Open Questions are a component of most applications to large organisations such as HSBC. They are a crucial part of the application process which provides a company with an insight into your personality and mindset and are designed to supplement your CV in providing context to your achievements.
Although these questions are designed to allow you to show your competencies to your prospective employer they themselves provide a candidate with two tests. Can you tailor your answer to your audience? Can you answer concisely?
The answer to the first question is simple: research. Research, to most people, involves looking at the website of a company and regurgitating choice phrases and concepts in order to demonstrate understanding. However truly successful candidates will delve deeper in order to understand their audience. A good answer to one of these questions will not only demonstrate the ability of a candidate but also highlight how their working methods and values are aligned to those of the organisation to which they are applying. This type of insight can’t usually be gained from simply reading a job description and pasting it back into your answer. If you want a good overview of the strategies, principles and key achievements of a company a great place to start is the Chairman’s statement in the Annual Report. HSBC’s principles of sustainability and facilitating international trade are routinely mentioned in this document and the same is true of all other large companies, common themes will arise from one year to the next and you should try to bear these in mind when you respond to the questions.
The second challenge that you face is that of succinct responses. Open questions will nearly always have a word limit which must be adhered to. There is no quick fix that will allow you to incorporate this but here are a few tips that will help
- Structure – Introduce the example you wish to give, explain what you did, describe the results and then finish. Don’t be tempted to start including ad hoc information because you want to use up the word count.
- Write your answer out by hand first – Putting pen to paper allows you to appreciate your answer more fully. It is normally quicker to write your thoughts than to type them.
- Get a second opinion – As Sean mentioned, a fresh set of eyes is always an advantage. If you can’t show your application to someone else re-read your answer the next day. A good night’s sleep can do wonders for perspective.
As a final point make sure you keep to Sean’s golden rule: “If it’s not adding value, leave it out”. On that note I will wish you the best of luck and leave you to your thoughts.