Talking about this vacancy

You have to do your homework on the company you are applying to and understand where they sit in their industry and how the compare to your current employer- expect to be questioned on this area and recognise that unless you are applying from a direct competitor, you are going to have to carefully demonstrate how any current role or your skills and qualifications match the requirements of the vacancy they are trying to fill.

Alternative and related questions:

Wouldn’t you be better suited to working in a different type of organisation?
Wouldn’t you be better suited to working for another organisation?

The meaning behind the question:

Is it a polite way for them to tell you they’re writing you off?  Or is it more likely yet another sneaky way for them to test how you react?  While the question might come across as superficially rather negative, it’s often an encouraging sign.  It might mean you just have one further hurdle to cope with and the job could be yours.

Your answer:

This question reminds me of something an HR officer once said to a new member of staff at the end of their trial period, “I think you’d be better off working for either a smaller or a larger organisation”!  In this case, though, they’re not telling you, they’re asking – and your answer clearly has to be “No”!

There are two main ways in which to answer this question.  You can either ask them what leads them to ask such a question and hence pick up some useful clues which will help you to counter any concerns they may have.  But this will require you to think on your feet.  The simpler approach is to have an answer pre-prepared which explains (or reiterates) why you feel their organisation is just the right one for you.  You can draw on your answer to the top 10 question we covered back in Chapter 2, “Why do you want to work for this organisation?”.  Your focus should be on what in particular attracts you to their organisation – and don’t be afraid of singing their praises.

Example:

It’s true to say that I have generally worked for larger companies.  However, while larger companies have certain advantages over smaller ones, they also have certain disadvantages.  Your company may not be the biggest in the sector but you clearly have a reputation as one of the most progressive.  The company is evolving and developing rapidly, undoubtedly helped by the fact that you are smaller than some others.  It makes you more manoeuvrable.  I’d like to play a part in capitalising on that manoeuvrability to help the company become one of the biggest in the sector.  I want to work for an organisation which is forward-thinking and isn’t afraid to tackle new challenges, unlike some of the larger companies I have previously worked with.

Word of warning:

Don’t let them unnerve you.  Don’t be intimidated.  Avoid being defensive.

Alternative and related questions:

What do you think makes this position different from your last one?

The meaning behind the question:

This ostensibly simple-sounding question is actually more complex, in the hands of an experienced recruiter, than you might at first think.  They’re not really interested in the differences themselves; they’re interested in further probing into what it is that attracts you to this job and will mean that you not only survive but that you thrive in it.

Your answer:

While there may be any number of differences between your current or previous role and the role for which you are now applying, you must focus, in your answer, on those aspects of your new job which appeal to you the most or which represent a new, interesting or unusual challenge.  Aim to come up with at least two or three positive comments.  And a useful little trick is to phrase your comments as if you’ve already been hired and are part of the team.

Example:

There are certainly a number of differences.  In  particular, there’s the challenge of the new international markets we’ll be expanding into.  I’m looking forward to working with clients beyond just the UK.  I’ll also have considerably more autonomy and responsibility for managing my own workload which will make my day-to-day working life a whole lot more rewarding.  And, of course, I’ll be learning and helping to develop an entirely new database system, which is something I particularly enjoy.

Word of warning:

However many differences you may come up with in your initial answer, be prepared for the interviewer to ask for more!

Alternative and related questions:

Do you have any reservations about your ability to undertake this job?
What reservations do you have about working for us?

The meaning behind the question:

You might think this is a reasonably innocent-sounding question but it’s actually far from it!  First of all, the interviewer has phrased the question in such a way as to imply that you probably do have some reservations and, secondly, asking you about any reservations you may have is clearly prompting you to disclose any weaknesses.  Basically, this question is a bit of a trap.  If you do have any reservations then they’ll end up having reservations too!

Your answer:

In the previous chapter we covered the related question, “What reservations do you have about working for us?”  This question may be rather different but the answer has to remain the same.

You don’t have any reservations!

More than that, explain to the interviewer why you don’t have any reservations.  As is so often the case, you need to turn the question round on them and convert it into an opportunity to sell yourself.

Example:

No, I don’t have any reservations about my ability to undertake the role.  I trust I’ve demonstrated how my background and my experience have enabled me to develop the precise skills you are looking for and that I’m a perfect match for the job description you’ve outlined.  I feel entirely ready and able for the challenge.

Word of warning:

If, in reality, you do have any reservations then now is definitely not the time to be discussing them!

Alternative and related questions:

Which of your previous working environments was the best?

The meaning behind the question:

As with other questions which ask you to describe your ‘ideal’ of something work-related, the interviewer is attempting to assess how closely your ideal fits with the reality of their organisation.  Unless you see through this aspect of their question, you could easily reveal reasons for them to notch up black marks on your application.  They’re testing your compatibility.

Your answer:

How much do you know about the working environment in the organisation to which you’re applying?  Shallow as it may seem, this is what you need to be describing.

With a bit of luck, you’ll already have been able to glean quite a bit of useful information from the interviewer during the course of your interview – information which you can now feed back to them.

If, on the other hand, you’re working completely in the dark then aim for a reasonably generic description which represents a ‘best guess’ as to the type of working environment you’ll be in.

Example:

My ideal working environment is one where there’s a good sense of team spirit.  A strong work ethic is obviously important but the human side is also important.  I enjoy working with people who have a decent sense of humour and who, while they might take their work very seriously, don’t necessarily take themselves overly seriously!  I like people who are down to earth but who have a dynamic and progressive approach to their work.  I really enjoy working as part of a highly committed and professional team.

Word of warning:

Avoid saying anything along the lines of the way they’ve described their organisation’s working environment as sounding like your idea of the ideal working environment.  Don’t be seen to be overtly sucking up!  Subtly does it.

Alternative and related questions:

How would you rate us against our competitors?
What advantages do you feel we have over our competitors?

The meaning behind the question:

No, the interviewer isn’t just fishing for compliments.  First of all, they’ll be interested to see whether you’ve done your homework and do indeed not only know who their competitors are but also how they operate.  Secondly – albeit not related to your job application – they’ll have a natural curiosity as regards an outsider’s opinion of their organisation and its competitors.

Your answer:

A potentially tricky question but another opportunity to impress the interviewer with the research you’ve conducted, both on their organisation and on the sector in which they operate.  Above all, of course, phrase your answer in such a manner that makes it clear to the interviewer that you’d much rather work for them than any of their competitors. But do make it sound convincing and not just like you’re buttering them up!  What do you, honestly, feel sets this organisation apart from its competition?  Why do you want to work for them and not their competition?  Pick – and elaborate on – at least one positive difference between them and their competition.  Don’t even think of discussing anything which is less than 100% positive.

Example:

In conducting my market research when embarking on my job hunt, I obviously took a close look not only at your company but also at your competitors.  I’m aware that some of your competitors have a larger market share, higher turnover and higher profits but what struck me about your company was its outstanding reputation for customer service and customer care.  Some of your competitors may have a larger share of the market for the time being but, judging by the number of disgruntled customers posting their comments on the Internet, I’m convinced that I can work with you to ensure that we end up overtaking them.  You’ve clearly focused on quality and reputation above all else, knowing that if you get this right then the profits will follow.  That’s a strategy I agree with wholeheartedly.

Word of warning:

You can be skating on thin ice with questions such as this if you say something which you are unable to fully substantiate, should the interviewer decide to dig deeper.  As always, conducting thorough research prior to your interview is absolutely vital.

Alternative and related questions:

What is our USP?
What makes us different from all our competitors?
What makes us stand out by comparison to our competition?
What makes our organisation unique?

The meaning behind the question:

Following close on the heels of the previous question, ‘How do you feel we compare to our competitors?’ this is just another question designed to test what you know of their organisation and its place within its sector.

Your answer:

If you haven’t yet identified what the organisation’s USP is – or what combination of features makes them unique in their sector – then you really don’t deserve the job for which you’re applying.  Most organisations have marketing departments which spend a considerable amount of time and money telling anyone and everyone who will listen precisely what they think their USP is.  Your answer to this question is therefore simple.  Tell it like it is.

But (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there!) you may like to consider the possibility of telling them what you know of their publicly projected USP and comparing this to what you personally see as their USP (assuming, of course, that it’s different!)  This is clearly an ‘advanced’ strategy but if, for example, you actually work in marketing yourself, then I’d strongly recommend it.  After all, the original question asked was, ‘What would you say is our Unique Selling Point’.  What you say it is and what they say it is are not necessarily the same thing.

Example:

The USP you clearly communicate to customers is that the food you produce is entirely handmade and natural and totally avoids any artificial additives and preservatives common to so much of the pre-prepared and ‘fast’ food on the market today.  I’d certainly not disagree with that but I think a further USP – and one which you could very possibly benefit from promoting – is the fact that, unlike all your competitors, you have actual, traditional ovens in all your shops and all baked products, right the way down to the bread for the sandwiches, are baked fresh every day on site.

Word of warning:

It’s very easy to mishear this question and to think the interviewer has asked what your USP is, not theirs.  If in doubt then ask them to clarify.  If they haven’t already asked you what your own USP is then it might later prompt them to do so.  For ideas on how to tackle this – clearly completely different – question please refer back to the top 10 question “What can you, above all the other applicants, bring to this job?