The “Big 5” Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
Unemployment in Nigeria has been a source of concern and worry to fresh graduates and job-seekers for a long time now. Though, it is true that since Nigeria is still a developing country, there are limited jobs available for graduates and job-seekers in the labor market, I will like to also point out that unemployability and ignorance is a worse problem. While some people are not qualified for the jobs they seek, others are but lack the information and knowledge needed to face job interviews, a major tool used by employers to find out all they need to know about their potential employees.
There are five very common generic questions which crop up in virtually every interview. They relate to:
• being a good team player;
• planning and organizing your work effectively;
• good interpersonal communication;
• coping with change in the workplace;
• providing effective customer service (including internal customers).
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The importance of the ‘big five’ questions
The skills listed above are vital to most jobs. It is hard to think of a job in which all five do not come into play at one stage or another, and impossible to think of a job in which at least one of them is not relevant. For this reason, the ‘big five’ actually constitute hundreds of interview questions.
Once you’ve learned how to answer the ‘big five’ questions, you will be able to respond to many other questions because there is a great deal of overlap amongst them. For example, if you can answer the basic question, ‘What makes you a good team player?’ you should also be able to respond to a range of similar team player questions, including:
• How do you like working in a team?
• Do you consider yourself a good team player?
• Describe your ideal team.
• What does it take to be an effective team player?
However, be aware that, while learning how to respond to one generic question allows you to answer many similar questions, this does not mean you will be able to answer every conceivable question asked. It’s up to you to be diligent and look for questions within the genre that may be slightly different or unexpected. Here are the ‘big five’ questions and how you can answer them as well as related questions in a job interview setting.
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1. Answering a ‘team player’ question
Sample Question 1: Are you a good team player? Can you give us examples of you demonstrating team player capabilities?
Answer: Yes, I consider myself to be an effective team player. In my previous job I was part of a team of four people who were responsible for paying the salaries, including overtime and bonuses, of approximately 2000 employees.
When I first started work in the team, there were communication problems between several team members. As well as affecting our performance, these problems were straining relations between certain members of the team. After several weeks, I thought that if we introduced more regular meetings and a rotating chair, communications might improve. When I made this suggestion, the team members agreed to it and, to make a long story short, the new meeting format turned out to be a success. Both communications and performance improved.
I also demonstrated my team player capabilities by making a point of acknowledging my colleagues’ opinions and contributions, as well as helping team members when they were having problems. I think when you’re willing to help others; they’ll help you when you need it in return—and that can only be good for the team. I also made a point of sharing all information I thought my colleagues needed to know. I would mention even seemingly unimportant information such as individuals griping about their pay and minor mishaps with the software because often it can be the little things that cause big problems down the line.
According to my colleagues, my presence in the team led to improved communications amongst team members, as well as with our clients, which contributed significantly to our overall performance. In particular, our error rate was halved within two months.
Remember that, unless the interviewer has specifically told you that the company is placing a great deal of emphasis on hiring someone with effective team player skills, chances are that you would not use every aspect of the above answer in response to a single question. You may decide to use parts of it and keep the rest in reserve for a follow-up question or a question seeking information about similar skills. It is wise to over-prepare and even wiser to know when to stop. The same principle applies to the rest of the ‘big five’ job interview questions.
2. Answering a planning and organizing question
Sample Question 2: Can you give us an example of when you had to plan and organize an important event or work related activity? What steps did you take?
Answer: When I was working in the administration support unit for Enoch Paint Enterprises, I was responsible for planning a broad range of activities ranging from the timely ordering of paint supplies to security, building maintenance and assisting departments and managers with basic infrastructure needs.
Juggling all these activities simultaneously meant I had to plan my work in great detail as well as be very well organized.
There was one time when we had to install new security systems and new computer graphics software, as well as answering the multiple requests made by our clients. In order to deal with all of this, I needed to diarize my work on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and ensure that I continually kept up to date with what everyone else was doing. I made sure I attended as many meetings as I could and kept my ear to the ground. Given the multiple tasks I had to complete, I found it important to prioritize my work according to the needs of the organization, as opposed to the needs of a few individuals. Getting the new security systems in place had to come before some of the requests made by managers. And, finally, it was important to learn how to say ‘no’ to some requests. In my view, a good planner knows how much is enough. Taking on more work than one can handle only leads to poor-quality service or even failure to do the work.
As well as learning a great deal about what it takes to maintain an organization in terms of infrastructure support, one of the great outcomes of my actions was that my clients rated my service as ‘very high’ for three years running, which gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
3. Answering an interpersonal communication question
Sample Question 3: Can you give us an example of when you had to communicate a complex and sensitive issue? How did you go about it?
Answer: When I was working for Magellan, I was on the team that was responsible for introducing a new performance appraisal system for all of the crew on our ship. Working on this project, I was often required to communicate complex and sensitive information to individuals and groups. I’d like to emphasize that performance appraisals were an extremely sensitive issue because people’s pay was being attached to the results.
I was successful in communicating the relevant information because I adhered to a number of sound interpersonal communication principles—principles that I have successfully implemented in the past. For example, I made a point of taking people’s sensitivities into account and addressing them early on in our conversations. I avoided any form of jargon, and often assumed that my audience had very little prior knowledge about the issues at hand. I used positive, nonthreatening body language—especially when I was confronted by the skeptics who belittled the program despite their lack of knowledge about it. I also acknowledged other people’s opinions and never made disparaging comments about suggestions, no matter how outlandish they were.
Furthermore, I always made the effort to consult with key stakeholders before finalizing decisions. The very fact that you make the effort to consult and explain the parameters within which you have to work often minimizes levels of dissatisfaction, even though people may not entirely agree with you.
As a result of my efforts, opposition to the program was virtually non-existent. The crew demonstrated a constructive attitude and gave it their best. As a result, we were able to successfully implement the program within our time-frame and budget.
4. Coping with change in the workplace
Sample Question 4: Tell us about a time you had to learn new things about your job. How did you cope?
Answer: When I working for Northern Legions, senior management decided to invest heavily in new technology which was designed to improve quality and save us a great deal of time. This new technology involved an array of new equipment, software and work procedures, and represented a sea change in how I performed my duties.
Initially, all of us were slightly daunted at the grand scale of the changes; however, I soon realized that the changes were inevitable if our company was to remain competitive.
I also quickly came to the realization that, if I was to remain a valued member of the company, I would need to quickly learn how to work under the new regime. This realization ensured that I embraced the changes enthusiastically. Whereas some of my colleagues saw it as a burden, I saw it as the way of the future—which is how I’ve come to view change generally. As well as attending all the required training sessions,
I attended extra ones as well. I studied hard, asked questions and gained as much experience as I could. I soon became the acknowledged expert in certain areas, and people started coming to me for advice.
As a result of our efforts, the new technology was successfully implemented. My team was working with the new technology within the timelines and budget allocated to us. And I learned a whole new way of doing things.
5. Providing effective customer service (including internal customers)
Sample Question 5: Can you give us a recent example of when you had to provide good customer service? How did you go about it?
Answer: A recent example of being required to give consistently high levels of customer service was when I was working in the accounts section of Benson Ventures. My duties involved dealing with both internal customers—that is, the various departmental managers—as well as external customers, including people who owed us money and accounts that we needed to pay.
The steps I took to ensure that I was providing consistently good customer service were often the same for both the internal and external customers. Experience has taught me that customer service principles are universal. A good example of this was when I was dealing with our departmental managers. I never made the mistake of assuming I knew what they needed from me, even though we had worked together for several years. Things change and one has to keep up with those changes in order to provide good levels of service. At our meetings, I always made the point of finding out what all our managers were doing and what their upcoming projects were. If I knew something was coming up, I could plan for it and thus ensure good service. I also made sure that I had a detailed understanding of all our new services and products, and how these could benefit all our customers. For example, the acquisition of a new database allowed me to provide managers with much more up-to-date detail about our customers.
As a result of this process, we were able to draw up a set of service delivery agreements with the various managers which gave us relevant guidelines and customer service targets. These service delivery targets played an important role in terms of our section receiving consistently positive feedback from our managers and avoiding redundancy.
Now it’s your turn: If this article has been helpful to you, please don’t hesitate to let friends in your social and career network know about it by sharing it with them. Have you been in a job interview before? How has your experience as a job-seeker in the labor market been so far? What are the different kinds of questions you have encountered in a job interview in time past? Share your thoughts and contributions in the comments section below.
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