Interviewing - Getting That Job

by Jane Tredgett

Answering questions effectively

A good interviewer should, like you, have done his or her homework before the interview. The questions they ask should be prepared before the interview to ensure consistency.

The past is the best indicator of the future.


The core questions should be the same for all candidates. Depending on the answers given, the interviewer may wish to explore points in more depth: ‘Tell me more about how you...’

The key focus should be on specific areas critical to the role and should draw examples from the candidate’s experience, so they can describe how they reacted or felt.

General top tips

When answering questions, remember an interviewer may be seeing several other candidates that day. Try to keep your answers concise, without appearing too guarded, and make your answers memorable. Be honest, open and warm. Many interviewers select only those candidates they warm to – particularly if they are going to work alongside them every day!

  • Watch the interviewer carefully – they may give you body language signals that they want more detail or that they are ready to move on to the next question.
  • Interviewers should use open questions that allow you to give a full answer, but if they mistakenly ask a closed question (where you could just give a yes or no answer) elaborate anyway (unless it really is just a fact-seeking question, like ‘do you have a clean driving licence?’).
  • Make sure your answer demonstrates some of your skills, personal qualities (like your ability to perform under pressure, work well with others, learn from your mistakes and complete tasks by deadlines) and results you have achieved. These are the main things a good interviewer should be looking for. Talk about why you made the choices you did, what influenced you and what you are proud of. Focus on the positives unless asked for negatives.
  • If you are asked about weaknesses, don’t give the glib ‘working too hard’ type of answer. Instead, share something you learnt about yourself and show what you have done about it to improve your performance.
  • Let the interviewer fully ask their question before you jump in.
  • Don’t be frightened to pause briefly before answering a question – it shows maturity and that you are not afraid of thinking about things carefully.
  • If you don’t understand a question – ask for clarification. It’s better than waffling on for five minutes hoping somehow your answer will make sense...
  • Smile before you answer and when you have finished, to signal for the interviewer to go onto the next question or probe deeper.

Sample topics and questions

Below are some fairly typical interview questions. It is unlikely you will be asked all of them, but highly likely you will be asked some of them! To increase your chances of getting the job, work through the questions before the interview: think about your answers and practise them. You may want to involve a friend or partner so they can give you some feedback.

Your background

To assess the candidate’s ability to do the job, interviewers often start on the candidate’s background – their experience and relevant qualifications.

  • Sometimes, interviewers will ask you an easy first question to help you feel less nervous. Try to answer this question quickly and concisely so the interviewer can move on to the ‘real’ questions.
  • In this part of the interview, an interviewer may also need to check that you have the required qualifications (including academic qualifications, clean driving license, qualifications to handle machinery and so on), any specialist skills or training necessary for the job, and that you have relevant experience and/or the potential to do the job well.
  • It is important to provide evidence (to verify you are not just really impressive at interviews, but have done what you say you have). Use examples of real events and describe what courses of action you took.

Sample questions at this stage:

  • Tell me briefly about your career to date, starting...
  • What are your main responsibilities in your current role?
  • What achievements are you most proud of in your career to date?
  • What has been the low point of your career?
  • What experience/training/qualifications do you have that relate directly or indirectly to this role? (This also explores your understanding of the job you are applying for.)
  • What qualities do you have that you think will most help you in this job?
  • What do/did you enjoy most about your current/last job and why?
  • What did/do you enjoy least about your current job?
  • Give an example of how you handled
  • A pressurised work situation
  • A time you had to cope alone
  • A difficult challenge you had to overcome
  • A time you were criticised
  • A time you had an urgent deadline to meet...
  • What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of this role? (Followed by: how have you handled similar challenges in the past?)
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? (Though this is a bit ‘clichéd’...)

A good way to filter down information is to use the STAR approach.

  • Give an example of a Situation or Task that demonstrates your ability to do XYZ.
  • Then describe what Action you took.
  • Finally, show what the Result was.

Your motivation

The interviewer will also want to explore whether you are really motivated to do this job, what makes you tick and how well you will fit in.

It is important to show that you have put effort into researching the company and the role. You may be asked some of the following questions to find out whether you really want this job and whether you will fit in or not.

Remember you are also likely to be asked about time gaps or discrepancies on your CV or application form.

Questions that may be asked include

  • What do you know about this company?
  • What is your reason for leaving your present/last company?
  • What is attracting you to this position/company?
  • What has motivated you at work recently?
  • What is the most important thing that you are looking for in your next job?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • How would a manager get the best out of you?
  • How would your best friend/manager/colleagues describe you?
  • Tell me about your relationship with your last boss...
  • Have you ever worked with someone who you didn’t get on with that well – how did this affect you and what did you do?
  • Tell me about your hobby X...
Key point

During the interview, show that you are enthusiastic – look interested and attentive. Nod, smile and make eye contact. Avoid any facial expressions of dismay or dislike of a question. Stay calm, professional and in control.