How to Prepare to Answer Job Interview Questions

Their questions

If you have prepared thoroughly, you will be in a good position to respond effectively to questions and display your knowledge of yourself, the job and the organisation. The key thing to remember is that there are no trick questions, and interviewers are not trying to trip you up. It costs organisations a lot of time and money to set up interviews, and they want to get the best out of you so that they make a good decision.

Most interviewers make notes, so do not worry if they write while you are speaking.

Typical general questions may include:

  • Why did you choose your course and your university?
  • What aspects of your course have you most enjoyed, and why?
  • What skills have you gained at university?
  • What non-academic activities have you been involved in?
  • What have you learned from work experience?
  • What achievements are you most proud of in your life?
  • What are your career aspirations for the future?
  • What are your key strengths?
  • What development needs do you have, and what steps have you taken to address these?
  • What research or preparation did you do for this interview?
  • Why have you applied for this role?
  • What attracts you to our organisation?
  • Do you know who our major competitors are? What differentiates us from them?
  • What do you see as the major challenges facing our organisation over the next five years?

Typical competency-based questions may include:

  • This role involves working as part of the Consulting Team. Can you give an example of when you’ve worked as part of a team to achieve a task?
  • We recruit graduates as the future leaders of our organisation. Can you give me an example of when you’ve undertaken a leadership role?
  • Can you give me an example of when you’ve used your problem-solving skills?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to take a risk.

A strategy for answering competency-based questions concisely is to use the STAR Technique:

  • Situation – Briefly describe the where/when/who.
  • Task – Outline the task or objective (what you hoped to achieve).
  • Action – Describe what you did – focus on your role and your input.
  • Result – Tell the interviewer what the outcome was, and what skills you developed as a result.

As a general rule, remember:

  • the key to responding successfully to interview questions is to listen, concentrating on the current question;
  • there is no such thing a ‘perfect’ interview!
  • if you feel you answered a question badly, or could not answer it at all, do not dwell on it – move on, and do your best in the other questions;
  • employers will be looking at the interview as a whole, and will not focus on the odd slip;
  • what you need is a positive attitude and a clearly-demonstrated enthusiasm for the job.

Challenging questions

You may find some questions difficult to answer, or you may wish they had not come up at all. Be prepared for these, and feel free to take a little time to consider the question before launching into your reply.

Such questions may include:

  • Why did you change course after your first year?
  • Can you explain your A level results?
  • What would you say has been your greatest setback?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • Have you ever had to work in a team with someone you didn’t like or who wasn’t doing their fair share?
  • There seems to be a year you haven’t accounted for on your CV. What were you doing during that year?

Remember – these are not trick questions. Interviewers are trained to probe gaps in your CV, and to find out as much about you as they can. The key is to answer as honestly as you can, without being defensive or ascribing blame to anyone. Try to turn your answer into a positive statement with a successful outcome and place weaknesses and other problems in the past, clearly stating what you learned from overcoming any difficulties.

Personal questions

Recruiters must not discriminate on the grounds of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age or disability. If you feel uncomfortable about a particular question or line of questioning, you could say, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t feel comfortable answering that question.’ If you feel uneasy or unsafe in any way, you can end the interview politely and leave. If you feel that you have been discriminated against or that your personal safety has been compromised, discuss this with your careers adviser as soon as possible.

Your questions

Remember that an interview is a two-way conversation, so be prepared to ask relevant questions. This may be tricky, as you may feel all your questions have been answered by the interviewer, or by the extensive research you did on the company before your interview.

Rather than asking a question for the sake of it, try to show your enthusiasm and interest. There may be aspects of the training programme that you would like to discuss, or you might want to ask a few general questions about the working culture or opportunities for gaining further qualifications.

Alternatively, if the interview does not give an opportunity to discuss an aspect of your course, work or extracurricular activities that you feel strongly supports your application, this is an appropriate time to mention it (briefly!).

Ending positively

Your interviewer(s) may tell you during the course of the interview when you should expect to receive a decision from the organisation on the outcome of the interview, and what the next stage of the process will be if you are successful. If these points have not already been covered, it is good to ask for this information at the end of the interview. It will not only clarify the next stage for you, but will also indicate to them that you are organised and methodical.

Remember to thank the interviewer(s) and reiterate your enthusiasm for the job for which you have applied. Always end the interview on a positive note.

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