Interview Cheat Sheet #1 - The Basics

Welcome to the first in our series of Interview Cheat Sheets!
 
If you’re reading this blog you’re probably a student or graduate, so it’s fair to assume you’re still new to the interview game. Once you get an interview, that’s your foot in the door. Let’s help you make the most of the opportunity by polishing up your interview technique.
 
Today we’ll be whizzing you through an interview 101; answering generic questions designed to test core competencies and personality. These are the questions that come up in every interview situation ever – whether you’re applying to be a marketing strategist or a football coach.
 

Dunder_Mifflin,_Inc.svg

 

For the sake of the exercise let's say you've landed an interview for a dream job as a paper salesman at Dunder Mifflin. Tomorrow you'll meet branch manager Michael Scott and HR bod Toby Flenderson. Make sure you're prepared...
 
The Night-Before-the-Interview Checklist:
  • Read and re-read the job description; make sure it’s right for you and figure out how you match the job. Whatever the hiring manager asks you on the day, you need to link your answers to why you are the best candidate for the job.
  • Research the company; learn about the department you want to join, their successes, failures, and what their workplace culture is like.
  • Learn your JobLab resume back to front. Hiring managers want you to bring your experience to life and might ask some in-depth questions.

The Day of the Interview

You've arrived within enough time to check out the location, and then head somewhere nearby for coffee. Remember, you only want to be about ten minutes early. You catch a glimpse of yourself in that smart-casual interview attire. Looking good!

Interview Ready

You stroll in ten minutes early, almost as though you planned ahead. The receptionist, Pam, admires your good timekeeping skills - she's bound to pass it on to the head honchos at HR.

After a 5 minute wait the door swings open - Michael Scott greets you with a generous smile and a hearty handshake. You reciprocate because you're feeling relaxed, having spent the night before preparing with THIS interview cheat sheet. He leads you in to The Office, and takes his place behind his executive-looking desk. This is it.

 

82 Reasons why the offices

Nervous?

 

Scott introduces himself, and Toby Flenderson, who found you on JobLab. He tells you that they really liked your profile and were keen to meet you. Nice! First impression = made. Then, out of nowhere, he jumps straight in with the first question:

What do you know about Dunder Mifflin?

This is the classic "What do you know about the company?" question, and shows employers whether or not you did your interview prep. We hope you did!

Strong answer: I know Dunder Mifflin was founded in 1976, and has gone on to open 5 branches across the states. You're the number one paper manufacturer of paper products in North East America. I'm a real fan of your 90gsm semi-gloss stock.

Weak answer: Erm, you sell paper products... Sorry, I've drawn a blank!

What made you want to work with us?

Another classic question, which tells employers whether or not you really want a job with them.

Strong answer: The job description was what first attracted me, as I'm a salesperson through and through. I find the paper industry particularly dynamic, and when I'm interested in the product I find selling easy. Dunder Mifflin itself has a reputation as a market leader, but I can see you have a small team. I like the idea of being part of a small but highly ambitious team.

The office US

Weak answer: I really want a full time job because I'd like to save up to go travelling. I have a year-long trip planned and obviously I need to save. I really like sales as well. 

The salesperson role at Dunder Mifflin is target-driven. Can you give me any examples of previous roles where you've met and beaten targets?

Michael Scott needs to know you can provide clear answers to his questions. When sharing previous experiences, make sure your answers are concise and relevant.

Strong answer: When I worked for Happy-Go-Lucky Toy Factory I had a closing ratio of 50% and often over fulfilled my quota. In one quarter I pitched Mr Zucchini Head to 42 different outlets and managed to get 38 of those clients, which was 22% over my quota for the quarter.

Weak answer: Yeah I have worked to targets before. In my last job we had to reach different targets every day and I usually beat them. Most of the time the customers were very pleased with the world-class customer service I delivered. Vague!!

What do you feel you could bring to this role?

M.S. isn't interested in faux-modesty. He wants to know if you can identify your own strengths as an employee in this line of work.

Strong answer: I am persuasive and results oriented, and I think they're all valuable assets for a sales person to have.

Weak answer: I think I have really good banter. I'm really funny, I'd make everyone in the office laugh all day.

 

Answer

Michael is not impressed. Banter is his job.

 

As we're a small team it's important we can all work well together. If you had a problem with a co-worker, how would you handle the situation?

Sensing Michael's rapidly growing jealousy, Toby steps in. He wants to know you are a reasonable, rational human being who can handle conflict in a civilised way.

Strong answer: If I found myself in a conflictual situation I would find a quiet moment to take them aside and discuss our issues openly. If we couldn't resolve it, I'd ask for HR to mediate.

 

Bete Noire

Toby's positively glowing - you said all the right things!

 

Weak answer: I haven't been in many conflictual situations with co-workers, but when I have found myself fighting with a colleague I've usually tried to take them aside and let them know I won't take their sh*t. The only way to handle people like that is to be assertive or else they'll walk all over you.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This question is tricky. You should aim to be as honest as possible, but you might not see yourself at Dunder Mifflin in five years. Don't let them know that. You should discuss general career goals (and how this job would help you achieve them) and if you can mention opportunities for development within the company, all the better.

Strong answer: Within the next five years I would like to have continued to develop my skills as a salesperson, but I would like to have advanced within the management structure and perhaps deliver training in sales. To be honest, I'm open to any opportunities for development as they arise. I still see myself in this city, perhaps having saved enough to buy my own home.

Weak answer: I'd like to try a few different things. I don't know. I'm still learning about me.

Closing the interview

Michael Scott suddenly says "Well!" very loudly, claps his hands together and turns to look at Toby. Toby thanks you for coming, saying it was a pleasure to meet you – and asks you if you have any questions for them? You ask when you could expect to hear back. They tell you "within the next couple of days" and thank you for coming, once again.

(For more tips on the best questions you could possibly ask, check out - Interview Cheat Sheet #2)

The bottom line? Research the company you're interviewing with thoroughly, and give clear, relevant answers that you can back up. BS is unfortunately very obvious in an interview situation and employers could be turned off by vague responses!

Frame toby

While you're waiting for them to make their mind up, check out our post on following up an interview here.