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Video to watch: Purpose of an interview & types of interview questions

Help with interviews

Interviews can feel a little scary, especially if it has been a while since you've had one. You may also be unsure what to expect from an interview, or unsure what is expected from you during an interview.

Let’s start with why we have interviews when we apply for jobs.

There are many ways an organisation can find out if a person ‘fits’ their job and business. One of the best ways for an organisation to understand what you have to offer is to talk to you about:

  • Your previous jobs

  • What you have done in those jobs

  • What you could bring to the job you have applied for

An organisation will usually want to know about:

  • Your skills and experience

  • Your strengths and weaknesses

  • Your personality and how you would fit with their team

  • How you cope with pressure at work

  • How you communicate

Many candidates who apply for jobs don’t realise that during the interview, you are also interviewing them!

  • See the interview as a discussion where you can decide if the job is right for you

  • Ask questions to help you decide if the job is right for you

  • When you ask the interviewer questions, it also shows them that you are interested in their business and that you have taken the time to prepare for the discussion

Types of interviews

There are different types of interviews and you may encounter one or more of these during your job search.

Sometimes there can be a combination of the different interview types.

These include:

  • Screening interviews

  • Selection interviews

  • Panel interviews

  • Virtual interviews

Screening interviews

The purpose of the screening interview is to screen out candidates who do not meet the specific job requirements. These screening interviews can be quite short, are often over the phone and are sometimes more general.

Key tips:

  • Follow the interviewer’s lead and avoid giving information that is not being asked for

  • The focus is more on your background and experience, rather than your potential fit or personality

  • Focus onwhat you can do in the job

Selection interviews

These interviews are to understand what you have done in your previous jobs, understand your personality, and to see if you could be a fit for the team and the organisation.

The questions often focus on who you are, what your motivations are, and how you interact with others.

Key tips:

  • Focus on what you have done in previous roles

  • Who you are as a person

  • What you are looking for in the future

  • Be able to say why you are interested in this role or employer

Panel interviews

There may be times when there could be more than one interviewer.

Panel interviews may have two, three, or more people. Sometimes these people may enter and exit the meeting at different times. There is usually one main interviewer who asks the majority of questions. The other panelists are observers or may be there to ask specific questions.

Key tips:

  • Maintain eye contact with the person who asks the question, but ensure that you also make eye contact with the other people on the panel

  • When you can, ask questions that will involve each person on the panel rather than only asking one person questions

Virtual interviews

  • Virtual interviews are interviews that happen via video conferencing; usually these are done via Microsoft Teams or Zoom

  • Video interviews are certainly becoming more frequent as we experience restrictions due to Covid-19 and people are unable to attend the organisation’s premises to meet the interviewer in person

  • You will usually be sent an email or calendar invitation with a link to the virtual interview which you then accept if the timing suits you

Links to virtual interview tools:

Zoom: https://zoom.us/

Microsoft Teams: https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/microsoft-teams/teams-for-home

Google Meet: https://meet.google.com/?pli=1

Key tips:

  • Test your technology before the interview to make sure everything is working as it should

  • Try to keep still and sit up straight; it can be tricky to build rapport, so maintain eye contact by looking at the camera

  • Make sure you still dress as though you are going to an interview (although you don’t usually have to worry about your footwear!)

  • It is a good idea to use the ‘background’ setting on Teams or Zoom. This creates a false background so that you don’t need to be concerned about what is going on behind you, or what your décor at home may look like

Video to watch: Interview preparation

Preparing for interviews

A successful interview often comes from your preparation for the interview.

Your preparation should include:

  • Understanding what the employer is looking for

  • Finding examples of your work that relates to what the employer wants

  • Researching the interviewers and their organisation

  • Preparing some good questions

  • Knowing why you are the right person for the role and why you want the job

What is the employer looking for?

The best way to find out what the employer is looking for is to:

  • Read the advert for the job

  • If a job advert says you can ask for a job description then it is best to do so

In the job advert or job description there will be:

  • Skills and experience they are seeking

  • What you can bring to the job

Your skills and experience

Start by reading over your CV and cover letter if you created one. The next step is to:

  • Make a list of the key skills and experience that the employer is seeking

  • Put a tick next to the skills that you have

  • If there is experience or skills that you do not have, or only have a little of, write down what sort of development, training or experience that you could gain

  • Next step - write down some examples of when you have used those skills

Types of questions

There are different types of interview questions and becoming familiar with these will help you have successful at interviews:

  • Behavioural/competency questions

  • Unusual questions

  • Difficult questions

Behavioural/competency-based questions

You may, at some time during your job search, hear the words ‘competency based’ or ‘behavioural interviews’.

Competency or behavioural interviews ask you to demonstrate your skills and experience.

During the interview, the interviewer will:

  • Ask you to give examples of what you have done in your previous jobs

  • Get you to describe how you have dealt with problems and situations in the past

Why?

The way that you have behaved on the job in the past helps the interviewer understand how you may behave in the future.

Example competency: Customer focus

Definition: Understand and believe in the importance of customer focus. They listen to and understand the needs of external and internal customers. They meet and exceed customer needs to ensure satisfaction.

Behaviours: Demonstrates the importance of customer service by giving customer needs top priority. Deals effectively with customers by displaying a professional, courteous and empathetic approach.

Key points:

  • Focus on your involvement in the situation – use “I” rather than “we"

  • Focus on what you did, not what you would do

  • If you have not encountered the situation they are describing, say so; think of something similar that you may have dealt with

The CAR model

The CAR model (sometimes referred to as the ‘STAR’ format, which is very similar) is a structured way to answer behavioural interview questions to ensure that you fully answer the question. Learning this is really helpful when preparing for interviews and when answering interview questions.

The CAR model:

C

Context – describe a situation or problem that you have dealt with.

A

Action – describe what you did and any obstacles that you had to overcome.

R

Results – talk about what happened in the end. What were the outcomes or results?

 

Example:

In this example, the interviewer wants to find out about how the person being interviewed demonstrates assertiveness and calmness. What the interview is measuring (behaviours) may not always be explained in the interview question. Understanding the job requirements helps you think about what the interviewer may want to know.

Question:

Give me an example of a time when you were required to confront someone who was in the wrong place or someone who was trespassing (either accidentally or intentionally).

Context:

I was working for Best Security two years ago and had only recently started in the role. We had received two weeks security training about how to deal with people who are trespassing or loitering. I was guarding an evening function for a large business that was invitation only, and I noticed that there were two people about to walk behind the barrier near the entrance.

Action:

During our training, we had been taught to deal with anything that looked suspicious quickly and calmly, without assuming anything. So, I walked over to the people and calmly asked if I could help them. They looked uncomfortable, said they were fine and walked away. It was only about five minutes later that they came back and said they were meeting people inside the building. I calmly explained that this was a private function and if they had their invitations on them, they would be able to enter. They said that their friends inside had their invitations, so I suggested that they call their friends and ask them to come out with the invitations.

Result:

The two people made the call and one of their friends came out saying they were sorry that they had forgotten that the invitation was needed to enter. The two people were then able to enter the function and I thanked them for being understanding and helpful. The more senior security guard that I was working with heard what was happening and said I had done well to address the people in a calm, assertive yet polite way.

Examples of behavioural/competency-based questions

While many interviews are a combination of general questions and competency-based questions, it helps to prepare by focusing on the competency-based ones. This is because they involve you preparing your ‘evidence’ to support your CV and to establish that you are the right person for the role.

Examples:

Time management

“Tell me about a situation where you had to use your planning skills.”

Communication

“Tell me about a situation where you had difficulty communicating with someone. What was the situation and how did you deal with it?”

Teamwork

“Can you describe a situation where you needed to work in a team. How did you work with your colleagues?”

Focus

“Can you tell us about a situation where there were many obstacles to you achieving a goal. Tell us what you did.”

Decision-making

“What would be an example of a good decision that you have made in the past? What were your options and why was this a good decision?”

Relationship building

“Can you describe a situation where you feel that you related well to others?"

Unusual questions

The purpose of this type of question is to see how you interpret the question as well as what information you provide.

Key points:

  • If you are not sure of what they are looking for, ask the interviewer to explain

  • Use the question as an opportunity to talk about a key skill or experience that you have not talked about yet

Examples:

Tell me a bit about yourself. This is often the opening question and often an ice-breaker. Don’t ramble and give your entire life history, be brief and stick to the work aspects. Keep your answer short.

Why should we give you the job? Take this as an opportunity to summarise your experience and skills, what you have to offer the company and how you will fit with it. Again, keep the answer short.

Difficult questions

The purpose of this type of question is to see how you cope under pressure, and how well you answer it.

Key points:

  • Prepare your answers to these questions before the interview. This will help boost your confidence.

  • Take time to think before answering the questions. You do not have to have a snap answer.

Examples:

Why do you want to work for this company? This is the chance to demonstrate how well you have researched prior to the interview.

How do you deal with failure? Everyone has failed at some time. Use an example to show how you have learnt from the failure.

How do you deal with criticism? This allows you to demonstrate again how you respond positively in a difficult situation. Give an example of how you have benefitted from the criticism.

Why did you leave your last job? Again, speak positively about the previous role. Never use this question to speak adversely about the previous role or employer. You never know who the interviewer knows.

What sort of money are you looking for? Keep this answer general by giving a range. It helps to know what you are worth.

What are your greatest strengths and what are your greatest weaknesses?

  • Have one or two of each ready to discuss.

  • Your strengths are already highlighted in the key skills/competencies/strengths section at the front of your CV. You you can use this to answer this question.

  • You can present your weakness as a positive – for example, ‘I am very attentive to detail but I have learned to manage my timeframes and get the balance right between quality and delivery. I often ask my colleagues to look at my work to speed up the process rather than mulling over the detail myself.’

  • Another example might be, ‘I am not at my best in front of large groups of people but I use my careful preparation skills to counter this... let me give you an example.’

Ask questions

As mentioned previously, the interview is a discussion between you and the interviewer. It is a good idea to prepare some questions that you can ask at the end of the interview. Remember to review why you want the job and what motivates you at work, as this will help you think of some questions.

Questions you could ask:

  • Why is this position vacant?

  • Who are the key people that the person in this job interact with?

  • What is the management style of the person this role reports to?

  • What training and professional development is available to staff?

  • How would you describe the team/organisation's culture?

  • How do you measure work performance within your organisation?

At the end of the interview:

It is fine to ask what happens next.

You could ask:

  • What are the next steps in the recruitment process?

  • When will you be making the decision?

  • When should I expect to receive an update/feedback?

  • When should I get back to you?

Showing yourself at your best

With your preparation, you will be confident about expressing your strengths – genuinely and without exaggeration. Remember to demonstrate your basic personality traits:

Enthusiasm: Show that you are interested in the interview through your actions, your tone of voice, your body language and in the way you answer and ask questions.

Courtesy: Respect the interviewer/s – be on time, be polite to the receptionist, greet the interviewer with a smile and firm handshake, wait for them to sit first before sitting down.

Diplomacy: Be tactful and avoid controversial subjects where possible. Be positive about your previous roles and employers.

Humour: Be careful about your use of humour. Use appropriately and take the lead from the interviewer.

Be yourself. Take the interview as a discussion rather than an intense examination. Remember – you are also interviewing them and their organisation! At the same time, ensure that you answer the questions without waffling or getting too far off the point.

Dressing for the interview

While you may want to express your individualism at times, the job interview is not really the place for it. It is better to err on the side of caution and dress conservatively or overdress, rather than too casually.

  • Conservative, industry-suitable attire

  • Clean, polished conservative shoes

  • Well-groomed hair

  • Clean, trimmed fingernails

  • Minimal cologne or perfume

  • Don’t chew gum, smell of smoke (if you’re a smoker) or yawn (yes, we’ve had this feedback from hiring managers)

Even if you are applying for a manual or outdoor role, it will be expected that you turn up smartly-dressed. It gives the message that you are taking this interview seriously.

If you want some more opinions on suggested dress codes, check out:

Post-interview activities

Review

As soon as you can get yourself into a quiet place, review the interview unemotionally. Make some notes for yourself under the following headings:

  • Overall – what went well, what didn’t, how would I answer those tricky questions differently?

  • Preparation – how could I have prepared better; did I know enough about the organisation?

  • Rapport – how did the conversation start, did I put the interviewer at ease and did I notice their body language?

  • Attitudes – was I confident without being arrogant, was I enthusiastic and was I positive?

  • Questions – were my questions appropriate and did they fit with the conversation, did I ask open questions?

  • Listening – did I talk too much; did I interrupt the interviewer?

  • Clarity – were my answers clear or did the interviewer have to repeat them, what information did the interviewer misunderstand?

  • Closing – what impression did I leave at the end, how was the interview brought to a close, did I leave the clear impression that I was interested in the role?

Contacting the interviewer

Within 24 hours, send the interviewer an email or note thanking them for their time and expressing your continuing interest in the role. Keep it brief. It is more about keeping your name in their mind.

If they gave a specific timeframe for making their decision, contact them if this date passes (if overdue by a few days). This will show your continuing interest in the role and your proactivity.

Note: Avoid chasing the interviewer or badgering them. Only follow up with them after the deadline for feedback has expired.

If you are unsuccessful

While we know that your preparation will improve your chances of a successful interview, not every interview will be successful. You may not be successful for a variety of reasons. The only way that you will improve your interview skills is to find out what you could have done better. The best person to ask is the interviewer.

When you are advised that you have not been successful, ask the interviewer if he or she could tell you what areas you need to improve on or if they have any specific feedback. Be open to their suggestions.

Choosing and coaching your referees

It is common in selection and hiring processes to check references; verbal references tend to be most common. Have a list of referees prepared before you start your job search.

Below are simple tips and courtesies that you should follow when creating and presenting your referee list.

These are:

  • Ask permission before including someone on your referee list

  • Choose credible people who know you well, are respected in your industry and who are willing to speak on your behalf

  • Provide a list of referees when requested

Include:

  • Referee name

  • Contact telephone number and/or email address

  • Current title, organisation and relationship to you

Normally, you will be asked to provide two referees. If you have more than two referees, choose the ones you think will be best for the role you have applied for.

  • Coach your referees - Clearly indicate the type of role you are seeking and why you feel you would be suitable for the role

  • Manage the process by keeping in touch with your referees and letting them know about potential calls

  • Never offer references until they are asked for

This helps you keep control of the number of calls that your referees receive. You also need to be sure you are interested in the role and the organisation before you are reference checked. Always get back to your referees to thank them, whether or not you secure the position.

Dealing with nerves

Video to watch: Coping with interview nerves

It is very common for people to be nervous before an interview. This is more often the case when people have not had an interview for some time.

Preparation is the key to both the interview and reducing your nerves. The better prepared you are, the more confident you will be in the interview.

Some ways you can reduce your nervousness include:

  • Practise your answers

  • Believe in yourself and what you have to offer

  • View the interview as a discussion in which you are going to share information

  • Look to relax the interviewer – they are often nervous too!

  • Smile – your facial muscles will tell you brain that you are happy and relaxed!

  • Be confident to take time to think before answering a question

  • Have an early night before the interview and don’t drink alcohol

  • Stop preparing at least a few hours before the interview and do something to relax

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview location

  • If unsure of the location, go there the day before to familiarise yourself with the area and the parking availability

  • For virtual interviews, make sure you are confident that the technology will work; try it out a day before

Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry, and reduce stress and nervousness, simply by changing our body positions.

See Amy’s TED Talk, for ways you can use body language to help you with nerves: Watch Ted Talk here