The Top 50 interview questions and how to handle them
In this article we have asked our panel of experts for the top interview questions. We have also included pointers on how to deal with them.
Also, if you are recruiting for staff you may find that this provides you with a few tricky questions to ask.
Almost all interviews will include a competency based element. There are many different questions that the interviewer can use to determine whether you possess certain competencies. However, by matching the role profile competencies to specific examples from your past in preparation for the interview, you will be able to cover most eventualities. Why not also look at our Interview do’s and don’ts
During the interview make the right first impression…..
1. “Why do you want to work here?”
To answer this question you must have researched the company. Reply with the company’s attributes as you see them and how your qualities match them.
2. “Tell me about yourself.”
This is not an invitation to ramble on. If the context isn’t clear, you need to know more about the question before giving an answer. Whichever direction your answer ultimately takes, be sure that is has some relevance to your professional endeavours. You should also refer to one or more of your key personal qualities, such as honesty, integrity, being a team player, or determination.
3. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in work in the past 12 months?
This is often an opening question, as it allows you to use one of your strongest examples and may help you relax. To the interviewer it is also an indication of where your natural focus or achievements may be – people development, process, cost reduction, change etc.
4. “What do you know about the centre/company/role?”
You are not required to be an expert on the organisation or role, but a genuine interest and basic understanding is expected. If you are working with a recruitment consultant then they should be able to provide you with extra details and assist with preparation. In addition, look for and use press releases, corporate and social websites. Ring the call centre to see how they handle your call: do they offer ‘up-sell’, ‘cross-sell’, how was the service? Read the job description to prepare for this question, a few key facts or some knowledge show a genuine interest and commercial awareness.
5. “Why do you want this job?”
Whilst more money, shorter hours or less of a commute are all potential factors for your next role, they are unlikely to make you the ‘stand out’ candidate of the day. Know what the company are looking for, the potential job available and align this with your career to date. Highlight your relevant experience, goals and aspirations in line with the role, to showcase why you are the best person for the job.
6. “How would your team/manager describe you?”
Try to think about how you would describe yourself if someone asked you for your strengths, then relate these to what people say about you; peers, agents, managers and stakeholders. Have three or four at the ready, ideally in line with the role you are being interviewed for. Have the examples or situations ready, in case your interviewer wants to drill down as to why you think or believe these are your key strengths.
7. “What is your biggest achievement?”
If possible, think work related. There will hopefully be a number of things you are most proud of in your career to date. Think about your key achievements, were they commercial, people or process orientated? What was the cause and effect? How were you involved, what was improved, saved or developed? If you are short on career-based examples then use personal achievements which demonstrate the commercial skills required for the role, such as team work, commitment, empathy, determination, attention to detail, etc.
8. “Can you give me an example of… ?”
These questions will more often than not be based around the role competencies. Preparation and rehearsal are key to answering these effectively. You will need two or three instances of how you may have: delivered change, managed conflict, improved performance, reduced absence, increased customer satisfaction, etc. You need to be able to clearly and concisely communicate the problem, solution and outcome.
9. “What have you done to promote great customer service?”
Firstly, know what you think great customer service looks like. Look for situations and examples when you had an idea, a client, or customer call, where you personally went that extra mile. Did you change a process or procedure? Or perhaps a staff member you mentored, coached or advised delivered a great customer service win or result for your team, brand or business.
10. “What are the key factors which make a successful call centre?”
Fundamentally, if you look under the skin of the best teams and call centres, they do have certain things in common: clear communication, environment, consistency, fun, performance management, leadership, engagement, incentives, etc. Think what made up the best team or company you have been a part of or have seen. Have examples to back up any statements for how you would play a part in, or create, this team or environment yourself.
11. “How do you manage change?”
Change is an essential part of life in any call centre environment, as the industry strives to achieve best practice for their customers and stakeholders. Have some examples on how you personally managed, or, were affected by some change. What was your focus, what were you aiming to achieve and how did you deliver the outcome? Know what the problems encountered were and what was learnt through and following the transformation.
12. “What was your reason for leaving?”
Wherever possible be positive, even if your role was short term or didn’t quite work out as expected as it will have added extra experience, industry or skills to your career history. Although you are now looking to move on, acknowledge what you learned and what was on offer at the time. Demonstrate your good reasons for the decisions you made and that you understood what was to be gained, or acknowledge what you have learnt from past employer experiences.
13. “Give me an example of how you have dealt with an under-performing team member in the past.”
This question is a typical example of competency-based interviewing (CBI) in practice. It is the most popular interview approach, based on the premise that future performance can be predicted by past behaviour. The best way to prepare for CBIs is to revisit the job description and person specification before your interview and ensure that you have covered off all bases and can comfortably provide examples for each competency. You must be able to describe the particular scenario, the actions you took and the impact it had on the business. Approach this particular question by outlining the processes you followed to investigate and resolve this issue. It is also important to explain the outcome. For example, you may have set an agenda of required actions following on from the meeting you held with the particular team member – can you describe what that was? If you created a performance plan that included clear training and development objectives make sure you say so. Always finish by explaining how the action you took impacted on the business, for example, the team member started to meet all targets and bring in more revenue.
14. Within the interview process you may be required to perform a role-play. A popular example of this is being asked to role-play an escalated call with an unhappy customer.
It is vital to have clear objectives before initiating conversation with the customer; what is your end goal? Ensure you are aware of the parameters, rules and regulations within the company. For example, if the issue is over money, can you refund it? What else can you offer to pacify the customer? It is important to remain calm, confident, be clear and always remember to ask questions. The interviewer is looking for a patient and composed response. If you are still unsure about how best to approach role-plays contact your local recruitment consultant who should be able to offer you thorough advice.
15. “Can you give me an example of a time when you had to motivate and develop a team in a challenging work environment?”
During interviews difficult or awkward questions could come your way. The intention is not to catch you out, but to test how you operate under pressure. This question is again in the format of CBI; remember to outline the specific actions you took to motivate your team. Interviewers want to see evidence of hands-on experience. Make sure to describe all processes undertaken, for example, did you use incentives to motivate the team or did you implement training programmes? If you improved internal communications to help engage staff, make sure you mention it. Did you implement or revisit career development plans to make the team feel valued? Did you take the time to understand each individual’s motivations? Be clear and precise and be sure to convey any previous first-hand experience you have – they will want to feel confident that you can handle similar issues within the new role.
16. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
Many interviewers will ask you to name your strengths and weaknesses. Typically, people find it easier to express their strengths, but struggle when it comes to identifying even one weakness. Part of the reason for this may be that they do not want to disclose a particular weakness, as this may result in them failing to be successful in getting the job.
A good initial answer (bearing in mind you are applying for a telephone position) to the ‘strengths’, part would be “I have been told that I am an excellent communicator, especially on the telephone, but I feel I have good interpersonal skills generally and find it easy to get along with all sorts of people”.
For weaknesses you need to think of something which is really a strength but put it across as a weakness. It is also important to make it clear what you are doing to address that ‘weakness’.
A good example would be “I am a very conscientious worker and I get irritated by colleagues who don’t share this value and take any opportunity to take time off work or do the minimum required when they are there. I am learning, however, that these people generally get found out and I leave it to my supervisor to recognise these problems and address them”.
An answer such as this would probably make the interviewer think “well that’s not such a bad thing, actually”.
17. Give an example of this behaviour
Having given your strengths and weaknesses, you are then likely to be asked to give examples of when you have displayed this behaviour. Your credibility will plummet if you cannot give an example of the strengths you have stated. So, for instance, with the strengths listed above a good response would be “in my present job, I am often asked to handle difficult customer situations because my supervisor knows that I will handle them politely, efficiently and diplomatically and therefore only a few cases would ever get referred to her. Also, because of my strong interpersonal skills, I have often been asked to buddy up with new team members, to make them comfortable in their new role at the earliest stage possible”.
When asked to give examples on the weaknesses, you need to think very carefully, and plan in advance what your response will be, as many people dig a very deep hole here. A good response to the weakness quoted would be: “I had a situation once where I knew that a more experienced colleague was regularly absent from work following nights out drinking, but she would say that she had a migraine. When this happened my workload increased significantly and whereas I undertook this willingly, I must admit I was annoyed that this person was taking advantage of me and the company. However, I decided to let the supervisor do their job and just get on with mine. In quite a short space of time, the issue was addressed and the problem was resolved”.
18. “Can you give me an example of a particularly difficult customer you had to deal with and how you used your skills to successfully overcome the problem they had?”
Many interviewees freeze at this question, simply because they cannot think of an example, rather than the fact that they have never dealt with one. So have an answer prepared and make sure it is one where you resolved the issue, not one where you had to refer the customer to a higher authority (it’s amazing how many people do this). What the interviewer is looking for are the skills you possess in handling difficult customers, not the intricate detail of the particular issue the customer had.
So, in your pre-prepared answer include the following:
- I listened carefully to what the customer had to say.
- I apologised and empathised with their situation.
- I confirmed my understanding of their concern.
- I took responsibility to resolve the issue.
- I offered a solution (plus alternatives if possible).
- I confirmed the customer was happy with this.
- I thanked the customer for raising the issue with me.
- I took immediate action following the call to resolve the situation.
- I remained calm throughout the whole process.
- (If appropriate) the customer wrote in to my supervisor congratulating me on my efficiency.
This may seem like a very long answer, but by explaining the situation, without going into the minutia of the product or the complaint, your response need be no more than one minute or so and you will impress your prospective new employer that you already have the skills necessary to handle the most difficult calls.
We also have an article on our Ten probing interview questions
Other interview questions that you may get asked include the following.
We do not have answers for any of these, so if you have any suggestions, please send them in.
19. “Describe how you have brought about business change through use of technology and process re-engineering, describing what particular techniques you have employed, e.g. 6 sigma, Lean management, etc.”
Motivation and Drive
20. “Tell me about a difficult obstacle you had to overcome recently at work? How did you overcome this?”
21. “Please tell me about a situation where someone was performing badly in your team.”
22. “What was the situation?”
23. “How did you deal with it?”
24. “What was the outcome?”
Planning and Organising
25. “How do you plan daily and weekly activities?”
Gathering and Analysing Information
26. “Please tell me about an occasion you had to analyse a large amount of complex information which led you to identifying an improvement in service delivery or cost.”
Commitment to Results
27. “Please outline and describe your current targets and KPIs – How do you ensure you achieve these?”
Strategic Thinking and Awareness
28. “How do you ensure that your department’s goals are in line with the overall company goals?”
29. “Describe a situation in which you inspired trust and respect in your team.”
30. “How did you recognise the level of trust or respect your team held for you and how did you ensure this continued?”
These questions are not complex, they do not have to be long to be effective, and can be asked in many ways. The structure of your response, the relevance of the example, its detail and your evident accomplishment will determine your success.
Examples of direct interview questions:
31. “Discuss your current role and your reasons for applying to organisation.”
32. “What is your greatest success and achievement to date?”
33. “How would you measure the success of you and your team over a 3, 6 and 12 month period?”
34. “If successful in joining the organisation what do you envisage your biggest challenge will be in joining the organisation as a Sales Team Leader?”
35. “How would you manage your time and objectives in your role?”
36. “How do you keep yourself motivated?”
37. “What key factors drive you?”
38. “What attracts you to the position?”
Consider the organisation as an attractive employer and make any reference to recent success or news– research their website.
39. “How often do you challenge the way your current company does things or challenge something that you feel needs to change?”
40. “How creative are you in comparison to your colleagues: i.e. in incentivising, managing, developing, encouraging and motivating your team?”
41. “How do you measure the success of your incentives?”
Examples of competency-based interview questions: (Here you must give strong examples and talk through situations)
42. “How have you utilised customer feedback to ensure business excellence?”
43. “How have you utilised customer complaint feedback to improve how your team are selling?”
44. “What is your experience of the whole end-to-end feedback process (talk through this process) and how you ensure this feedback improves the service to customers?”
45. “How have you educated your front-line agents to ensure this feedback results in customer excellence?”
46. “Give an example when you have been really stretched for a deadline and how did you achieve it?”
47. “How do you mange time and priorities?”
48. “Give an example of an occasion where you have given constructive criticism to a member of your peer group.”
49. “Give an example of a time when things happened in work to dampen your enthusiasm and how did you motivate yourself and your team?”
50. How do you deal with work issues – how do you demonstrate you are having a bad day? (would anyone know – do you show it or keep it to yourself?)
Some key tips:
- Must research the organisation fully on the web and available sources of information: latest company information, performance, etc.
- Must demonstrate for a sales position that you are motivated by money and driving performance with a keen focus on figures.
- Need to demonstrate you have drive and are able to think outside the box when there are problems, whilst following regulations and company procedures.
- Demonstrate that you are brave enough to take risks but not afraid to run them by your manager first.
- Must show and be able to demonstrate/back up examples of your experience and success to date.
Dos and don’ts:
- Do talk about what you have done within your team.
- Do not always use the words “the company” or “we”, try to explain examples and situations as ‘I’.
- Do acknowledge mistakes if asked but do put a spin on it that shows you came round and showed success from it and resolved the issue.
- Use the above examples to make sure you give well thought-out answers and examples to questions.
- Make sure you have questions prepared for them (it’s likely that you will be asked if you have any questions).
- At this level organisation are looking to recruit the leadership team of the future so bear in mind that they are looking for career-minded individuals who will progress up the ladder as quickly as possible.
All interviews will be different both in structure and the approach taken by the interviewer but I hope the following suggestions may assist in the generic preparation for forthcoming interviews. It is important to note that whilst research and preparation is critical, your adaptability to their questions, being relaxed and confident in your responses must also come through clearly.
Ensure you do your research. Undertake a number of Google searches on the organisation, look over their website and try to obtain as many independent articles on the company you can gather from the media or trade presses. Look to understand more about your interviewer, look to understand their background. If you are going through an agency ask them what they know of the person.
Why not also have a look at our Jobs pages
Have you been asked any great interview questions? Do you have better answers to any of the questions?
Please leave your comments in the box below.
With thanks to
Mark Lightburn, Artis Recruitment (www.artiscc.co.uk) for responses to questions 1-3
Michelle Ansell, Douglas Jackson (www.douglas-jackson.com) questions 4-12
Geoff Sims, Hays Contact Centres (www.hays.com/contactcentres/) questions 13-15
Clive Harris, Specialist Contact Centre Services (www.specialistccs.com) questions 16-18
Francesca Randle, Cactus Search (www.cactussearch.co.uk)Tweet
Liked this article? Why not get our free newsletter.