Your answer:

An interviewer should only be asking this question if your current job is one in which you can reasonably be expected to have made changes to your role.

In many roles there is limited scope for making changes so your interviewer probably won’t be expecting too dramatic an example. If you have been responsible for a tangible improvement to your role then this is obviously going to be an excellent choice. Alternatively, it should be more than sufficient to describe ways in which you took on additional duties and responsibilities that weren’t part of your original job description.

Be aware that this is the sort of question that an interviewer is particularly likely to check up on when taking up your references – so it’s essential to be absolutely honest.

Example:

When I first took over the role, I noticed that my predecessor (who was in the job for many years) had been using a number of rather out-dated and laborious systems to help them manage the allocation of work to our sub-contractors. This was clearly wasting a significant amount of time – and time is money. I therefore consulted with my manager and outlined a proposal to scrap these various manual systems and replace them with a single system running on software I had become adept at using in my previous role. Given the low cost of the software and the obvious advantages of my proposal, my manager agreed to the plan. Having spent a couple of weeks setting up the new system, I consequently reduced my workload substantially and I was able to use this spare time to help my manager with his financial reporting. This gave me useful, additional experience and also freed up my manager to spend more time on other issues.

Word of warning:

For some reason, candidates are particularly prone to misunderstanding this question and interpreting it along the lines of, “What changes have you made in your current job?” This is a very different question and, no matter how good your answer to this question, your interviewer won’t be impressed if you fail to answer the question they actually asked.

Alternative and related questions:

How long does it generally take you to settle into a new environment?
How long do you feel it will take you to make an impact in your new job?

The meaning behind the question:

Whenever someone takes up a new role it will inevitably take them some time to settle in. If you’ve been in your previous job for a number of years then it can be quite a shock to the system starting a new job – and you’d be surprised how many employees walk out within their first week! The interviewer isn’t necessarily asking you for a precise timescale as to how long you’ll take to settle in. What they really want from you is evidence that you understand the upheaval involved in changing jobs and that you are prepared for this and will consequently adapt to your new situation as quickly as possible.

Your answer:

Above all, you must convey to the interviewer that you are able to adapt quickly to new circumstances. However, more than that, you should attempt to convey why you will be able to adapt quickly to new circumstances. It’s all very well to say that you will adapt quickly but it doesn’t mean very much unless you can back up your statement with some convincing evidence.

The best way to handle this is to refer to your current or previous job and how quickly you were able to settle in there.

If this is your first job then you could instead refer to how you handled the start of your degree course – or how you settled into your last school.

Example:

I believe I’m very good at adapting to changes in my circumstances. While every organisation is different and no two jobs I’ve had have ever been the same, the core requirements of my role don’t change. I appreciate that there will inevitably be new procedures that I need to absorb and adhere to – and it also takes time to forge positive working relationships with new colleagues. However, I don’t anticipate it taking very long at all before I’m fully up to speed and making a major contribution. When I took up my current role, I’d been with my previous employers for more than five years. It was clearly a major change for me. I nevertheless settled in very quickly, got to know my colleagues and to understand the way the organisation worked – and I already felt quite at home before the end of my first month.

As well as these questions, you may also be interested in our section: Tough Interview Questions & Answers.

Think you’re well prepared? use our simple Interview Question Tool to see if you have got an answer to some random questions that it will fire at you. Good Luck!

The Interview Question & Answer Book

The Interview Question & Answer Book

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