What do you see as being the big issues in this job?

This question is the one that is really testing your understanding of the position.

It's designed to find faults in your understanding, and it does exactly that.

It's not an avoidable question, and only people with a very good grip on the subject will give good answers.

As if that wasn't enough, it's also a stand alone question, which can make or break an interview with ease, all by itself.

If you want the job, get this question right.

Knowing how to recognize this question

Because it's so important, we need to spend a bit of time on the elements contained in the question.

It comes in quite a lot of different subtexts.

The question can be asked in a lot of different ways:

  • What do you see as the most difficult and legally important parts of this job, as a garbage collection contractor?
  • Where do you see your own personal responsibilities most challenged, as an accountant?
  • What do you consider are the legal liabilities in this position as a chef?
  • What are the risks and possible downsides to this job as a roof tiling supervisor, in your opinion?

It can be related to specific parts of the job role:

  • What are the job's key responsibilities, in your view?
  • Do you think there are any statutory obligations on the company, selling these products, and if so, what are they?
  • What are the major issues in being a waiter in a restaurant?
  • As a shop assistant, what are your responsibilities to the public?

Get any of these questions wrong, or be too ignorant, and you can forget the job, because you've just crashed and burned on the really big issues.

See a pattern in these questions?

Every single question there relates to a major liability for the employer.

The What do you see as the most difficult and legally important parts of this job as a garbage collection contractor? question is very open ended.

You could talk about the technically complex parts of working as a garbage contractor as your answer. Meanwhile you can leave out everything relevant about making sure you're complying with contract and sanitation standards, as well as ensuring safety standards in collecting of waste. Million dollar contracts can be lost by not meeting contract requirements.

Some questions are absolutely fundamental, like Where do you see your own personal responsibilities most challenged, as an accountant?

The short answer is that everything is your personal responsibility. As an accountant, your responsibilities extend to anything you touch. Even years after you've done the work, you're still responsible if there's anything wrong with it, and so, usually, is your employer.

Then there are the merely life or death questions, like What do you consider are the legal liabilities in this position as a chef?

Chefs, who are senior staff, are responsible for all aspects of food preparation. Licenses and legal liabilities depend on proper food storage, food hygiene, and customer well being and satisfaction. A case of food poisoning can destroy a business very effectively, in legal costs alone, let alone losing the license.

The question, What are the risks and possible downsides to this job as a roof tiling supervisor, in your opinion? is no joke, either.

Occupational health and safety in the construction industry is one of the major hazard considerations. Deaths and serious injuries are serious, and regular, issues. The supervisor is responsible for the employees, and for the company's viability, if it incurs any liabilities.

Personal liabilities can also occur in on the job situations, depending on the job or work contract. Employees can in many cases be held liable.

Employers aren't asking these questions for fun. There are important issues involved for them, and it may well be that the previous person in the job was fired for something to do with them.

The job role itself can contain personal responsibilities:

What are the job's key responsibilities, in your view?

This is an open ended question which can be applied to literally any job. It's asked as a competency based question, but there's more to it than that.

The applicant's knowledge of the responsibilities of the job is important in establishing that the applicant has a high level of comprehension of the job's sharp edges.

Do you think there are any statutory obligations on the company, selling these products, and if so, what are they?

Sale of any product involves statutory obligations. All product sales are based on consumer and civil law. Customers have rights. The company may incur serious liabilities from defective or dangerous goods being supplied to it. The customers can sue, in many cases. Government authorities can take action on sales of anything, if there's a breach of law involved. A sales person has to know the law, and be able to spot problems before they happen.

What are the major issues in being a waiter in a restaurant?

A waiter is a public relations person, a problem solver, a quality control, and a point of sale, as well as being a waiter. Standards of service are very important to restaurateurs, as well as customers. Waiters are there to spot problems and fix them, as well as just waiting tables. The waiter, in the course of doing a job, can do more damage to a restaurant than a fire if he doesn't know what he's doing. Employers need to know their waiters can perform.

As a shop assistant, what are your responsibilities to the public?

If it sounds a little strange that a shop assistant has some legal obligations, it shouldn't, because like any commercial business, the law is everywhere, and so are possible problems for employers. Experienced shop staff will know that about 50% of customer complaints do have a good reason, and that ignoring the complaint, or handling it badly, is just asking for problems.

The shop assistant is a complaints officer, a sales advisor, a spotter of possible problems, a cleaner, a legal expert on refunds and exchanges, and a general laborer in doing what needs to be done. If the shop assistant gets any of these things wrong, the situation escalates into a major issue.

Sometimes, things like public liability are involved, where the shop assistant is told that someone's kid has thoughtfully spread liquid soap all over the aisle, and people are breaking their necks on it.

Did someone tell the shop staff there was a problem? asks the prosecutor? Yes, they told a shop assistant, says the witness.

It does happen, all over the world, every day, so a shop owner asking a job applicant this question has a reason for asking.

You see why you need to be able to recognize the real motives behind these questions. They are absolutely crucial to your interview.

Answering the questions properly

Sometimes the interviewers are looking for specific information. In other cases they want to hear the whole story, every possible issue in a job.

To be on the safe side, you can ask them if they want particular issues like legal responsibilities or just the work-related issues, or both.

To be even safer, research your job, so you can answer anything they want to know on the subject.

You have one advantage: You know the work. You should know the basic issues, and with a little effort understand the big issues for employers.

Basic job legal issues:

  • Legal liabilities (varies depending on job, but always exist in some form)
  • Occupational health and safety (Work safety, hazard reduction, reporting safety issues, etc)
  • Public liability (risks to the public)
  • Statutory obligations (compliance with applicable laws)
  • Contract obligations, on you and on the employer (If it's their problem, it's yours, too.)

Basic work issues

  • Performance standards (Employers insist on these, and you do have to acknowledge these performance issues, particularly in sales and professional jobs.)
  • Work quality (often relates to legals like contract specifications, deadlines, etc.)
  • Timeframes and deadlines (relates to business contract obligations, too.)
  • Levels of complexity (Important in client related jobs)
  • Acting according to OHS and other guidelines (Essential. You must know these, thoroughly. In many industries OHS is the big question.)
  • Anti discrimination issues (frequent in public contact jobs)

Not simple, is it?

There are also specific parts of any job which can be considered big issues from the employer's perspective. They're essentially competency-based, but always with some liability attached to the employer based on the employee's performance of their duties.

Make sure you are aware of all of the particularly sensitive issues arising from your job.

There are always a few, and you'd be well advised to make sure you know what the issues are, in any job you apply for, so you're prepared for these questions, and so you can do your job properly.