What to Expect at Interview – Common Interview Questions

Congratulations, the hard work with the CV, Application Form and/or direct approach to the organisation have paid off and you have been invited for an interview.

You now need to persuade them that you are the right person for the role and you need to be specific about this role and this company. Don’t forget the company needs to fill this particular role for a reason.
So the first message you need to get across is that this is the job you want and where you will add value.

Types of Interview
There are several different types of interview and it is likely that you will have been told what type of interview to expect:

  • General Interview
  • Behavioural Interview
  • Competency Interview
  • Panel Interview
  • Group Interview

It’s very possible that the interview you are attending will be a combination of 2 or 3 of these. So let’s look at them in more detail

General Interview
Sometime known as an unstructured interview, this is more of a conversation where the interviewer will go through your application form or CV and ask questions about your previous experience and qualifications and how they are relevant to the job under discussion.
• Make sure you can remember how you filled in the form or what you have in your CV so you don’t look blank when asked about your role with a previous company.
• Make sure you can talk about your achievements in a role and be prepared to give more detail than you were able to fit into your CV.
• Be prepared to talk about areas aside from your direct role; for instance learning and development; any social events you have helped organise; any volunteering you have undertaken.

Behavioural Interview
Behaviour based interviews are structured and are used to find out how you have handled certain situations in your previous jobs, and this will help the recruiter understand how you would face similar events in their role. So the questions will be around how you coped with these situations.
Examples:
• How you faced conflict – either as an individual or between members of a team you were responsible for, or part of. Did you call in a line manager informally, did you speak to a member of the team formally or informally. Was it a situation where you had to go straight to HR?
• Think of a mistake you made and how you corrected it. Stress how you learned from the error.
• What are you proudest of? – you will probably have given this some thought when preparing your CV.
• How you set goals – personal and/or team – for example sales targets or delivering a webinar.
Try and think of 2 examples of each. The questions will be asked in different ways, but broadly the interviewer will be asking:
• How did you handle conflict?
• What went wrong?
• What went right?
• How do you motivate yourself and others?

Competency Based interviews
Competency based interviews are also structured. The recruiter is looking for you to demonstrate the skills, both hard and soft (such as communication and teamwork) that will enable you to do the role well and fit into the team. The questions are likely to be open-ended, for example “Tell me about a time….”
Look again at the job description and the skills required. The likelihood is that you have given the recruiter some confidence that you are what they are looking for, or they would not have invited you for interview, the interview is your chance to build on that and add some depth.
Some of the areas where the employer will be looking for demonstrations of strength could be:
• Teamwork and/or leadership
• Problem solving – including conflict resolution
• Decision making
• Commercial awareness
• Communication
In your answers look at how you can demonstrate that strength – don’t just say “I like to think I am a good leader”, give examples not only of what you did, but more importantly how you did it.
If you are interviewing for a project management role try and avoid stopping at “completed the project on time and on budget”, give examples of how you overcame difficulties to achieve this. Did you lose members of your team, did suppliers try to change prices? You are looking to show how you managed to achieve success in spite of the challenges.
If you are interviewing for a Customer Service role requiring exceptional customer service skills, be prepared to give an example of when a customer was difficult and how you dealt with that.

Panel Interviews
Panels will conduct interviews in either of the three interview styles described above, and even if they are taking the generalist approach, they are likely to be very structured, with the panellists having decided beforehand who is going to ask which questions – either by simply taking turns or by each taking an area of specialist knowledge. A panel may well include a representative from HR, a potential line manager and a potential colleague.
Prepare for follow up questions from another member of the panel – this may be a deliberate technique, or your answer may well have sparked interest. Always try to address your answers to the whole panel, rather than concentrating on one member.

Group Interviews
A group interview consists of a single interviewer interviewing multiple candidates at the same time. These are currently less relevant for obvious reasons, but they are likely to come back in some form. Group interviews are helpful for employers to judge communication skills, influencing skills and teamwork. The key here is to be open and engaging, you won’t score points by making others look bad, you will score points by helping the team to succeed.

Prepare for the Interview
When you are invited for interview you should have been told, which type of interview to expect and therefore you will have some clues as to how to prepare for it. Research is the key to good interview preparation, whatever type of interview. It’s helpful to develop a spreadsheet with useful facts and helpful examples.

Research the Organisation
• Make sure you know what it does – if you are interviewing for a divisional role, make sure you understand the whole organisation.
• Look at its size and reach – will there be opportunities (or obligations) to move within the organisation.
• Look at the organisation’s website, social media, Glassdoor entry. Look for references to it in the press – are they in trouble, are they expanding?
• Look at the organisation’s values; does it have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy that particularly interests you?

Research the Role
Look again at the Job Description and Person Specification – where are your gaps? Are they positive, demonstrating your desire for growth? Or are you going to have to explain how your strengths in one area will overcome your lack of experience in another?

Think about your career
• Make sure you remember what you put in your application form or CV.
• Think about the achievements and/or challenges you highlighted in your application and be prepared to add depth and background.
• Have prepared any non-role specific activities. For example any learning and development, either company sponsored or as an individual, any social or charitable events you organised.

Think about your behaviours.
• List situations that you have resolved, or been a part of, how were they resolved?
• List situations that could have gone better.
• List aims and motivations.
• List achievements.

Think about your skills and competencies.
• How do you use your skills to overcome challenges?
• Be prepared to show how you achieved an outcome, not just what the outcome was.

Always have a few questions prepared
• You could ask about the interviewers’ career with the organisation.
• You could ask about learning opportunities.
• You could ask whether the organisation is diversifying or growing.
• You could ask about the organisation’s CSR/environmental policy.
• Be prepared to ask about salary in general terms if the advertisement has not been clear, but it’s not recommended to start negotiations at this stage.

Are interviews sector specific?
Certain sectors such as Health, police, judiciary will require very specific demonstrations of skills, training, competencies, and levels of experience, so the types of questions will be very specific, but the style of interview is likely to be Competency-based and carried out by a panel, so no specific style of the interview itself will be adopted.

See the interview as positive.
Walking out the door, with a smile, is not the end of the interview. Remember to email and thank the team. Repeat your interest in their role. It will of course be disappointing if you are not appointed, but all the preparation will help towards the next one. Many of the questions will cover the same ground and the fun ones that you can’t prepare for, such as how to get across that raging river with no boat or handy helicopter – will keep you guessing for years!

Good Luck!


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