Part eight interview answers: what to do when questions go off piste

Written by
Changeboard Team

01 Feb 2012

01 Feb 2012 • by Changeboard Team

Dealing with non competency based questions

There are various types of non competence questions, and whilst it’s impossible to provide example questions and responses in the limited space available here, we can give you some guidance about the type of questions that you might encounter.

CV and chronology based questions

While less common than they used to be, interviewers will sometimes want to take you through your CV in some detail. This approach is often used by head hunters as part of their screening. They don’t want to put you in front of their client if there are gaps or inconsistencies in your experience. In short, they’ll be checking the veracity of your CV and whether you have held the types of role that would give you the experience needed for the job you’ve applied for.
A more detailed approach to this is the Chronology interview. Often used in the finance sector owing to FSA regulations, but also used in professional services industries, this approach involves a discussion about all the key roles that you have held. The interviewer will be particularly interested in:
  • Your reasons for job/role choices.
  • Your main responsibilities / accountabilities.
  • Your key customers / stake holders.
  • Your most significant achievements.
  • What budget you were responsible for.
  • The size of your team.
  • Reasons for leaving.

Knowledge based questions

We can’t give you right and wrong answers to these questions as they will depend on your particular expertise, but here are some guiding principles: 

  • Do answer any questions you are asked to the best of your knowledge. You’re likely to be quizzed by a subject matter expert, so don’t get into an argument – this is unlikely to make a good impression. If you do have strong views, make sure they are well thought through so that you can fully defend them.
  • Do collect your thoughts before answering – the answer may not be as obvious as at first appears.
  • Don’t lay claim to knowledge you don’t have.
  • Do aim to leave the impression that you are thoughtful and well informed about the subject area rather than over confident or even smug.

Hypothetical questions

There are a lot of reasons why these are not good questions for an interviewer to use, but they do still crop up. The main reasons they are not very effective is that they:

  • Can only assess your intentions, not your actual behaviour.
  • They play into the hands of people who are verbally fluent but who may not actually possess the competencies under consideration.

Nevertheless, they can have their place, so what is the best way to handle this kind of question?

  • Assess if it is PEOPLE, THOUGHT or TASK focussed and then answer accordingly.
  • Refer to a real life example if you have one.
  • Keep responses concise and to the point. Do not over elaborate.
  • Seek clarification if the question is too vague – which they often can be.
  • Give yourself time to think.  Verbalise this so that the interviewer knows.
  • At the end, check if your response has answered their question.

Vague or general questions

These can take many forms but they are usually characterised by their sheer ‘size’ and the scope they give you for sounding vague. For example:

‘Tell me about your approach to financial planning’

‘What is your view about our proposed merger plans?’

‘What do you think you would bring to the role you are applying for?’

Once again, we can’t give you answers for all these questions, but again, there are some principles you can apply to add some clarity to your answers:

  • Stick to key themes that relate to the company’s competencies and that will differentiate you from the competition. Draw on your preparation for this.
  • Use the TASK, THOUGHT, PEOPLE structure where possible to ensure you cover all the ground.
  • Use concrete language and refer to real examples and outcomes.

Self evaluation, disclosure & motivation questions

These are sometimes used to assess your self-awareness and how thoughtful you are about yourself, as well as your drivers and motivations. Examples of such questions might be:
  • ‘What do you see as your main strengths and weaknesses as far as leadership is concerned?’
  • ‘Given what you know about this job, where do you see you have most to learn?’
  • ‘Tell me what you are like at your worst.’
  • ‘Where do you hope to be in three years time?’
  • 'What do you most enjoy about your work?’
It is important here to get the balance between confidence and modesty right. Be open about weaknesses, but importantly, explain that you understand the impact, and what you do to manage it. When talking about ambition, you should aim to be structured and show drive and motivation. Don’t tell them you want their job though, to many people this might not go down well. Instead, couch your response in terms of the types of things you want to be doing.

Buy the book - discount for Changeboard members

For more examples of non competency based questions and answers, we strongly advise that you read the full chapter in “You’re Hired! Interview Answers: Impressive Answers to Tough Questions” available for purchase from the Trotman Publishing website.  Remember to use the discount code ‘change’ at the checkout to secure an exclusive 25% discount off your order*.
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