Interview Questions and Techniques

Employers can adopt several types of interview questioning during one interview so it is important to understand what these are and what is expected as an answer to them. With any questions, don’t rush your answer and don’t worry if there is a silence as you collect your thoughts – you are better to take your time and answer the question well than rush it and fail.

Open questions:

  • These normally begin with ‘Who, What, Where, Why, When, How’ and are impossible to simply answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • These are fairly easy going questions to get you talking about your background, CV, and general skills and are designed to help you relax whilst allowing the employer to hear what you have to say about yourself and how you communicate.
  • Examples are ‘What is your greatest strength?’ or ‘Why do you want to join our company?’
  • These types of questions occur in almost every interview so you can be prepared for them in advance.

Closed questions:

  • These will result in a one word (or very short) answer around a technical, factual or specific area of your CV.  Answers will be ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or a number or fact. Don’t rely on one word answers though – elaborate!
  • These types of questions will be answered successfully through the knowledge of your CV and the subject matter involved.

Hypothetical questions:

  • These test your ability to think on your feet whilst allowing the employer to test your theoretical knowledge and see how you may deal with a situation in principle.
  • An example ‘How would you deal with a situation where you have been asked for a report out of the blue by your boss?’

Competency based questions (aka CBI questions):

  • This is the most commonly used method of interviewing particularly for more senior positions.
  • They work under the assumption that past performance is the greatest indicator of your future behaviours.
  • These will ask you to explain and discuss a past task you undertook in order to look at how you dealt with it. The interviewer is trying to ascertain to what degree you demonstrated a particular competency/ trait in that task (decision-making, working to deadlines, commercial awareness etc.) There is no right or wrong answer to this question – what happened in that task happened – it is important you communicate clearly and fluently though.
  • The same questions will be rigidly asked of every candidate in the interview process so the employer is able to measure every applicant against the same benchmark. Do not expect flexibility in how the question is asked.
  • Examples are ‘Describe a situation where you were under pressure to hit an imperative deadline but had an unrealistic amount of work to do to achieve it’ or ‘Tell me about a time when you spotted an opportunity and turned it into a reality’.

When answering these questions use a technique called STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result).

This is how the employer will assess your answer (which will be done properly after the interview) and don’t be surprised if you see the interviewer writing a copious amount of notes (this is to ensure they have all the details as a reminder after the interview).

  • Situation – fully explain the situation that was occurring at the time. This should naturally lead to why the task was set.
  • Task – fully explain the task that had been set, who was involved, why it needed to be done and any timescales involved.
  • Action – fully explain the actions that were needed to be taken in order to achieve the task. Who set them and why.
  • Result – the end result. This does not always have to be a positive result as long as you explain what was learnt from the experience.

There are an endless amount of these CBI questions that you can be asked so it is not about trying to prepare for every different possibility. The STAR technique ensures the method of answering remains the same. Through proper preparation and analysis of the company and job description, you should be able to predict approximately the type of competencies that will be tested for in interview (they are often stated on the job description itself).

Before an interview, ensure you have 5-6 real life situations fully prepared so you are able to discuss them clearly. It is imperative to be specific about 1 particular situation for each question – don’t generalise saying, ‘in a situation like this I would…..’ as this is making the question a hypothetical one rather than an experience related competency one. Use ‘I’ not ‘we’ when describing the situation as this shows you were responsible for your own actions and not relying on others.

Often one of your pre-prepared situations will apply to a number of CBI questions regardless of the competencies they are testing for. This is because in most situations we use more than one competency, e.g. team work and communication competencies will be necessary in any team orientated situation.

Please refer to our ‘Interview Guidance Pack’ for further explanation and example questions covering all these types of interview techniques.

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