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Job interviews: an overview

Guidance on answering job interview questions

These questions will help focus your ideas in advance of your interview, so that you’re ready to give effective answers to the common questions asked.

An interview will typically consist of two types of questions:

  • Competency based questions - These questions are based around demonstrating your skills, qualities or competencies. You can usually find those skills related to the job in the job specification/advert. Fundamentally these questions work on the premise that evidence of past behaviour can help predict what you're able to do in the future or if placed in a similar scenario.
  • Strength based questions - This is a relatively new approach used by graduate recruiters and these questions are focussed around what you enjoy doing or what you're good at to identify where your natural aptitude lies. This is a great method for employers to avoid hearing pre-rehearsed answers.

Typical questions

Review the questions and think about (or write down) possible answers and think of how you'll give examples to evidence them. Read the article on the STAR technique.

When you come up with your answers, think about how it might be used as a response to more than one question. Also, it’s best to prepare more than one answer to illustrate important points that you want to make, as you may be asked for additional examples.

You don’t need to learn the answers and regurgitate them parrot-fashion. This would look stilted and you might be tempted to use the answer where it isn't quite relevant.

Remember:

  • Questions that are open-ended will need more than 'yes' or 'no' answers. The interview should resemble a structured conversation.
  • If the question confuses you, ask for clarification.
  • If you’re asked a really difficult question, request a moment or two to think about it and compliment them on a good question!

Questions about you

A common question that can throw a lot of people is 'Tell me about yourself'. Think carefully about this one. How do you put yourself in the most positive light without giving them your life history? Try to come up with an answer that will take less than two minutes. Other questions might include:

  • How would your friends describe you?
  • How would your critics describe you?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Which achievement are you most proud of?
  • How do you get things done?

Questions about your skills or competencies

Questions about your skills will relate to the specific job, so make sure you're familiar with all the skills required for the job and have your examples ready as proof of your abilities.

  • Can you give an example of when you had to work under pressure?
  • How do you go about meeting deadlines?
  • How good is your time management? Give an example.
  • What team skills do you have?
  • Are you more comfortable in a leadership or supporting role when working in a team?
  • Tell me about your IT skills. Can you give an example of when you've had to use them in your study or work?

Question about your OU qualifications

  • Why did you decide to study for an OU qualification?
  • Which part of your study have you enjoyed most?
  • What were the difficulties in studying part time?
  • Is your degree classification a good reflection of your academic ability?

If you’ve applied for a job where your qualifications are directly relevant, have you revised all the essential points that relate to the job itself?

Questions about your work experience

  • Can you give an example of when you dealt with a difficult situation?
  • What were your main responsibilities at XYZ?
  • When you were supervising others, what did you find most difficult?

Questions about your non-work interests

  • Can you tell me more about your hobby?
  • What appeals to you most about caving/cooking foreign food/gardening?
  • What was your major contribution to this team/society/project?

Questions about what you understand about the organisation/employer/sector

  • Where do you see the business in five years' time?
  • Who do you see as our main competitors?
  • What are the main threats/opportunities for the organisation/company/ project?
  • Why do you want to join our organisation?

Questions about the job

  • Why do you want the job or think you're suitable for the job?
  • What do you know about the job?
  • Which parts of the job might you find difficult to handle? How would you deal with these aspects of the job?
  • Which parts of the job would you be particularly good at?
  • Have you applied for any other jobs?

Questions about your future

  • What training/mentoring/general support do you think you might need if we offer you this job?
  • Where do you see yourself in a year's/five years' time?
  • Do you see this job changing as a result of your input or through outside influences?

Off the wall questions!

It has been known for interviewers to ask unpredictable questions such as:

  • What were you like as a child?
  • If you were a biscuit what would you choose to be?
  • If you could ban something, what would it be?

Actually, they don't really want to know the answer. Their purpose is to see how well you deal with the unexpected. Can you think on your feet or do you get flustered? Do you present a convincing argument? How original can you be?

Last updated 1 year ago