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The title of this article probably strikes the wrong chord; a job interview shouldn’t be thought of as an hour-long exercise in avoiding traps and trying not to mess up, but rather as a series of chances to stand out. Though, as promised, we’ll make suggestions about what not to say, success isn’t so much about not tripping up as it is about packaging- making it easy for someone who might have met fifteen candidates over the course of an afternoon to see that you’re the best possible person for the role.
This question is treacherously vague- it doesn’t give you any direction, so you have to decide what information the interviewer is looking for. In response to its open-endedness, candidates often make long, meandering speeches with too much information and too little direction. If you find yourself talking about where you did your GCSEs, you’ve probably gone off-topic.
The notion that a job interview is about ‘selling yourself’ is the oldest cliché in the book, but it’s actually quite useful in this scenario. If you were selling a product, you wouldn’t be long-winded or indirect. You wouldn’t bother with any details that didn’t make that product more attractive to the potential buyer. You’d emphasise its best features and, most importantly, the value it might add to the buyer’s life. So- think about your answer to this question as a sales pitch. Ahead of the interview, prepare a couple of lines that are snappy, direct, and tightly relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. They might be something like:
“I’ve just graduated from Loughborough University and I’m really keen to begin a career in the tech industry. I’ve worked part-time throughout my academic career and I think I’ve shown that I’ve got the ambition, the people skills and the industry to flourish in a sales role.”
Again, the most common mistake people make in answering this question is unfiltered regurgitation- trying to show they’ve done their research by repeating back all the information they can remember from a company’s website.
In focusing your answer, it’s worth thinking about what the question is asking. It’s true that interviewers want to hire diligent people, who passionately desire to win the roles on offer, and have done their homework to make this happen. But the question is really testing whether interviewees have a sound understanding of the company’s operations- of precisely what they do, the value their product or service adds, and the market in which they operate. You can pre-prepare a killer answer- again, very similar to a sales pitch- that shows you know these basic facts, and illustrates the points you’re making with an example.
“You are Message Manager. You provide innovative email marketing solutions for companies in the retail sector, which means that you manage a business’s email interactions with its clients. This includes things like email design, analytics, and running individual campaigns. So, for example, if a company like ASOS wanted to market a new range of jeans, you might help them target the group of customers it’d be most attractive to, design an email advert, and monitor how many sales they’re making to customers who’ve opened the email.”
In our experience, an overwhelming number of people answer this question with some version of, “I’m too much of a perfectionist, and I never think a job is finished.” On the evidence of job interviews, the world is absolutely overrun by incorrigible perfectionists- no sign of the people who submitted footnoteless university dissertations at 4am (you know who you are).
This might seem like a neat way to portray a weakness as a strength (what boss would want their employees to churn out sloppy work, after all?) but the truth is, it’s been ruined by overuse- it sounds too much like a rehearsed line, and might suggest to an employer that you’re avoiding revealing your actual weaknesses. So- avoid perfectionism and make sure you come up with another honest answer to this question!