Barry Whelan Excel Recruitment

Question time: Asking questions in a job interview


Candidates are usually comfortable answering lots of different types of questions in job interviews, but often forget to ask a few of their own. Excel CEO Barry Whelan discusses one of the most overlooked parts of job interviews and sets out a handy guide to the right and wrong questions to ask.

Job interviews can be very stressful. You need to research the company, decide how to best dress, find the office and get there on time. There is a lot going on before you even worry about the interview itself!

No wonder people breathe a sigh of relief as the interview starts to wrap up, having spent the last hour trying to come across as effortlessly brilliant while answering an employer’s tricky questions.

But remember not to let your guard down. At the end of an interview, you will still be tested and any employer will expect some interaction in the form of questions from you.

So, before you go and start asking your potential employer some carefully thought out questions about their company and the role, here are some examples of the best questions to ask and the ones to avoid.

Don’t ask: Do you have flexible working arrangements or can I work from home?

It may be tempting to ask this question, particularly if you have a tough commute or kids to drop off and pick up, however the interview is not the time to ask this. You should know the working arrangements and the hours of the position in advance of the interview. There are other ways in order to get a steer on working arrangements in the future.

Do ask: What is the company like to work for?

Here you are asking a broad question which can cover company culture, work arrangements, flexibility and retention. Getting to know a potential work environment is important in determining if you will be comfortable there and to gauge expectations. Here you will find out the level of professionalism, the interviewer’s enthusiasm for the business and important aspects of the job, like flexible working arrangements.

Don’t ask: How soon do people get promoted?

If you want to improve your chances of being recruited, asking how soon you are likely to get a promotion or raise is not the best question at interview. Firstly, how can your new employer know since you don’t work there at this point and they haven’t seen your performance or capability? It also projects a sense of entitlement that could be off-putting to an employer.

Do ask: What are the expectations of the role for the first 90 days?

A better job interview question to ask would be about the 30, 60 and 90-day expectations for the role. If you receive this information upfront, you will know whether you are meeting or exceeding the company’s expectations after you have worked there for a while. You can then use that knowledge for any performance evaluations or promotion talks later on. You will hear talk of development in this answer which will show you how soon you can expect a step up.

Don’t ask: What will my salary be?

It is extremely important to negotiate your starting salary. However, firstly, the role will have been advertised at a salary level and secondly, you should only approach this question if asked. Salary negotiation usually comes at the job offer stage and at that point everyone’s expectations have been discussed. Plus, your interviewer might not actually know the answer.

Do ask: What direction is the company headed in the next five to ten years?

A good question to ask in an interview is about the company’s short and long-term growth plans. It shows your potential employer that you have a strong interest in being part of the company. This question could also reveal whether or not there are opportunities for growth, promotion and salary improvements.

Don’t ask: How did the company start?

You don’t want to ask about the company’s origin story, competitors, products or anything else that you could and should have already researched. You will only come off as unprepared.

Do ask: What do you enjoy about working here?

A good question to ask at the end of an interview is what your interviewer thinks of the company. By asking about their favourite aspect of working there, you will get an invaluable insight into the culture and demands of the job.

Chef Job Interviews: The Do’s and Don’ts

Excel’s General Manager Shane Mclave began his career as a chef before making the move into chef and hospitality recruitment. He’s been interviewing chefs for years and has seen it all in terms of the dos and don’ts. Read his top tips for chef job interviews here-

I have now been interviewing chefs for almost as many years as I was a chef myself and I can safely say that when it comes to certain really common questions, 50% of all chefs don’t have the answers. Many chefs, while great at what they do in the kitchen, don’t have the tools they need to prove their ability to manage a kitchen in a job interview. So what are the must-haves when going for an interview, or for that matter, what do you need to know to be able to build yourself a successful career as a chef?

Know your numbers

I understand that costs will vary from restaurant to restaurant depending on what you sell but you don’t need to be an accountant to have a basic understanding of costings. This is crucial in an interview. In broad terms:

If you are selling lobster for €30 euro, which costs you €12 to make, and sell a pizza, that costs you €2.50, for €28euro it goes without saying you will make a lot more money selling pizza then you will selling lobster. This is why pizza restaurants are everywhere and lobster restaurants are not.

When it comes to food and labour cost there is no exact formula but if you follow the rough rule of “a third, a third, and a third” you’ll be headed in the right direction. Slightly better again, would be “30, 30, 40”. This means meaning no more than 30% food cost (25%-27% would be optimal) keeping labour costs 30% and the rest should cover the cost of running the business and if you’re lucky, a profit at the end of the year.

For chefs trying to keep the kitchen running at less than 30% food cost, this works more or less in reverse i.e., if a starter costs you €3.00 to make then you multiply this by 3.5 and sell it for €10.50, if something costs you €10, then you sell it for €35.

With the numbers taken care of now comes the most important thing of all-

The Food

It’s amazing how many interviews I have sat through with chefs who don’t mention food at all. While HACCP and how you work in a team are important, when people hire a chef they above all want someone with a genuine love and passion for food and who’ll bring that enthusiasm into their kitchen. If you don’t have a passion for food perhaps you need a change of career or at least a change in kitchens.

I always ask chefs in interview ‘what the last restaurant that you ate in?’ or ‘what do you like to cook at home if you’re entertaining?’ and it’s staggering how many times I am met with a blank stare. I’ve gotten this response when interviewing seriously established head chefs from the likes of 4* hotels. Personally, I’m far more interested and excited to interview a second-year commis chef who goes foraging on their days off or grows herbs and vegetables at home and the same will be true for any potential employer so be sure to make the food central to everything you discuss in an interview.

Dress for success

Just because you wear whites all week doesn’t mean you can’t dress to impress in an interview. All good chefs are neat and clean in the kitchen and if you can’t groom yourself or dress in a professional manner then what are the chances won’t keep the kitchen neat and tidy or at least that is what a potential employer will think of you.

Aislinn Lea, Head of Fashion & Non-Food, Excel Recruitment

How to do a great SWOT analysis

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is a common and important part of job interviews for retail management but often interviewees can struggle with where to start or what to say. Our Head of Fashion and Non- Food Retail Aislinn Lea tells us everything we need to know..

A strong SWOT is a fantastic way of showcasing your experience and skills, along with your commercial awareness and can put you miles ahead of the other candidates. We’ve broken down each section of the SWOT and (provided handy templates) in detail here, but this blog will take you through how to approach you SWOT, what to look out for and what to avoid.

Where do I start?

Preparation is key with a SWOT. Your consultant will be able to tell you what the interviewer will be expecting- how to present it, the depth of analysis required and what store (if there’s more than one) you should conduct your analysis in. It may be a good idea to visit the store two or three times during different trading times to get a full picture of the store’s commercial day. Look at both the store and the surrounding area and visit other stores in the area, to see the differences. Make detailed notes about what you see/ don’t see and if possible, take pictures.

What am I looking for?

Break your SWOT down into the four sections and deal with each separately. For the Strengths section, break it down into store strengths and company strength and then again by customer service, visual merchandising and overall store standards. Deal with the weaknesses section in the same way. This ensures you don’t miss anything and show the interviewer you notice details while being a well-rounded manager.

The opportunities and threats section of your SWOT will come directly from your observations on both the store’s weaknesses and the surrounding area. Split this into short-term, medium-term and long-term objectives with clear, actionable suggestions on how to address/ capitalise on them. The most important thing is to keep store-specific and makes reference to the location, customer profile, local market and nearby competitors that affect the individual store directly.

How do I present it?

This will depend on the company you’re interviewing with, some will want an elaborate and engaging Powerpoint while others will simply want you to have a few notes that you then talk through verbally. Either way, use bullet points rather than chunks of text and elaborate on them at the interview. Have an action plan to hand, discussing how you would tackle what you’ve highlighted in your SWOT and a timeline.

What should I not do?

Don’t be too generic in your analysis and ensure the points you are making are specific to the store and the role you’re interviewing for. Your SWOT analysis should be conducted with the individual store’s location, demographics, resources etc. at the forefront of your mind.

Another thing I often see is people try so hard to not be overly-critical that they end up leaving out key issues. While it’s important not to be too harsh about the business or the brand, if there is an issue the interviewer is aware of but you don’t discuss, they’ll presume you missed it in your observations.

Barry Whelan Excel Recruitment

Questions you should ask in an interview by CEO of Excel Recruitment Barry Whelan

With the unemployment rate currently at 6.3% and predicted to fall even lower (RTÉ, July 2017), it’s truly a candidate’s market when it comes to looking for jobs. With this in mind, the questions you ask a potential employer in your interview become even more important to ensure you’re not wasting your time, or the interviewer’s. CEO of Excel Recruitment, Barry Whelan shares his top tips on the questions you should ask your interviewer….

Often candidates going for an interview find it difficult to ask questions of the employer- they agonize over a question to ask and either don’t ask one or ask something irrelevant. In today’s job market it is crucial when at interview to engage with the prospective employer and the only way to do that is to ask questions during the job interview.

At most interviews, you will be invited to ask questions of your interviewer. This is an important opportunity for you to learn more about the employer, and for the interviewer to further evaluate you as a job candidate. It requires some advance preparation on your part.

A job interview is an opportunity for you to learn more about a potential employer. Indeed, what you learn from an interview may determine whether or not you want the job you’re interviewing for.

Here are some guidelines for asking questions:

  • Prepare five good questions.
  • Understand that you may not have time to ask them all. Ask questions concerning the job, the company, and the industry
  • Your questions should indicate your interest in these subjects and that you have read and thought about them.

Don’t ask questions that raise warning flags- For example, asking “Would I really have to work weekends?” implies that you are not available for weekend assignments. If you are available, rephrase your question. Also, avoid initiating questions about compensation (pay, vacations, etc.) or education reimbursements. You might seem more interested in cash or time-off than the actual job.

Don’t ask questions about only one topic- People who ask about only one topic are often perceived as one dimensional.

Clarify- It’s OK to ask a question to clarify something the interviewer said. Just make sure you are listening. Asking someone to clarify a specific point makes sense. Asking someone to re-explain an entire subject gives the impression that you have problems listening or comprehending. For example, you can preface a clarifying question by saying: “You mentioned that ABC Company does …. Can you tell me how that works in practice?”

Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

The following are examples of the types of questions you might ask at your job interview-

“Can you describe for me what a work week is really like as a salesperson?”

“What career paths have others generally followed after completing the program?”

“What is a typical day (assignment) [for a position you are applying for] in your company?”

“Does the position offer exposure to other facets of your organization?”

“What other positions and/or departments will I interact with most?”

“To whom does this position report?”

“How much decision-making authority and autonomy are given to new employees?”

“How will my performance be evaluated and how often?”

“What are the opportunities for advancement?”

“Does your organization encourage its employees to pursue additional education?”

“How would you describe the organization’s culture/environment?”

“What makes your organization different from its competitors?”

“What industry-wide trends are likely to affect your organization’s strengths and weaknesses?”

Asking Questions shows an interest and engages the interviewer. It is an important part of the interview process and you shouldn’t try to wing it on the day. Most importantly, ask the questions you want to know the answer to and will help determine whether this is the job for you. Good luck!

Barry Whelan Excel Recruitment

Part 2: Interview Questions designed to trip you up! By CEO Barry Whelan

Part 2: Interview Questions designed to trip you up! By CEO Barry Whelan

Following on from Part 1 of Interview Questions designed to trip you up, CEO of Excel Recruitment takes you through more tricky questions and how best to answer them…

The best interviewers develop their ability to ask the fewest number of questions that give the most amount of information. Strong recruiters manage to get the interviewees to do all the work. The best interviewers also have the ability to gain the truth from a candidate. This can be done in two ways, ask the same question multiple ways watching out for conflicting or different answers or by asking seemingly simple questions that get the interviewee to reveal information they may have been trying to conceal

In other words: questions designed to trip you up

Can you name three of your strengths and weaknesses?

Why do they ask this? The interviewer is looking for red flags and deal breakers, such as inability to work well with colleagues and/or an inability to work under pressure.

Each job has its own unique requirements, so your answers should really show your applicable strengths, whilst each of your weaknesses should have a silver lining that indicates that negative attributes have diminished because of positive actions taken.

How does this question trip you up? You can sabotage yourself revealing either. Exposing your weaknesses can hurt you if not ultimately turned into positives while the strengths you list may not align with the skill set or work style required for the job.

What response you should give? The Interviewer wants to know that your strengths will be a direct asset to the new position and none of your weaknesses would hurt your ability to perform.

Can you tell me about yourself?

Why do they ask this? They ask to determine how you see yourself in relation to the position. The interviewer is listening for a level of confidence in how well you portray yourself through the information that is communicated. Additionally, the interviewer is listening for strong behavioural competencies which help determine a right fit with the job. If this opening answer is weak, it can be a disaster, ending an interview prematurely.

How does this question trip you up? It can tempt you to talk about your personal life, which you shouldn’t. Most interviewees are not versed in seeing this as a trick question, so they may answer by speaking from a personal perspective: ‘I have three kids, I’m married, etc.'”. Believe it or not, even the most seasoned candidate falls for this question especially when prompted by the interviewer to elaborate.

What response should you give? A focused, razor-sharp answer conveying your value to the organization and department. The employer wants to hear about your achievements broken down into two or three succinct bullet points that will set the tone of the interview. Stay sharp and convey your top strengths when answering this question.

Give the interviewer answers that highlight analytical skills, problem-solving ability, sizing up talent or leadership ability to turnaround business performance, among other things.

You need to convey behavioural traits in your response. It sets the tone for the interviewer to ask more targeted questions.

Why do you want to work here?

Why do they ask this? Interviewers ask this because they want to know what drives you the most, how well you’ve researched them, and how much you want the job.

How does this question trip you up? Clearly you want to work for the company for several reasons, you wouldn’t be attending an interview if you didn’t! However, how you list these reasons reveals a lot about what is important to you.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m not getting paid what I’m worth,” or, “I have a terrible boss,” or, “All things being equal, this commute is incredibly short” — none of which endears you to the interviewer.

You’re also being tested on your level of interest for the job.

What response are they looking for? The interviewer wants to see that you’ve taken the time to research the company and understand the industry.

They also want to know that you actually want this job (and not just any job); that you have a can-do attitude; that you are high energy; that you can make a significant contribution; that you understand their mission and goals; and that you want to be part of that mission.

Why do you want to leave your current job?

Why do they ask this? Your future boss is looking for patterns or anything negative, especially if your positions are many and short-term. They may try to determine if you currently have or had issues working with others leading to termination, if you get bored quickly in a job, or other red flags.

How does this question trip you up? No one likes talking about a job they dislike and why. If not answered diplomatically, your answer could raise further questions and doubts, or sink your chances entirely.

What response are they looking for? They are hoping that you’re seeking a more challenging position that is a better fit for your current skill set. Remember, your future boss doesn’t mind hearing that you’re particularly excited about the growth opportunity at their company.

Interview questions designed to trip you up! By CEO Barry Whelan

In the first of our new series, CEO of Excel Recruitment Barry Whelan takes you through some tricky interview questions designed to really test you and more importantly, how to ace them.



In the below examples, the interviewer ask seemingly simple questions that get the interviewee to reveal information they may have been trying to conceal; questions that break through the traditional interview noise and clutter, and get to the raw information.

How would you describe yourself in one word?

Why do they ask this? The question is likely being asked to find out your personality type, how confident you are in yourself and how you would ‘Fit’ the organisation recruiting.

How does this question trip you up? This question can be a challenge, particularly early on in the interview, because you don’t know what personality type the company is looking for and whilst there is no point pretending to be something you are not, there are also many ways (and Personality Types) to get the job done. People are multifaceted, so putting a short label on oneself can seem nearly impossible.

What response should you give? Always stick with the conservative route. For instance if you’re reliable and dedicated, but your friends praise your clever humour, go with the former.

If you’re applying for an accounting job, the one word descriptor should not be “creative,” and if it’s an art director position, you don’t want it to be, “punctual,” for example.

In general, most employers today are seeking team players that are level headed under pressure, positive, honest, reliable, and dedicated, however, it would be a mistake just to rattle off adjectives that you think will be well received when in fact this is an opportunity to describe how your best attributes are a great match for the job as you see it.

How does this position compare to others you are applying for?

Why do they ask this? They’re basically asking ‘What other jobs are you applying for?’ The recruiting manager is just trying to find out how active you are in the job market. Once you open up, they want to see how you speak about other companies or positions you’re interested in and how honest you are.

How does this question trip you up? If you tell them that theirs is the only job that you have applied for that will send up a red flag. Very few job applicants only apply to the one single job — so they may assume you’re being dishonest. However, if you openly speak about other positions you’re pursuing, and you speak favourably about them, the hiring manager may worry that you’ll end up taking another job elsewhere, and they won’t want to waste their time.

What response should you give? Leave things open, express your desire to find the right role. Perhaps tell them that there are several companies with whom I am interviewing, however, I’ve not yet decided the best fit for me. This response is positive and protects you from having to bad mouth or talk up competitors.

What kind of manager and colleagues have you had the most and least success with, and why?

Why do they ask this? Interviewers are trying to ascertain if you generally have conflicts with people or personality types. They also want to know how you work best.

How does this question trip you up? You can run the risk of appearing difficult if you admit to unsuccessful interactions with others. You may also inadvertently describe some of the attributes of your prospective Manager.

What response should you give? Firstly, concentrate on giving more good than bad news. It’s always best to start out with the positive and downplay the negatives. You don’t want to be evasive, but this is not the time to outline all your personality shortcomings either. Here you have an opportunity to speak generally about traits that you admire in others, yet appear flexible enough to work with a variety of personality types.

For an example try, ‘I think I work well with most people and a variety of personalities’.

What would you do if you won €6 Million tomorrow?

Why do they ask this? They want to know whether you’d still work if you didn’t need the money. Your response to this question tells the employer about your motivation and work ethic. They may also want to know what you’d spend the money on, or whether you’d invest it. This tells them how responsible you are with your money, and how mature you are as a person.

How does this question trip you up? Questions that are out of left field can ambush you, causing you to lose composure. They have nothing to do with the job at hand, and you may wonder if there is any significance to them. If you don’t pause and gather your thoughts before you respond to a question like this, you might lose your cool or come back with a clanger.

What response should you give? They want to hear that you would continue working because you’re passionate about what you do and they also want to know you would make smart financial decisions. If you’d do something irresponsible with your own money, they’ll worry you’ll be careless with theirs.