July 8, 2021

How to talk about responsibilities in a job interview (and how they differ from ‘duties’)

7 min read

There’s no one standard way to run a job interview – in fact our clients have a myriad of ways they like to assess a candidate’s fit for a position. You might interview a 1-1, 1-2 or even talk to a panel. The questions might be open ended and organic, or set based on a tight framework or behavioural based methodology. But there’s one thing that is consistent – and that’s the importance of answering a question substantially and positively. If you’re about to give a one word answer, there’s a good chance you have misunderstood the question!

In this article, we’re going to explore the idea of duties vs. responsibilities and how they are both important to cover in your answers. It can be tricky telling the difference on face value, but these two concepts manifest entirely differently as you assume a position in a company.

What is considered a ‘duty’ of a job?

A duty really refers to a requirement, or expected tasks you’ll carry out in a role. They are more to do with a job description and less about you, the individual. All jobs include duties that need to be done regardless of who fills the position. They are designed to make the role function properly within the context of a wider team and organisation.

Duties are expected and fulfilled. There’s often a measure or yes/no answer as to whether duties are being done or not.

What is considered a ‘responsibility’ of a job?

Responsibility in the job world is less about actions and more about being ‘on the hook’ for something in the business. If you’ve got a responsibility for something in the business, you are mostly concerned with it being done vs. who actually does it. This is why leaders in a business have plenty of responsibility – they will utilise the skills of their team to see it out, providing support and direction where needed.

For example, let’s take the activity of front end development. A duty associated with this job might be “coding and styling of visual components”. And a responsibility of this job might be ‘ensuring that our online portal’s forms offered a positive user experience’.

They may seem nuanced, but employers will be listening out for examples of responsibility as well as duties. Remember, your CV can do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to duties, and talk to some responsibilities. But it’s in your job interview, where you’ve got the format to answer in long form, that you’ll best illustrate your fit for the role.

Using the job description/job ad to understand the duties of the role

Preparation is everything with a job interview. The last thing a hiring manager wants to do is reiterate what’s already in the ad. Take a few hours to read through the job ad (and description if that’s available) and become familiar with exactly what the employer is looking for. Some candidates we talk to like to print out or mark up the job ad digitally, making notes against each requirement or sentence with relevant experience they bring that aligns to this.

Go through the job ad and look for language like “in this role you will be…” . This is the most logical place to start when listing out the duties that will be expected of you. Then, take a look at the experience/qualifications to pick out the technical/hard skills desired. Make a list of these.

With the ‘what’ clearly extracted from the ad, you can now go through other parts of the job ad, such as the company’s mission, the team, the culture etc. It’s here where you can start to get an idea of some of the responsibilities you may have the opportunity to take, which is an excellent place to prepare answer forms.

How to surface your past experience with holding responsibilities

Time to sit down with your CV and/or LinkedIn profile and do some reflection. Every role you’ve had there will be responsibilities you can point to. Here’s how to surface ‘responsibilities’ from previous work experience:

  1. What was the end result of the work you did in the job?
  2. What risks did you individually have to navigate through?
  3. What tasks were delegated or given to you by a leader to ‘own’?
  4. What activities outside of your job description did you take on in the role?
  5. What parts of the business or project were solely on you to make sure they happened?
  6. Did you train or lead others?

Spend a good amount of time on each role as it can be tricky to write these out immediately. By answering the above questions you can start to build a list of responsibilities.

Applying past responsibilities to requirements of the role in preparation for the interview

Now you’re able to go through the long list, with the job ad next to you and mark out the responsibilities that directly apply to the requirements of the position. You might want to copy and paste the job ad into a document, split up each requirement and underneath drop in the past experience that applies.

It might sound like a bit of work, but believe us, you’ll be thankful when you’re sitting in the interview and have this experience to draw from immediately. Taking a minute to answer every question can at best slow the energy down, and at worst, look simply unprepared.

Find responsibilities in every job, no matter how junior

The reality is that every single job from mowing the lawns to CEO of a major organisation has ‘responsibility’. Often certain actions we took can be undersold as simply duty, when in actual fact the importance behind the action and your personal accountability means these are legitimately responsibilities you were managing.

Situation, Task, Action, Result

STAR method is just one way to answer a job interview question but can be useful to structure a comprehensive answer, as well as provide you a structure to prepare for. Some job interviews will require this type of answer, often framed as ‘behavioural’ style interviews. Even if this isn’t outwardly required by the hiring manager, you may wish to use STAR to prepare answers that focus around responsibilities.

Here’s an example:

Tell us about a time where you didn’t agree with the decisions made by a leader and how you navigated this?

Situation: The suggested platform to build a customer portal was one I’d had experience with and encountered numerous issues with. 

Task: I was expected, as an experienced FED in the team, to provide some guidance to others about the best way to apply our designs to the platform.

Action: I arranged a 15m one on one with my direct lead, confidentially to air the concern, rather than put them on the spot in front of the whole team. We had a discussion where I cited previous issues with the platform chosen and why they could put us in trouble later on.

Result: My lead was grateful that someone had spoken up and helped the business mitigate risk. Together we put together communication for the team and I was made responsible for identifying some alternative options as well as investigating the latest version of the platform in question. Ultimately the business proceeded with the platform, after we got assurance from the vendor that my past experiences were due to issues that were now resolved. Ultimately my manager developed greater trust in me for being open, up front but respectful in the manner in which I went about it. 

Now, you don’t need to verbalise ‘STAR’ method in the interview itself, but instead map out your examples ahead of the interview in this way as it will a) help you remember the scenarios, and b) structure them in a way that lines up with what the interviewer wants to hear.

Through a STAR type answer, you can pick out examples of you taking responsibilities that will apply to the role you’re interviewing for. The example above includes instances of existing (provide guidance to others) and newly-given responsibilities (help identify alternative options). As you prepare your STAR stories, try highlighting these moments to ensure you speak to them in the interview. You will also naturally cover off duties of your role through these answers and your CV which provides the timeline/context for the interview as you talk.

Examples of responsibilities within the IT sector

  • Clean, secure code
  • Security of systems
  • Training of others
  • Ensure a project hits milestones
  • Budget is kept to
  • Provide the best possible user experience
  • Designing a solution for the business that meets all stakeholder’s needs
  • Understanding and communicating requirements of a project
  • Represent the technology side of the business to other departments.
  • Protect the business from cyber threats
  • Reliability of information and data.
  • Ensuring our users can access our product, uninterrupted.

What’s the hardest interview question you’ve been asked?

We’d like to know! Get in touch with our team here to share your experiences or ask us a question.

Further reading about Job Interview Questions

Absolute IT