Making sure you have worked on your technique for answering questions before you go to an interview is a must. As the old adage says, 'failure to prepare is preparation to fail'.
Spending some time preparing answers to possible interview questions before the interview is a good place to start. Using the job description or person specification, you can find out what kind of candidate an employer is looking for, and ascertain the sorts of questions they could ask you.
For competency-based questions, the STAR technique described below provides a concise and effective way to answer questions where employers are asking you about your existing skills and experience.
Interview Technique Tabs
Remember that you are ‘on show’ from the moment you enter the venue for the interview. Showing courtesy and consideration for everyone with whom you come into contact on the day almost goes without saying.
- Dress smartly and appropriately
- Look confident – a firm handshake, a smile and making eye contact with the interviewer can convey the right impression
- Try to appear relaxed – sit comfortably; not perched on the edge of the chair but not lounging right back either
- Listen carefully from the beginning of the interview
It is not just what you say in an interview which can influence the outcome. How you talk and your body language during the interview can also be very important.
- Adopt an open posture, don’t use your arms or hands to create barriers between yourself and the interviewer
- Use appropriate hand gestures, but don’t overdo it. Seeing yourself on video or asking a friend can be very helpful in assessing your normal style
- Don’t have anything in your hands during the interviews. For example, if you hold a pen you will almost certainly start fiddling with it, which will be very distracting to the interviewer and create a bad impression
- Don’t fiddle with your hair, jewellery, clothing, watch or anything else
- Observe the body language of the interviewer - this can help you to know when to continue talking and when to pause for the next question
- Don’t interrupt the interviewer, but make sure that you are interruptible
- Nerves can make you speak more quickly than usual. Try taking some deep breaths before you start to speak
- Maintain eye contact with the interviewer but don’t stare. You may then be able to get an idea of how the interviewer is reacting to your answers
- Try not to cross your arms as this can appear defensive. You don’t have to sit rigidly to attention throughout the interview but avoid the temptation to slump back in your chair
- Don’t fidget with loose change in your pocket or jewellery
Dealing with nerves
We all suffer from nerves to an extent. Adrenaline can help us perform at our best, but too much is a problem and can result in butterflies, hands or knees trembling, hot flushes, sweating, your mind going blank and feeling over emotional. Not very helpful symptoms!
WAYS TO DEAL WITH NERVES INCLUDE…
Prepare – then you will feel confident in your research, and in how fluently and positively you can talk about yourself and the job.
Be organised – know all the practicalities of where you are going, how to get there and what you will wear – (your entire outfit, check the state of your shoes, tie, etc). Don’t allow any risk of being late!
Visualise – see yourself making a confident entrance, smiling and dealing smoothly with the interview questions.
Relax – develop a relaxation strategy, which could involve some yoga, deep breathing, positive visualisation or whatever works for you.
Breathe – nerves can make you rush – so slow down and take time to breathe!
For competency or skills-based questions, you should structure your responses using the STAR technique. You can see a breakdown of this on the next tab.
General tips for handling interview questions
- If you don’t understand a question then do ask for clarification rather than risk giving an irrelevant answer
- Try and give optimistic responses to questions. An interviewer may pick up something in your CV which is less than positive or where something has not been successful. Talk about what you have learnt from the experience rather than focussing on the failure
- If you are faced with a particularly difficult question then you can ask for a few moments to think, but don’t do this too often
- Make sure what you say is relevant and to the point, don’t be too brief but avoid very lengthy answers
- Practice your interview questions before the actual day. Get used to hearing yourself speak out loud. Try and speak fluently and watch out for lots of ‘ums’ and 'errs'. Look at ‘Interview Questions’ well in advance of the interview, find out about the type of questions asked in interviews and some suggestions on how to answer them. Think about how you might respond if faced with these questions
To answer competency/skills-based questions effectively, you should use the STAR technique to structure your response.
What is a competency/skills-based question?
This type of question is anything that asks you to provide an example of a time or situation when you've used a particular skill or demonstrated an ability. Employers normally ask these questions relating to transferable skills - e.g. teamwork, analytical ability, communication - that they're looking for candidates to have.
How to answer using the STAR technique
When providing an answer to a competency question - for example 'Can you describe a time when you had to solve a problem?' - think STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results):
|Situation||Describe the situation that you were in|
|Task||Describe what you needed to accomplish|
|Action||Describe the action you took and the skills you used and be sure to keep the focus on you ('I'), rather than ‘we’. Focus on skills and attributes, what went well and what you learnt. About 70% of the answer should be here|
|Result||What happened? What were the results? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Describe outcome, in positive terms, quantified where possible|
A worked example
You've been asked the following question in an interview:
"Describe a situation where you have worked efficiently in a group. Describe the role you played and any problems you encountered."
To answer, break down your response using the STAR technique as below:
S: In my second year I worked in a team of four on a group-based case study that looked at haemodialysis and the polymer membranes used for the separation process.
T: We investigated the biocompatibilty of haemodialysis membranes, which involved producing a summary report and presentation in a two week time frame.
A: A few days into the project, it became apparent that one of our team was not pulling their weight as they did not attend the visit to the local dialysis unit. Some of my team mates opted for absorbing his workload into their own, whereas others suggested that he was directly challenged for slacking off.
I volunteered to speak to him and it transpired that he was unclear about the assignment, but was embarrassed to ask in front of the group. I arranged a one to one session to talk through what was needed and where he could contribute, he was very good in conducting literature reviews and so I re-assigned some of this work to his area and assumed some of the writing work myself. I also arranged for a knowledge exchange meeting to share the findings from the visit and the literature research. This way he could liaise with other members of the group to provide them with relevant material for the presentation and exchange knowledge with them about the visit which he missed.
R: He also volunteered to do the presenting with one of the colleagues from the presentation group, and overall we received 68% as a group mark.