All organisations use interviews as part of their recruitment process.
Interviews give employers a chance to assess your suitability for the role, and provide you with an opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and personality.
What employers want
Employers need information that covers three main areas in an interview, and will ask numerous questions to cover each area.
Can you do the job?
You’ve been invited to the interview, so it’s safe to assume that the employer has seen something in your CV they like. Now they want to find out more about your experience.
Will you do the job well?
An employer isn’t just looking for your capability, they also need to know you are motivated and hard-working. Questions here will focus on your career aspirations.
Will you fit in to their business?
No one wants to employ someone who will disrupt their team dynamics. You’ll be asked questions about your strengths and weaknesses and how well you work in a team environment.
Interview preparation resources
The format of an interview will vary depending on the nature of the job, the recruitment process and the company: from face-to-face talks to psychometric testing and competency assessments. We've put together some tips, advice, and sample questions from our Resource Library to get you started, as well as linking to some practical tools to give you plenty of practice and confidence.
Types of interview questions
Interviewers tend to use a mixture of question types. Here you will find a summary of the most frequently used types, to help you understand why different styles are used and how to best prepare for them:
- Closed questions
A closed question seeks a brief response which, in many cases, will be a simple 'yes' or 'no'. They tend to be used at the beginning of an interview when the interviewer is:
- seeking facts
- requiring a quick answer
- keeping tight control of the interview
- Open questions
An open question seeks a longer response and will be used for most of the interview. They will be used to encourage you to:
- think about/reflect upon situations you have been in
- say how you feel/think about something
- describe what you did/what you learned in a particular situation
- outline your knowledge of a particular topic/technical area.
- Competency-based questions
On the basis that past behaviour will provide a good indication of your future behaviour, many companies use competency-based questions which ask you for examples of situations when you have demonstrated the competencies required for the job. If the interview includes competency-based questions it will be very structured and the questions will often start with:
- give me an example of when...?
- describe an occasion when...?
You will usually know what the competencies required are in advance of your interview - they may be included in your job description and/or personal specification or listed in the interview invitation correspondence you have received. If competencies have not been mentioned to you prior to the interview, do not assume that examples will not be requested during the interview. Check the companies website to see if any desired competencies are listed, and prepare examples where possible.
- Value-based questions
Some employers will ask value-based questions, seeking examples of situations that demonstrate that you possess values such as integrity, honesty or respect for others. The advice given for competency-based questions is also relevant to the answering of value-based questions as the interviewer will ask you to talk about situations when you have demonstrated specific values.
- Scenario questions
An interviewer may describe a work-based scenario to you, one that involves some form of problem or challenge. They will ask you to imagine yourself in that situation and tell them what you would do to help resolve it. You need to say what you would do and why you would take that approach. You could also cite an example, if possible, of when you faced a similar situation, and what you did about it.
- Awkward questions
Some interview questions can be more awkward to answer than others. Here are some examples of difficult questions:
- Questions about your exam results or degree classification
- Questions about your work history or previous experience
- Questions about your age
- Questions about your disability or health issues
- Questions about a criminal record
- Questions that make you feel uncomfortable
If you think that the question you have been asked is inappropriate, and you feel uncomfortable, then politely refuse to answer it. You could also ask the interviewer to explain why the question is relevant to this job and your ability to carry out the role.
- Badly worded questions
You will meet some good interviewers and some bad interviewers - only about 15% of UK-based managers have received formal interview training and it is, therefore, wise to also consider in your preparation the prospect of being faced with a bad interviewer and being on the receiving end of confusing and badly worded questions - this may include:
- questions that are so long, you forget what you were first asked
- questions that involve more than one question making it very confusing to offer a succinct and sensible answer
- it may be the case that you are posed with a badly worded questions that is too ambiguous for you to answer correctly
At any point, if you are not clear about what is being asked or required from you then ask the interviewer to repeat the question and/or clarify what they want from you.
- Salary questions
It is best to leave any discussion or mention of salary until you have been offered the job. If you mention it too soon, it can look like you are more interested in the money than in the role you have applied for - and you're in a much stronger position with you know they want you and before you have accepted the job.
If you are asked what your current salary is, then you need to tell them the truth. But don't volunteer this information. Also, if you are asked what your expectations are then answer with a salary range i.e. between £x and £x.
- Your questions
You will be expected to ask one or two questions at the end of the interview. Undertaking research on the company will help you with this preparation, and you could also ask about something that arises during the interview. You might want to ask something about one or more of the following:
- the job
- the company
- the working hours
- the colleagues manager/team/department
- staff development opportunities
Don't ask about the term and conditions, including salary, until you've been offered the job!
Got an interview as part of an assessment centre?
We have a dedicated area to assessment centres that we advise you to take a look at before the big day.