Interviews are unpredictable. There is no way of knowing everything you will be asked. But although the questions will vary, there are several common themes that you can prepare answers to.
Mostly the interview will cover your work history and why you are suited to the job. You may get asked about your education, hobbies and interests. This is generally part of the warm up and is meant to create rapport. If you have any relevant non-work experience you may be also questioned about that.
The golden rules for answering questions are:
- Be honest, do not attempt to give the answer you think the questioner wants to hear – the best answer is the one you believe to be right.
- Listen and make sure you understand the question
- Keep you answer full but concise – don’t talk for too long.
- Shape your answer by taking into consideration the needs and expectations of company that is interviewing you.
- Don’t be afraid of silences. If you feel you have answered the question and the interviewer remains silent, ask if there is anything they would like further detail on. Silence is sometimes used as a way of making you feel uncomfortable and saying more than you intended. Resist it, check that you have said all that you wanted to say, and if so wait for the interviewer to resume.
Competency based interviewing is now the most recognised type of questioning. It works on the principle that past performance is an indicator of future potential. This is why it is highly likely that you will be asked to give examples of past work, particularly successes.
If you are asked a question that you find tricky, try to use the following technique. We call it the STAR technique. The word STAR alludes to the four parts of your ideal answer: Situation, Task, Action, Result: Use it to describe something that you did which answers the question.
- Situation – outline the situation that you were facing.
- Task – What did you need, or were expected, to do?
- Action – How did you deal with the problem?
- Result – What was the outcome?
Practice some answers before the interview, using the STAR technique. You will soon see why it is a useful tool.
Listening and Telling
Listening is different to hearing. Listening is done as much with the eyes as the ears. What is the meaning behind the question? Consider the intonation of the questioner. How is the questioner saying things?
Look attentive. Look as if you are concentrating.
If you are unsure about what the person is asking, paraphrase it back as a check or simply say: “I’m not sure what you mean by that, would you please explain?” Don’t be afraid about looking a fool by doing this; you’ll only look foolish if you interpret the question incorrectly and fly off into an irrelevant answer.
Telling is different to answering. Of course you must always answer the questions but it is entirely up to you how you answer. It is up to you to communicate the messages that are going to impress. Listen for opportunities to get your messages across in your answer.
A good interviewer will give you plenty of opportunity to get your message across by asking you open questions. These are questions that give you the opportunity to expand, rather than just answer yes or no. But if you are facing an interviewer who does not understand about open questions, or chooses not to use them, you must simply take the opportunity when it comes. If you feel you have had very little chance to get your messages across during the interview, ask at the end if you can add a few comments .
If you are doing this, don’t insult the interviewer by insinuating that they have not given you a chance; just say that there are one or two things you feel may be of interest to them. Make sure your messages are concise and absolutely relevant. This is a very good opportunity to give an example of something you have done in the past which is relevant but did not come up during the interview.
Feedback and follow up
Don’t be surprised if you are invited back for a further interview, many companies now conduct second or third interviews as a matter of course. These could be with more, less, or equally senior people to those already met. Be sure to know who you are seeing and the purpose of the meeting. Do these people have more or less influence in the decision to recruit? Is it confirmation of a decision already taken to offer the job? Maybe you have been invited back to undertake tests that will help identify the particular strengths you will bring, and areas that you will need to develop. Whatever the reason, be prepared to approach the meeting in the appropriate way.
Avoid talking about money as far as possible. Certainly, don’t raise this matter. This should be covered indirectly but many employers use the opportunity to take advantage of their position of power to raise the matter.
The way they might do so is to ask you what salary you are looking for. Be as non-committal as you can. The employer should know your worth and what they are prepared to pay. Explain that you are looking for a salary that reflects your value and explain any qualifying factors (economic situation, industry norms, effect of making a career change, location, etc.) Ask what budget they had in mind.
The best thing is to be firm and suggest that they should make you an offer to consider. Don’t be pressured. Stand your ground. Remember, this is a negotiation.
If you don’t get to take things further, you are entitled to know why. It is important to know why you failed in order to evaluate how realistic you are being in your job search. Try to speak to the interviewer if you can, if not insist on having written feedback..
You want to know:
- If you had the right experience and if not, where the gaps were
- If you answered the questions well
- If you had the right characteristics to fit into the team or organisation
- If you appeared interested enough
- If you failed because you didn’t reach the required standard, or if other candidates were better qualified or experienced
- Critically, you should ask for advice that will help you to perform better in a similar situation in the future.