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Interview tips: Interview questions

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Test out your job interview skills with these typical interview questions and answers...

What are common interview questions?

Interviews enable prospective employers to gather more information about applicants and build upon questions already put in application forms; they are also for prospective employers to check that what has been written in CVs and application forms is real.

To anticipate what form the questions might take, put yourself in the role of the employer and consider what you would like to know.

Questions are likely to cover:

  • educational achievements;
  • work experience;
  • personal skills, such as leadership, teamwork;
  • personal goals;
  • understanding of the role;
  • strengths;
  • weaknesses.

They might be put as:

  • What made you decide to study at university x?
  • What did you find challenging about working as an x?
  • Give us an example of how you worked effectively in a team.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
  • What would you bring to the role of x?
  • Tell us about your proudest achievement.
  • Do you envisage any difficulties in carrying out this role?

Don't assume that the interviewer has read your application carefully (there may have been many). Prepare your responses as if the interviewer knows little about you, but be prepared to justify anything you have put in your application.

What is a competency-based question?

Competency-based interviews may include 'scenario' questions, where you are asked what you might do (or have done) in a given situation or scenario. Again, thinking in advance about your own experience is good preparation to respond well.

Here is an example of a required competency in a job specification:

Ability to motivate learning in lower primary age (KS1 and KS2) children.

In an interview, this might be put as:

  • Can you give us an example of how you motivated children while on school placement? This question requires a skills and knowledge-based answer; or
  • We have a small group of children in school whose ability to progress in KS2 English is significantly lower than the UK or local norms. What would you suggest could be done to raise their attainment? This questions requires a scenario-based answer.

How do I answer challenging interview questions?

Challenging questions are sometimes used to find out how you react under pressure. Any question can be challenging if you have not prepared for it so it's important to:

  • prepare well for anticipated questions;
  • admit you don't know the answer, rather than waffle or lie;
  • provide balanced responses if the question seeks your views;
  • give practical examples to illustrate your answer;
  • be honest and avoid responding with something you think the interviewer might want to hear as you could get it wrong.

Can I refuse to answer personal questions?

Yes. If you don't think a question is relevant to the job application, then you can refuse to answer. All candidates should be asked the same questions; it would be considered highly unethical for an interviewer to ask female candidates about how they manage childcare, but not to ask males. 

Once the decision to offer a job has been made however, it might be in your interests to respond to a personal question if it relates directly to fulfilment of the role. For example, if you have disclosed a health consideration on an application form, it would reasonable for an employer to ask for additional personal information in order to enable you to access the job safely.

The important distinction here is whether you have been offered the job. Personal information, such as family circumstances, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and health matters should be considered when job competency has been fully explored - and only if relevant to fulfilment of the role. This will often arise in a follow-up interview.

What are typical portfolio-based questions?

Where you are asked to bring a portfolio of work to the interview, for example, in a creative/design job application, you are likely to be asked questions about:

  • how you created the design/artefact;
  • what/who inspired you;
  • what commercial value the work has;
  • whether the work has been patented;
  • how you see the work being mass-produced;
  • whether the work is the result of a collaboration with others.

What makes a good answer in a group interview?

Group interviews are carried out by prospective employers to observe how candidates perform in a competitive group situation.

They take the form of:

  • group discussions where candidates are given a topic to discuss or a task to complete; or
  • questions that are put to the group by a questioner/group leader. There is often a note-taker or observer.

Group interviews are an opportunity for you to show your group or teamwork skills and:

  • show your knowledge of a topic;
  • demonstrate you can listen and understand the views of others;
  • act as a leader by bringing all group participants into the conversation;
  • intervene positively if a group member is dominant;
  • summarise, build consensus and agree action.

Effective group working is a skilful activity and benefits from practice and feedback. Your university careers service may offer training in how to manage your contribution in groups.

Good answers include:

  • I agree and would like to add that… (elaborate);
  • Another approach would be to… (provide alternatives);
  • We seem to be agreeing that we take the following action… (summarise);
  • Does anyone want to add to this…? (include others).

What questions should I ask the interviewer?

Asking questions shows you are interested in the job and it's a good idea to have two or three prepared in advance. For example:

  • What kind of further training would be provided?
  • Does the organisation have plans to develop in…?
  • What is the proposed start date for the role?

If you have had all your prepared questions answered during the interview, then simply explain that and indicate you look forward to hearing the outcome.


Further information

Some university careers and employability services provide practice interview sessions, so it's worth contacting them if you are a student or recent graduate.

For more help with interviews, see how to prepare for an interview, assessment centres and psychometric tests.

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
June 2013

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