Sometimes the road to interview success simply comes down to character.
Knowing the right way to answer to the common questions is all well and good. But if the interviewer doesn’t think you’ll be a good fit for the organisation, your application is unlikely to progress any further.
Your character is the single most reliable predictor of what you’ll achieve in your career, making it top priority for many employers when it comes to their line of questioning. Don’t believe us?
Here are five of our favourite character questions – and our advice on how to answer them:
Who do you admire and why?
Translation: what qualities do you value in other people?
The trick with this question is to make sure you don’t overthink it. To put it simply, the ‘who’ actually isn’t all that important. It’s all about the ‘why’.
Always opt to pick someone who can be seen as relevant to the role you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a management position, for example, choosing a good leader would work well. For more entry-level roles, answers might feature someone who has worked their way up in an industry.
Try and pitch yourself somewhere between the cliché (we’re thinking Nelson Mandela, Sir Alan Sugar, etc.), and the try-hard or completely obscure. It’s fine to pick someone a little under-the-radar, but if even the most well-read Oxford scholar would struggle to pin-point your favourite second century Persian leader, you might just be trying a little too hard.
Whoever you pick, always ensure you can relate their experiences back to reflect your own personal values.
Right answer: ‘If I had to choose one person, I’d probably go with JK Rowling. She was a single mother with very little money, who had an incredible idea and decided to go with it. After writing the book, it was rejected countless times by publishing houses, but she didn’t give up. Now she’s one of the most successful British writers of all-time. That persistence and self-belief is something I really admire.’
Wrong answer: ‘If I say you, will I get the job?’
Tell me something about you that isn’t on your CV
Let’s face facts: interviews are tiring.
In fact, sometimes interviewers are so desperate for a little recuperation time that they like to let you take the lead. That’s where this question comes in.
So, do you go personal, or keep it strictly business? Although the professional approach may seem a little safe, things like further information about your first job, or specific examples of overcoming workplace problems, are potentially quite fertile areas of discussion.
On a personal level, the most revealing answers will provide a much more rounded view of the person behind the application. So whether it’s an unrelated piece of voluntary work, or an interesting hobby or unusual pastime, a little more character is always a good weapon to have when it comes to setting yourself apart from the crowd.
Just try to avoid offering out a piece of twee trivia as a legitimate answer. A lot of people are big fans of Game of Thrones. It doesn’t mean they’re more employable.
Right answer: ‘Well this is actually a little embarrassing, but I actually couldn’t ride a bicycle until a few years ago. That was when I went travelling, and we only had bikes to get around the small island my friends and I found ourselves on. So I had to learn pretty fast, which was scary, but also weirdly exhilarating. I’ll never be a contender for the Tour de France, but at least I can go for a bike ride if it ever comes up.
Wrong answer: ‘I’m a black-belt in Origami. ’ (insert other, slightly obvious joke here).
What do you most dislike about yourself?
Already feel suitably prepared for the old ‘what are your weaknesses’ line? Think of this question as its evil twin…
In fact, whilst it covers similar ground, the broader and slightly more confrontational approach is often used to probe for a more personal answer, and gain a clear indication of your character. Will you crack under the pressure of this more negative approach, or, instead, will you come out swinging?
As with any other queries regarding weakness, always avoid answering the question as it was asked. Instead, mentally reframe your answer to present a more positive overall outcome. Choosing a legitimate area that you’re working hard to improve should be enough to reinforce the idea that you can do the job at hand, whilst also humanising yourself in the process.
However, always try and keep your answers succinct. There is such a thing as oversharing…
Right answer: ‘Whilst there isn’t anything I’d say that I actively dislike about myself, there are certainly traits I value over others. If I’m being really honest, I’m not great at confrontations. Luckily it isn’t something I’ve often had to deal with, but on the odd occasion I’ve had to deliver bad news, such as poor appraisals, I haven’t enjoyed it all that much.’
Wrong answer: ‘I have quite a short attention span… I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?’
Is it acceptable to lie in business?
The world is unfair. Proof? Almost everybody lies, yet nobody wants to hire a liar. Go figure.
As a result, the only real option here is to go for the obvious answer. Anything other than playing it 100% straight and extoling the virtues of telling the truth at all times has the ability to throw serious doubt on your core values – something that’s unlikely to prove endearing.
Some candidates may try talking their way out of this one, and suggest that there’s a fine line between a lie and withholding the truth, but in a job interview this kind of wheedling and bargaining is probably not a good look.
In an interview situation, the intricacies and nuances of bending the truth are always best left alone. Lying is lying, no ifs or buts.
Right answer: ‘I’d never recommend lying. It just never works out in the long run. If you make a mistake, it’s always better to own up for it and apologise. Most people will forgive you for making a mistake, and you’ll learn from it, but some people will never forgive a lie.’
Wrong answer: ‘Lying isn’t a problem. Just as long as you don’t get caught.’
Is it OK to spend time at work on non-work stuff, like Facebook or YouTube?
Ah, the age-old question of bunking off in the office.
Some interviewers seem to have an almost in-built paranoia when it comes to workplace distractions. And by in-built paranoia, we mostly mean a morbid and sometimes irrational fear of millennials looking at YouTube all day, whilst they’re supposed to be on-the-clock.
With some studies suggesting that we spend up to two hours of our working day wasting time, it isn’t a concern that’s wholly unwarranted. However, no matter how much the video of that panda sneezing brightens up your day, it’s unlikely that your interviewer really wants to hear about it.
So whatever your own personal views on the issue are, play it safe, and go into complete denial mode. Because let’s face it, no-one wants to employ a slacker.
Right answer: ‘Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with checking up on these sites in non-working time like your lunch break, as long as it’s not against company policy of course. But when you’re supposed to be working, I don’t think it’s appropriate. You’re paid to do a job and that’s what you should be doing’.
Wrong answer: ‘Why, did you get my Snapchat?’
Need more interview questions?
Not sure any of these questions will come up? Don’t panic. We’ve got plenty more…
Buy James Reed’s new book: Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again and start loving Mondays now.
Still searching for your perfect position? View all of our current vacancies now
Find a job
Sign up for more Career Advice