So you’ve prepared well for your interview – you’ve given great examples of your experience, you’ve demonstrated your passion for the role and you’ve even nailed a couple of the more tricky questions. Once the interviewer has asked you all their questions, they are likely to turn to you near the end of the interview and ask what you want to know. And when the tables are turned, it’s good to be prepared.

People might sometimes see job interviews as a sort of examination; a one sided line of questioning for the interviewer to find out if you are the right candidate for them. But think again! The interview should allow both parties to find out if they’re a good match. Of course the company needs to find out if you have the skills needed for this particular role, but this is also the time for you to find out if this is a company you would like to work for, and a role you would enjoy.

By this point you should have done a fair bit of research on the company in your interview preparation and you probably have a relatively good overview, but this is your chance to delve a bit deeper.

There are two opportunities here – firstly, you get to show that you have come prepared, and that you’ve done your research and secondly, this is a great chance to get a better understanding of the role  and the company that you are potentially going to be working for.

Not having any questions to ask at the end of your interview could send out a message that you haven’t done your homework, or that you aren’t particularly interested in the role – and you don’t want to fall at that last hurdle.

You could even say asking questions at your interview is just as important as answering them.  Here are a few sample questions from us, but we know you’re an imaginative bunch, so we’re sure you can come up with some far better examples when it comes down to it!

What is the top priority for the team and for this position within the first few months?

This is a chance to get more information on what is expected from you right from the start. This should also a good way of finding out expectations in general and what direction the team is taking their strategy in the near future.

What are the key skills and abilities necessary for someone to succeed in this job?

Your interview is likely to be with someone from the area of work you are applying for; therefore hearing their views on the most important skills can be both useful and interesting. This may also give you information that you can explore and relate back to in a potential second interview.

What has the employee previously in this position gone on to do? / Is this a new position?

Finding out what the previous person in this position has moved onto is a good way of finding out and move the conversation in to potential career opportunities. If this is a new role, you might find out more about the company’s plans for the future, i.e. are they expanding?

A personal question to your interviewer – e.g. what do you enjoy the most about your job? What is the best thing about working here? What is the most exciting project you’ve been part of here?

This is a great way of finding out first-hand about the culture of the company and the department, and generally, people really enjoy talking about themselves, so a question like this will hopefully yield some really interesting information!

The key is to ask questions that are relevant to the company and role you are applying for. Preparing and asking a few well-suited, knowledgeable questions will help you leave a strong, long lasting impression when you walk out of the interview.

We remember the great questions as well as the great answers.

Just when you thought you had the face-to-face interview technique perfected, a new breed of interview has arrived: the digital interview.  The concept may be unfamiliar, and even seem a little daunting, but ten years ago, even telephone interviews were fairly rare, so we’d like to spend a bit of time talking you through how to make the best of the experience should you come across it.

First, some background. HireVue is the online platform that Penguin Random House uses as a first stage tool to interview prospective candidates. We don’t use it for every role, but managers are using it more and more regularly in recruitment. From our perspective, it’s a way to potentially shortlist more people, and enable candidates to support their written application by expanding on their experience and skillsets. For candidates, there’s a benefit in that it can be done in the comfort of their own home, outside of office hours, and particularly for those who live outside of London, it’s a saved train fare.

The most common way we use our platform is a non-live environment where candidates can log on and record their answers through webcam on a computer or other device such as a tablet or even smartphone (so you can pretty much take the interview anywhere you like!). There is also a live version of the platform which is set up in the same way to a Skype call, but we don’t use this feature very often.

You will see the questions appear on screen, with time to prepare (and will have a non-recorded practice question to have a go at before you start the interview) and then you answer them by speaking into your webcam. You should prepare for the experience in the same way that you’d prepare for a face-to-face interview, so do think back to relevant examples of your experience as well as thinking about what interests you about the role and company. We also recommend you feel the part by dressing smartly but comfortably (have a look at our guide to this here) and make sure you seat yourself somewhere comfortable, quiet and free of distractions. It will help you feel more relaxed and allow you to focus on the task at hand.

Here’s what to expect from the process:

  1. Either there will be a link in the job advert to take you directly to the interview, or if you have been successful in making it on to a shortlist, you will be emailed one after you have applied for a role
  2. Once you click the link, it takes you through to the HireVue site. Here, you will be guided to your interview
  3. As mentioned above, you will have a practice question to get you used to the format, but once you start the real interview, you won’t be able to go back and re-record your answers
  4. Once you start the interview, you will be given the question, some time to prepare your answer (usually around 30 seconds) and then a time limit to answer (usually around 3 minutes). Don’t feel you have to use up all this time – you can skip to the next question once you are finished
  5. We will then assess your interview and will be in contact to let you know how we would like to proceed – the stage after that would be a face-to-face interview.

And it’s as simple as that! We can appreciate it may be a little different not having an interviewer to talk back to you, but we hope that, should you go through the process, you’ll find it a positive and straightforward experience.

We hope you have found this introduction useful – if you have any questions about the process, we would love to hear from you – so please do leave us a comment below and we would be more than happy to help.

We’ve all been in an interview where someone has asked us a question which made us freeze up – either because we didn’t see it coming, or because we don’t even understand it! We’ve picked out a few that some candidates have struggled with below:

Q1: What motivates you?

Q2: Where do you think your weaknesses lie?

Q3: Talk us through a time you feel best demonstrates your use of initiative

It’s useful to take a step back for a moment and think about what these questions are really asking you. Motivation is around what makes you get out of bed in the morning, come to work and do a great job. If we ask you for a weakness, we’re asking you to reflect on yourself and where you think you can improve – it’s never a trick question – we all have development areas. With initiative, we want to hear where you’ve had to think on your feet or outside the box to solve a problem or perhaps where you’ve been proactive and made an improvement to something.

Q4: How do you think Penguin Random House could improve?

Q5: What areas of our market do you think we are missing out on?

Q6: Talk us through something our competitors have done which has impressed you.

Particularly if you are new to publishing, these can potentially be intimidating questions. How are you supposed to know? Well, the answer is, you’re not – we might ask you a question we don’t even know the answer to! All we want to know is that you’ve got some commercial awareness, you know what we do and what our competitors are up to, and you can use what research you’ve done to come up with some informed thoughts. We also like to be challenged, so please feel free to say if you think something we’re doing could be better!

It’s impossible to predict exactly what you’re going to be asked in an interview, but you can prepare for your interview in a way that equips you to address the core competencies you’re likely to be asked to demonstrate. A good place to start is looking at the job advert, and if you have it, the job spec. Look through the skills asked for and think about examples of where you have demonstrated those abilities.

If you do draw a blank, or aren’t quite sure what your interviewer is getting at, you can ask for clarification, don’t be afraid to pause and think, or you can even come back to that question at the end.

So the next time you’re asked a seemingly impossible question; stay calm and remember that there is no such thing as the perfect answer.

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