As large companies modernise their recruiting processes, potential job candidates can find themselves subject to a wide variety of weird and wonderful interview methods. One of the more popular trends you may encounter during your job hunt is speed interviewing – and if you are invited to such an event, you need to make sure you have done your preparation.
What is Speed Interviewing?
As the name suggests, the idea of a speed interview comes from the concept of speed dating, and the format is pretty similar. A number of stations are set up that candidates move between, with the interviewer at each station asking questions on a particular theme. Some companies prefer this approach for several reasons.
Mainly, it is the belief that hiring managers make decisions on potential employees straight away. “The human brain is capable of making instant judgement with great precision,” says popular psychology author Malcolm Gladwell, citing academic research. “A decision made in the blink of an eye can be just as correct as months of mental analysis”.
Also, the time restraints – the interviews are typically structured in 10 minute or 15-minute slots – can pose a different challenge for candidates. Interviewers are keen to see how they respond under pressure, and the emphasis is on getting your answers across quickly but clearly.
Don’t panic too much though. This article details some common sample questions that you may be asked in a speed interview, as well as some examples of how to answer them.
What to Expect
Before you answer any questions, you should prepare just as you would for a conventional interview. The only difference is that the smaller details become more important – especially your appearance.
In a speed interview environment, first impressions really do count. Make sure you are dressed appropriately, well-groomed and you greet each of your interviewer with a firm handshake and eye contact. Remember their name when you are talking to them, and ensure your body language is positive.
Additionally, don’t turn up without having done any research on the company or the wider industry; even though the questions may be more direct, interviewers can tell pretty quickly when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Treat the whole thing like you would any other interview.
David Ciccarelli, CEO of web business Voices, says that the speed interviews his company conducts are structured into four stations. These are some of the typical questions they – and many companies – might ask.
What has your job search been like so far?
This is particularly tricky question to answer – especially as an opener. It can be difficult to fathom what exactly your interviewer is trying to figure out; are you a desperate no-hoper that nobody else will touch? Are you in high-demand from other organisations? Or are they trying to decipher how flexible they can be with their potential offer?
The truth is, there’s not really a right or wrong answer to this – it depends on your circumstances and the company’s circumstances, such as how quickly they need someone to fill the position or how quickly you need to get a paycheque. But what’s certain is that companies are not trying to trip you up with this question – especially in a speed interview setting where the likelihood is they need staff quickly.
“The question is beneficial to both the employer and the candidate,” says HR guru Joe Humphries. “It’s important for recruiters to know how quickly they need to move, especially if you’re a strong candidate”.
Answer: “I’m interviewing, but your company is among my top choices; how soon would you like someone to start?”
How are you selecting your next company or position? What’s important to you?
When companies ask this question, they’re trying to find out if your values align with theirs, and if as a result you would be a good fit for them. To answer it successfully, explain your goals in relation to the position you are applying for.
You should prepare for this in advance, by going through the requirements and specifications of the job listing and seeing how they are applicable to what you are looking for. For example, if the role is quite autonomous and requires you to work alone, you can say that you are seeking more responsibility to challenge yourself. Be sincere, and consider how your goals can benefit the company.
Answer: “I want to work for a company that has a commitment to sustainability, and I know this is something you consider in every project you undertake. Working here would allow me to satisfy my interest in growing sustainability efforts, and my experience developing metrics can be useful to propel the company’s efforts forward”.
What has been your most creative achievement at work?
This is a popular interview question, but the twist here is that you’re very restricted in the time you have to tell your story. It’s also a broad question that can be subjectively approached – not only do you have to tell a story, but you have to explain why you consider it creative - a difficult juggling act in such a short timeframe.
For a start, keep the actual story short – skip the details. And offer some potential value to the company with your answer; demonstrate how your creative thinking could translate to your new role.
Answer: “In my retail supervisory role I was able to streamline the number of products that we needed to keep on our shelves, by creating and implementing a new inventory system. This allowed us to track the number and type of items sold seasonally more effectively, and make our stock purchasing process more efficient”.
What is your relationship with your current boss like?
As interview questions go, this is one of the more loaded ones, where what you don’t say is probably just as important as what you do. Careers expert Alison Doyle claims employers are trying to ascertain your perception of authority with this line of enquiry, and you how deal with it. Alternatively, author James Innes argues that your interviewer is trying to better understand your intentions for leaving.
Either way, it’s important not to be negative – even if you hated your boss. Firstly, it doesn’t reflect well professionally, and secondly it suggests that it might be you that’s actually the problem. That said, you don’t need to make him or her out to be the messiah either; instead, focus your answer on the positive things that you learned from them – the things that you can apply to your new role.
Answer: “Our relationship was based on strong communication and finding the best solutions for the company, even when we disagreed on certain topics. I learnt a lot from her, especially about how to manage people across departments using diplomacy, and feel I could apply those lessons to my new role”.
How would you describe professional behaviour?
Again, this question is about assessing your compatibility with the company. Do your standards and ethics match up with the company? Would you be a good fit for their culture?
This can be broken down into simple things that say a lot about your professionalism. If a meeting is at 10am, do you show up at 10, or at 5 to 10? When you’re on your phone, do you take it somewhere private so as not to disturb people? If something’s not urgent, do you rely on email? These are small behavioural points but they say a lot about you, especially in a workplace context.
Answer: “I’m a hard worker, so I get in early and stay until my goals are accomplished. I prioritize the more important tasks, and delegate the rest. I can work with the objectives of a task and figure out the mechanics by myself, or in collaboration with the relevant people. I also know the importance of effective communication, both with my boss and my team members, as otherwise things can get done twice or not at all.”
Tell me about your last performance appraisal – where were you most disappointed?
Innes claims that this is a thinly veiled attempt to get you to admit your own shortcomings, as appraisals generally focus more on areas of improvement. If you didn’t have performance reviews, don’t just say that as it totally misses the point of the question – offer instead what you believe your own shortcomings to be.
Don’t just say “I’m rubbish at this and this” though – present your weaknesses as strengths. If you were told you need to be more vocal in meetings, say that you have taken this on board and you are working on it, but that you also see the value in letting other people speak and listening to their ideas before formulating your own.
Answer: “My manager felt that I was spending too much time explaining how to tackle technical issues to other staff, and that they were becoming reliant on me. However, I feel that this is further proof that I am ready to step up to a management position, hence why I am applying for this role”.
Have you met the other candidates? Who would you say is the strongest?
This is a brilliant question and one that can only really be asked in a speed interview environment. It’s clever because there are a wide range of responses, and each one can tell you a lot about the candidate.
The most obvious answer would be “I’ve met them but I believe I am the strongest”. It emits self-belief and confidence in your own ability, but you’ll need to quantify it, and the fact is you can’t. It’s also the answer that every other person in the room will probably give – and all for the same reason too.
At the same time, saying that you were impressed by candidate X is akin to telling the interviewer you are not the best person for the job, and that they should hire them instead.
Answer: The safest option is to disassociate yourself from the competitive nature of the question. Reiterate that you are only focused on what you can do for the company and how you can do it. And finally, concede that if there is someone better qualified and better suited to the position now, you will go away and work on improving your skills in case a position may arise in the future.
Once the process is over, the company may address you again as a group or maybe even give you a collective tour of the office. Each organisation will likely have their own way of informing you, but don’t be afraid to follow up and ask for feedback (especially if you’re not successful).
Regardless of if you get the job or not, use the whole thing as a learning experience too. The questions are designed to be more probing and direct because you don’t have the time to explain your answers as thoroughly as in a traditional interview; use it as an opportunity to develop your communication skills. You’re also getting the chance to make a first impression several times over; this is an invaluable opportunity to hone your technique going forward – use it to your benefit.
Have you experienced a speed interview before? How did you find it? Would you recommend it? Let us know in the comments below…