How to answer the difficult interview questions that keep cropping up.

We all know how important it is to prepare for an interview. No matter what type of job you’re interviewing for, certain questions crop up without fail and some of these are particularly tricky to answer. Employers are inundated with great applicants these days, pushing them to ask particularly tough questions and to expect even more from candidates. Asking the same questions repeatedly of course means that interviewers are likely to hear many similar answers. With so many people on the hunt for a job these days, how can you ensure that you stand out from the crowd, while still sounding genuine?

A good first step is to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and consider what they’re trying to find out from a job interview. When they say “tell me about yourself”, a savvy interviewer does not simply want an open-ended description of your life. They’re really hoping to listen closely to who you are as a person and read between the lines to work out whether you are suited to the job at hand. So make a mental note of interview questions that come up a lot or that you find particularly difficult. Think about these questions – and what the interviewer is really trying to find out by asking them – so that you can prepare your answer accordingly. The key is to know what they want and work out how to show that you have it.

Tell me about yourself.

A standard interview starter, answering this question seems simple. Talking about yourself is easy, so you can just tell them about your life in general until they tell you to stop, right? Well while that might be an easier option, you would be missing out on your first opportunity to sell yourself. By asking this question, your interviewer doesn’t really want to know your life story. They want to know what you have to offer that is relevant to the job. This is your opportunity to talk about strengths, skills and experiences you have that equip you for this job. The opportunity to prepare this answer in advance therefore is a valuable one and should not be missed! What is the interviewer likely to want from a candidate for this particular job? Plan how you can show that you have these qualities by giving the interviewer a short snapshot of who you are as a person and what relevant experience you’ve had.

What is your weakness?

Thrown in with the obvious interview goal – to sell yourself – talking about your weaknesses understandably goes against the grain. We are programmed to take every opportunity to accentuate the positive in an interview. This question therefore offers a tempting opportunity to dress a positive up as a negative. Saying that your weakness is that you “work too hard” however may well do more harm than good. A smart interviewer will see straight through such fake weaknesses and you will have lost an opportunity to tell your potential employer a bit more about yourself. This question gives you the opportunity to show awareness of yourself, understanding of the importance of working on weaknesses and the ability to work to improve them. A great answer to this question therefore will state a genuine negative and then discuss steps you are taking to work on this problem.

Why should I hire you?

This famous last question sums up everything you have discussed in the interview so far. The interviewer’s aim with this question is simple; they want to know what you’ve got that the other candidates haven’t. Preparation is vital here. This is not preparation that you can do at home however, but rather requires attention throughout the interview. Really listen to the interviewer, so that you can build up as good an idea as possible of a day in this position, what they are looking for in a candidate and the company’s methodology in general. It is only once you have worked out exactly what they want that you can tailor your answer to show that you’re the very best fit that they will find. Show that you understand the job by running through what the job entails and explaining why you’re equipped for these tasks. Prove that you are motivated by discussing the company’s mission and underlining why it interests you. The employer will see that you are interested, dedicated and would fit well into their company.

Did the above questions ring a bell from past interviews? Maybe others crop up over and over again for you. Whatever the common questions may be, it is clear that the key to great answers is preparation. Think about the questions from an interviewer’s point of view. Work out what other questions they are implying with the question that they actually ask you. To show that you’re better suited for the job than all the other applicants, you need to work out what they want and be able to prove that you have it. It’s impossible to prepare for all interview questions, but you’d be a fool not to prepare for the ones you’re bound to get!

The Google+ revamp: Was design the problem anyway?

In the relatively short time since its launch last year, Google+ has built up a staggering following, which now stands at 170 million. This is an incredibly impressive growth rate and one which wholly reflects Google’s intentions for its flagship social media platform; to rival the giant in the field – Facebook. Despite its increasing popularity however, Google+ has been largely criticised since its launch, with user experience experts claiming that the network is clunky, poorly designed and difficult to navigate.

Perhaps it was such criticism that led Google to unveil an updated design of Google+ last week. The aim of the new design was to create “a simpler, more beautiful Google”, in keeping with the design of Google’s other services, creating a seamless Google experience. The main change brought about by the new design is increased potential for customisation. So what exactly did they change?

Design

Well the new Google+ follows another social media redesign fairly closely; that is of course Facebook’s timeline, which was introduced late last year. Although timeline has also received its share of criticism, some elements are immensely popular. Namely, the cover photo and larger photos on profiles. The $1 billion sale of Instagram to Facebook last week shows just how highly photos are valued these days by Facebook and its users (more on that later). It is a smart move therefore that Google have echoed the cover photo and pictures in their new design. Increased white spaces and greater focus on images make Google+ both modern and personal. Another feature is hidden icons, which show up when the cursor hovers over them, de-cluttering the layout.

Customisation

Another new addition is the navigation ribbon on the left hand side of the page. Icons such as “Home”, “Profile”, “Photos”, Hangouts” and “Games” can be rearranged by dragging and dropping according to the user’s preferences. The new design aims to increase its appeal in this way, by facilitating greater variation on the site. Further customization is also available in apps, which users can tailor to suit their needs.

Interaction

A small part of the increased white space on Google+ is allocated to an “explore” section. Not unlike Twitter, Google now shows users current trends. This section also includes a list of people “You may know” and things “You might like”, increasing scope for links and connections throughout the site.

Feedback on Google’s new layout sprung up all over the web in a matter of days. Many people feel that it makes good use of real estate and even say that it’s better looking than Facebook. However there are as ever those who disagree. Some think that good as Google’s efforts may be, it’s simply too late in the day for it to catch up with Facebook. The new design also most definitely misses a trick. Mobile is no longer the future, but is sharing a very substantial part of the present as far as internet time – and social media in particular – are concerned. The fact that Google haven’t even updated the mobile version of the service therefore is nothing less than short-sighted.

The increased white space on Google+ has also come under fire.  What Google intended to be refreshing and in keeping with the design of their other features has been widely criticized as a waste of space and a poorly thought out design. Social media critics have even gone as far as to mock the white space, with “#whitespace” trending on Twitter and a meme suggesting uses for this space becoming increasingly popular.

Such criticism of a seemingly well thought out re-design begs the question; was Google+’s problem really design in the first place?

Well opinions on Google+ have been split since the very beginning, but never to the extent that people don’t try it. We can tell just by looking at its insane growth rate that the problem for Google+ was never one of attracting new members. Some say that it’s less to do with Google+ itself and more to do with the social media market. Do we really need a new social network? Well the recent market value of Instagram alone shows that some new networks are starting up just fine! Content isn’t a problem either – thanks to the clear link to a pretty successful search engine, the Google “+1” button is popping up all over the place and is getting used, more in fact than any other social network promotion device.

So that leaves design. Just analysing the visual appearance of course misses out a vital aspect of design, one that Google engineers are very conscious of; their attention to coding is impeccable. We all know that Google have huge control of the internet and they know exactly how to code a site. Google+ is no exception and its speed is impressive. This, however is not the sort of design that appeals to the masses, who are unlikely to notice that they can post a fraction of a second faster on Google+ than they could on Facebook. In this day and age, it is appearance (online, at least!) that is vital. With smart phones, tablets, Instagram and so on, we take photos of anything and everything, making even the mundane look beautiful. So perhaps Google has just gone too far with the simplified design of its flagship.

It seems that there are simply too many factors at play to attribute problems for Google+ to design alone. Criticism is rife every time Facebook adapts its design, but that doesn’t deter users. Perhaps we are just expecting too much too fast from the huge name that is Google. After all, it really is only a matter of months since the launch, which isn’t at all long for a network aiming for such a broad appeal. Facebook was not built in a day, after all. Keep at it, Google, you’ve a way to go yet!

How to hone your telephone skills

In this day and age, new methods of communication are popping up all the time. More and more people use the internet, email, social media… but one old favourite just doesn’t go away. You’re hard put to find an adult in the western world these days who doesn’t have access to a phone and use it on a regular basis. Try as the competition might, the telephone won’t be giving up its share of the communications market any time soon.

Whether you’re trying to find something out, get your message across, or sell an idea, product or event, many work hours are spent on the phone for jobs in all sectors.  Hearing a voice on the phone is very often the first communication a customer has with a company, so effective phone communications skills are essential. For this reason, companies should pay just as much attention to the way in which their employees speak on the phone as they would to their website, product or customers. In short, the impression given over the phone is a vital component of the brand – don’t neglect it!

But talking on the phone is easy, why should you think about making any changes?

I spoke in a blog recently about the importance of body language, appearance and the way you speak in first impressions. First impressions are made over the phone just like they are in person, but two of these three most important factors are of course removed from the equation – meaning that the way that you speak becomes absolutely crucial. First meeting someone over the phone, you must use your voice, tonality and choice of words to build a rapport with your contact. So how exactly can you convey your professionalism and reliability through your voice alone? And what might you currently be doing to hinder your efforts?

Remember that a phone call, unlike many other modern methods of communication, is in real time. You can’t edit and rearrange your call as you go along, like you could with an email. This means that preparation is important. Know what you are aiming to find out, sell or communicate and how you are going to do it before you start dialling. If you are making it up as you go along, this will come across. Spontaneity may make you sound hesitant, underprepared and unprofessional and although occasional “ums” and other utterances that give us time to think are natural, try to keep them to a minimum. Just as you would proof-read an email or blog before clicking send, prepare so that you are ready for your conversation before you deliver it. Start off with a clear thoroughly and thorough introduction so that your addressee knows which name to match to your voice from the outset, following on with a clear message.

Last week, I called an international phone company to sort out a problem with a contract. It was an urgent issue and I hoped that a competent, attentive worker would address me from the other end of the line. Unfortunately, that was not the reality. The lady who answered the phone seemed rushed, impatient and disinterested. As she brightly said goodbye and wished me a good day however, I wondered if she had any idea of the impression she had left on me. A lot of the problems that I had with the aforementioned phone call can come across completely subconsciously. Take a deep breath before answering the phone. You want to sound energised, enthusiastic and interested so that your addressee knows you are taking them seriously. Deep breathing will also help you to pace your speech; there’s nothing worse than rushing or mumbling (or both!) making you seem nervous and difficult to understand. Pay attention to how you speak. It can be easy to concentrate on the other person (they are the one that you want something from, after all!) and to forget about your own speech. A good exercise if you feel you are guilty of this is to record a conversation you have – after getting the permission of the other person, of course!  Think about the pace of your speech, the clarity of your message and your tonality. If you have a strong regional accent, you may want to tone this down so that you are as clear as possible on the phone. It has been proven that we are subconsciously more likely to sympathise with those with accents closer to our own, so this may help you build up a rapport over the phone.

The flip side of listening to your own speech is of course listening to the speech of the other person. You owe them your full attention, so put everything else down before picking up the phone. If you don’t, your distraction will probably come across, whether or not you realise it. Now the next point may seem obvious, but listen to what they tell you! It can be tempting to concentrate on what you’re going to say next, but if you rush into your response, it may seem that you lack interest in what the other person is saying. Pausing before responding will show that you care and are taking them seriously.

All in all, the best advice to follow if you want to come across well on the phone is to be prepared and on the ball. Be aware of all the little aspects of speech that may add to the overall impression you give. This way, you will be able to use your voice and word choice actively to create a good rapport over the phone – one which might well develop into a good business rapport for the future!

Good Luck!

Help! I have a really bad boss.

Did you know that many of us spend around a third of our lives at work?

We all know that our boss has a huge impact on our working life, so it follows that bosses have a great effect on our lives and happiness in general. The ideal boss is competent, kind and earns and deserves the trust and respect of their employees. Bosses have the power to determine which tasks we take on at work, decide how much is expected of us and – of course – to ultimately fire us. Feeling under-appreciated, mistreated or bullied by a boss can leave you feeling weary, frustrated, unmotivated and most of all unhappy. It is no surprise therefore, that being faced with a bad boss is cited as one of the main reasons why employees leave their jobs. So what coping tactics can be employed when you are faced with a bad boss? How do you decide that enough is enough and it’s time to take action?

So you’ve just started to pick up on your boss’s behaviour. Perhaps he makes snide remarks or is unkind and critical regarding your efforts at work. Stay calm and take a moment to think. Have you been working hard recently and doing all that is expected of you? If the answer is no, then maybe it is you that needs to change your attitude. If it is a yes, however, then it sounds like your boss is out of line. Keep track of your achievements. Perhaps this is a temporary blip. Can you solve the problem by highlighting what you have done well recently? If you have only noticed your boss make a few unkind remarks, shining the light on how well you’ve been doing might do the trick. Maintain professionalism at all times. It may be tempting to respond to unkind words with more of the same, but this will do you absolutely no favours and there really is no need. Remember that you haven’t been doing anything wrong, so remaining professional and carrying on as you always do will stand you in the best stead should matters get worse. Pay attention to your boss’s behaviour. Should his jibes continue to the point that you feel that it’s more than a blip, it’s time to do something about it. The last thing you want is to let it slide so that your boss thinks that they can get away with treating you (and other employees) like this.

The next question to ask yourself is: Does he realise he’s bad? Think about what exactly it is that your boss does badly. Once you have identified exactly what the problems are, it is much easier to try to solve them. Let’s consider some examples.

The hands-off boss. When you approach a job raring to go and eager to learn, there’s nothing worse than feeling that your boss neglects to give you direction. This sort of bad boss may really be making an honest mistake. Perhaps they are just trying to give you space to learn and develop through your own experiences. If you feel that you need more from them however, take action ASAP. The majority of problems that bosses have with their PAs – and vice versa – are down to a lack of communication. Talk to your boss, but choose the time wisely. NEVER approach your boss to discuss a sensitive issue in a meeting, when he’s in a rush or in company. You want to have his full attention in a calm environment. Tell your boss what help and direction you need, but be careful not to criticise him. He’s much more likely to listen and make an effort to change if you keep the focus on you and your needs.

The bully. If your boss calls you names, intimidates or is critical, the chances are he knows exactly what he’s doing. As ever, stay professional. Focus on things that you know you do well – don’t let this bad boss knock your confidence. You deserve a boss who helps you grow in your job and creates a professional working environment. If this isn’t what you’re getting, remember that you are not the one in the wrong. Try talking to your boss. Even though this idea may be daunting, your boss deserves the opportunity to make changes before you take greater action or seek out his superior. If talking makes no difference, it may be time to talk to someone higher up. Be very careful here. Criticism of your boss could come across as criticism of his boss, so be objective and professional. This conversation could have a great effect on your future in the company – how you are considered by those in another department you could be transferred to, for example – so professionalism is an absolute must. The HR department might be able to give you a second opinion and help you plan what you are going to say. Your boss is likely to react badly to the news that you have gone to his boss, so make sure that you have exhausted all other options beforehand.

Hopefully taking action and talking things over with the right people should solve most problems with bad bosses, whether it leads to a change in their ways, or perhaps to you being transferred elsewhere. If you end up parting ways with your boss, don’t burn bridges. Be gracious and learn from this experience. Think about what exactly this boss did that made him bad and how it made you feel. You can take this information with you to learn from should you ever become a boss. Remember, you deserve to feel at ease at work, in an environment where your self esteem and competences are nurtured. If your boss doesn’t make you feel this way, then don’t just let it go!