Key Interview Questions – The Personal Questions

Talking about themselves doesn’t come naturally to people. They often struggle with selling themselves because of the tension between sounding cocky and being over-shy. But remember: you can very rarely oversell yourself. Salesmanship trumps modesty every time, just as ambition trumps ability.

What are the key “personal” questions?

When I did graduate recruitment at Freshfields, the people who got the job tended to be the ones who

  • Were comfortable talking about themselves
  • Were hungry, and
  • Understood the interviewer’s job

They were the ones who could answer the questions such as

  • Tell us about yourself
  • What motivates you?
  • What’s the most challenging thing you’ve ever done?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why are you interested in the sector you’re applying for?
  • Why are you interested in us?

These are the most important interview questions, yet they’re the ones which, in our experience, are answered badly. They’re often the ones asked first. They need to be answered in a unique, personal and authentic manner to create that crucial positive first impression.

Interviewers often hear those questions answered blandly, using stock phrases. On the other hand, interviewers remember those candidates who tell personal stories with sincerity and conviction.

Preparing your answers – Some crucial tips

So how can you answer those questions well?

The first thing is to get comfortable talking about yourself. One way to do this – which in our experience works really well – is to write your own elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a maximum of a hundred words designed to spark instant interest. It should do two things:

  • Say something unique about you through a description or story, and
  • Say what makes you tick.

Here’s a practical recipe for producing one. We put it together working with undergraduates and professionals at all stages of their careers. It’s a self-awareness exercise.

Kate and I are often surprised when our clients haven’t thought through what makes them tick and what their strengths and weaknesses are. And yet self-awareness is a key ingredient to successful job applications and interviews.

There are four steps to the recipe:

Step 1: Start with a blank sheet of paper. Describe two occasions when you felt you were at your best, what you did and what you were thinking at the time. Then describe a moment of adversity, and how you overcame it.

Step 2: Write down a list of 6 adjectives that describe you. Then ask friends and family to contribute their own.

Step 3: Use all of these to put together your hundred word elevator pitch. Remember, personal and authentic is good. Bland and corporate language is bad.

Step 4: Practice delivering your elevator pitch and tinker with it until you’re happy, you know it off pat and can deliver it with confidence.