Answering Interview Questions on Employee Responsibility
Updated 19 October 2020
Your responsibilities as an employee are the key duties, tasks and functions that make up your specific role within a company.
Examples of responsibilities could include supervising staff, negotiating contracts or pitching to clients. In many roles, particularly within larger companies, responsibilities will be clearly defined.
However, if you work for a small business your responsibilities may be more fluid, perhaps even changing from day to day.
Interview questions about responsibilities are very common and there are several reasons why interviewers might ask them:
- To put you at ease. Most candidates will find it relatively easy to talk about their current role and responsibilities so this is a useful way to get candidates to open up.
- To clarify and expand on your CV. A CV can only provide limited information; asking about your responsibilities allows an interviewer to glean more details and establish that you are a good fit for the job. It also helps them to check that the information you have provided in your CV is accurate.
- To find out what kind of career move you are making. Comparing your past responsibilities with those you would be taking on in the new role tells the interviewer if you are looking for a step up in your career, moving sideways or even looking to step away from current responsibilities.
- To check how your past experiences have prepared you for this role. Interviewers want to see candidates who are willing and able to take on responsibility, are accountable for their successes and failures and have a self-sufficient attitude.
Tips for Answering Questions About Responsibilities
- Be prepared. Questions about responsibilities are very common so it is well worth spending some time before your interview thinking about the responsibilities you have held in the past and how you can explain them clearly and concisely. Crucially, you also need to think about how your past responsibilities make you a good fit for the job you are applying for. Review the job description carefully and make sure you focus on responsibilities that are relevant to the job in hand.
- Be specific. For each requirement in the job description think about examples of similar responsibilities you have taken on in the past, and how you can demonstrate your aptitude in performing them. Mention specifics, such as a benefit you brought to the company or a time you overcame a problem.
- Provide descriptive and engaging answers. Don’t just regurgitate the information in your CV. This is your opportunity to go beyond the bullet points and provide a personal story that will make the interviewer remember you.
- Keep your answers positive. Focus on results, improvements and achievements rather than frustrations, grievances or disagreements with colleagues.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Don’t get bogged down talking about mundane tasks and chores. While these, of course, form part of any job, they are not what the interviewer is interested in. Focus on the stand out responsibilities and how you excelled in them.
- Don’t talk about responsibilities that are irrelevant to the job you are applying for. Keep the key requirements in mind and make sure your answers highlight your compatible skills.
- Avoid loading your answers with company jargon that may be incomprehensible to your interviewer. Use clear, plain language.
- Don’t downplay your achievements. Many candidates fall into the trap of underselling their responsibilities for fear of boasting, but this is not the time to be modest. Equally, don’t oversell yourself – try to strike a note of calm confidence rather than arrogance.
How Interviewers Might Ask About Responsibilities
Interviewers will use a variety of competency-based questions to determine the responsibilities candidates have held in the past and how they have performed them.
Below are a few examples of different ways in which interviewers might ask this question, along with some tips on answering and brief sample answers.
Note that not all of the questions mention the word ‘responsibilities’ explicitly, so be sure to listen carefully to the question and consider what the interviewer is really asking about.
“Describe Some Ways in Which You Have Been a Leader in the Past.”
Questions around leadership are very common, and an interviewer may use a question like this to ask about your previous responsibilities. Even if you are applying for an entry-level job, the employer will want to see that you have leadership potential and may well ask about a time when you have demonstrated this in the past.
Your leadership experience doesn’t have to be on-the-job – recent graduates might talk about clubs, hobbies or academic projects. But it is important to have a strong example prepared, remembering to study the job description to establish the tasks you will be performing and the type of leader the employer may be looking for.
Use the STAR technique to talk about a particular time you displayed leadership, explaining exactly what you did and the positive outcomes you achieved.
“During my last year at university, I applied to be the editor of the student newspaper. Readership had dwindled in the previous years and the existing team were looking for someone with some exciting new ideas to boost its popularity. I had to give a short presentation to set out my vision for the newspaper, and they were enthusiastic about my proposals. I led a core team of seven people to produce the weekly newspaper and made sure to listen to everyone’s input and to create a collaborative, creative atmosphere at editorial meetings. By the end of my time as editor, readership had risen by 25%.”
“Tell Me About a Situation Where People Have Depended on You?”
This is a fairly straightforward question asking about the responsibilities you have held in the past, but the wording may throw some candidates.
Be careful not to get sidetracked or veer off into territory that is not relevant to the job you are applying for. Keep the job description in mind and describe a scenario which demonstrates the key skills required, remembering to focus on the results achieved.
“In my last position, I worked on the reception desk for a busy hotel. My responsibilities included greeting guests, taking bookings and handling day to day problems and questions. My employers depended on me to give a good impression to guests at all times, meeting their needs efficiently and with a positive attitude. I was very proud that guests often commented on the part I had played in making their stay so enjoyable and hassle-free.”
“Do You Need or Prefer a Lot of Supervision When You’re Working, or Are You More Comfortable Working on Your Own?”
Employers want to hire candidates who are quick to learn and happy to take on responsibility, with the ability to think creatively and the confidence to take the initiative where required, so your answer to this question should reflect all these qualities.
However, while an interviewer will want to hear that you are comfortable working independently, they will also be looking for someone who is also a team player and is open to sharing responsibilities with others.
You should be guided by the job description as to whether you focus more on your ability to work independently or collaboratively.
“Once I have been shown the ropes, I am very comfortable getting on with tasks on my own. My previous role as a research assistant involved exploring different sources of data and drawing my own conclusions about the findings before reporting back to the rest of the team. I made some valuable contributions to the direction of the research and as the project progressed, my supervisor gave me increasing responsibility for planning my own role as well as guiding more junior research assistants.”
“What Were Your Responsibilities in Your Last Position?”
While this question is clearly about responsibilities, don’t just launch into a list of everything you did in your last job. Remember to think about the skills and qualities that are required for the role in hand and emphasise how responsibilities you have held previously make you the perfect candidate.
Keep the tone positive throughout – you certainly do not want to gripe about a heavy workload or lazy colleagues – focusing on specific results or achievements. If your work experience is lacking, talk about a volunteer role or academic project instead.
“In my last position, I was responsible for running the office’s administrative activities. This included using a range of software to make sure the office ran smoothly and efficiently. One of my key responsibilities was to manage the office budget. During my time there, I developed a new system to record office expenditure and, as a result, was able to make some significant savings for the office.”
“Tell Me About a Time When You Were Responsible for Something.”
Again, this question is explicitly about a particular responsibility you have held in the past, so at face value, it is relatively easy to answer. But don’t fall into the trap of talking about a responsibility that bears no relation to the position you are applying for.
And remember to use the STAR technique mentioned earlier to provide a structured answer describing the specific situation, task, action and result of the example you are describing.
“The football club I play for was holding a fundraising event and I volunteered to take responsibility for promoting it. I designed posters and flyers and managed posts about the event on the club’s Facebook page and Twitter account, as well as contacting local media for publicity. Tickets sold out two weeks before the event and we raised twice as much as the previous year. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it helped to cement my decision to pursue a career in marketing.”
It is highly likely that a question about responsibilities will come up during a job interview so it is important to do your homework.
Focus on preparing examples of previous responsibilities that are closely aligned with the job you are applying for, giving specific details about successes and achievements to demonstrate that you are superbly qualified to take on the role.
And remember, questions about roles and responsibilities can come in many forms, so listen carefully to what the interviewer is asking you.