It's one of the greatest fears candidates can have before going into a job interview; you've arrived on time, dressed professionally and gotten off to a great start with your interviewer – only to be faced with a curveball question you hadn't prepared for. Because so much of a job interview hangs on how you answer the questions posed to you, stumbling over or failing to answer a question could be the deciding factor in landing your dream job. Particularly, because interview questions are designed to reveal a candidate’s suitability for a role; their skill set, their experience level and even their alignment with the company in question’s values and culture. If you can’t demonstrate your suitability through your answers, your chances of securing that role diminishes. Consequently, researching and preparing your answers prior to any job interview is imperative in making a good impression and progressing within their selection process.
But when conducting your research and preparation, what questions should you focus on? To help candidates with their interview prep, our team of consultants reveal the most common and important questions that are asked within job interviews and the key things your potential employer is looking for in your answers.
The first thing you should do when conducting interview prep is to make sure you understand the difference between the two types of questions asked within the majority of interviews; behavioural and competency-based questions. Interviews will often be made up of a blend of both behavioural and competency-based questions to gauge a candidate’s motivations, working styles and core skills and competencies. However there are subtle differences between each question type and what interviewers will be looking for in your answers, so knowing this and adjusting your responses will provide you with a great advantage.
Behavioural-based interview questions aim to reveal the way a candidate thinks; essentially what motivates and drives them at work. The purpose of this line of questioning – which usually focuses on your past work experiences – is to determine if the candidate aligns with the organisation’s culture and values and it relies on the theory that past behaviour predicts future action. Consequently, it’s believed these types of questions will help reveal how candidates think and how they would act in particular situations within the role in question.
Example Behavioural Questions:
How do you like to set and work towards work goals? Can you walk us through a recent goal you set and what you did to ensure you achieved it?
How do you think you work under pressure? Can you provide an example of a time you recently felt pressure at work and what you did to handle it?
Tell me about a time when you had to demonstrate adaptability?
What interests you about this role/why do you want to work here?
What motivates you to work hard? Can you think of workplace examples where this applies?
Can you describe a time where you faced a challenging situation at work – how did you handle it?
A good way to prepare for these types of questions is to study the organisation and try to gain an understanding of their culture. Most government departments require a high level of collaboration within their roles, so mentioning things like being a team player and being motivated when seeing others work hard, will usually work in your favour. Similarly, a key goal of the public sector is to serve and provide for their community, so trying to highlight your altruistic values in your answer, or your passion for working on community-based projects is important. More specifically, you can try and find out what a particular department’s work style is like -is efficiency highly valued due to the high level of applications or requests they have to process? Or do they focus on creativity and innovation due to the nature of the projects they work on? Once you know these factors, you can tailor your responses to align with their organisational culture.
Example Question: Tell me about a time when you had to demonstrate adaptability?
How to answer: When asked questions about challenging situations or demonstrating your soft skills like adaptability or creativity, interviewers are usually looking to gain a better understanding of how you handle stress and respond to problems. Especially when applying for high-pressure roles, or roles that involve stakeholder management, showcasing your ability to be flexible and handle problems in your answers is critical. These don’t always have to be really big examples – like when you were a project lead. An example could be dealing with the changing COVID-19 restrictions while on-site or handling workloads when your deadlines change.
Example of a good answer: I was working as project lead on a significant marketing campaign for a previous employer when by coincidence, three weeks before our launch date, a competitor launched a very similar campaign – regarding content, design etc. We didn’t want to push ahead with our plans as this would look like we were copying our competitor, despite working on the campaign for weeks. I knew we had to change the direction of our campaign and overall design, so I organised an emergency meeting with our marketing and design team. We had a huge brainstorming session. Having already done our research, and with our goals unchanged, we focused on the different ways to present the campaign, new mediums, colours etc. I then took some of the two most popular ideas from the brainstorm and mapped out a new campaign plan for both versions and then presented these to the marketing director for final approval. After we got the go-ahead for one of the ideas, it was all hands on deck to get the campaign assets ready for the launch date in three weeks. We managed to have everything ready for the launch date and were even able to generate 30% spike in leads. I was very proud with the way our team and myself were able to pivot and deliver great results.
Competency-based questions are used by interviewers to assess the specific attributes, knowledge and skills a candidate possesses concerning a particular role. While very similar to behavioural questions, when asking a competency-based question, interviewers are usually looking to determine if you have the specific skills required to perform a job, based on what you reveal in your answers. Again, the idea is that if you have used these skills before, you will be able to apply them to the necessary standard again.
The competencies that interviewers will be looking for will depend on the particular role advertised, as each role within each industry will have a specific list of core skills and experiences required for the role and thus what they will be looking for in each candidate’s answers. The best way to predict the types of competency-based questions you will be asked in an interview and get an idea on what your interviewers will be looking for, is to carefully look over the advertised role’s job description - especially the requirements and desired skills and experience section.
Example Competency-Based Questions
Have you ever faced conflict when working with a team? How did you resolve it?
Can you give an example of how you vary your communication approach according to the audience you’re addressing?
How do you identify and deliver the standards required by your clients – can you provide a recent example of when you did this?
Has there been a big decision you’ve made at work recently? Can you take us through your decision-making process?
Can you give me an example where you collaborated with individuals or teams outside your business area to deliver a positive outcome?
Can you talk us through a recent circumstance when you had conflicting deadlines and how you managed these?
Example Question: Have you ever faced conflict when working with a team? How did you resolve it?
How to answer: This question is designed to demonstrate your emotional intelligence, collaboration and team working skills. Essentially, your ability to interact and work together with your colleagues, collaborate on projects, and how you can resolve and help with any conflict within your team. Consequently, you need to think about how your answer can best convey this. It’s also important to highlight the results your team achieved from your actions or contribution, such as meeting a project deadlinenor achieving key KPIs.
Example of a good answer: A colleague who had recently joined the team started to deliver their end-of-week reporting late. The delays in sending through their reporting then held up other business processes and was causing some tension within the team. As a team leader, I felt it was important to have a catch up with this new colleague to determine what support the team could provide – especially in the first few months- to help them with their reporting. It turns out the colleague was having difficulties with using the reporting software our company had just installed. I offered to provide them with some ongoing training and support over the next few weeks with the software, and since then the colleague has been able to use the software proficiently. This has helped to ensure their reports have been finalised and as a team, all of our reporting is sent to management by deadline each week.
To help with setting out your responses to your behavioural and competency-based questions in an interview, you can apply the STAR method. The STAR Method is a useful tool as it ensures your answers follow a clear structure so that they best showcase your competency and skillset concerning a particular role. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Response and can be applied to your answers as follows:
The Situation- Start your answer by sharing the context around a particular work challenge, task or experience; the who, what, when and where.
The Task- Then describe your involvement or role in that particular task, challenge or situation.
The Action- Explain the specific steps or processes you took to overcome or resolve a challenge or complete a particular task. If the action was carried out by a team, focus on your efforts as it is your efforts that are being assessed.
The Response- Finish by summarising the outcome that was directly achieved by your efforts. In this section, it’s important to quantify your results to help demonstrate your capabilities so try and include figures or stats where possible – e.g. this resulted in a 5% increase in traffic to the company website.
The last question that will always be asked in any interview - no matter what the role- is ‘do you have any questions for me?’. Asking some questions of your own is a great way to show your interest and engagement in both the company and the role in question and it also helps your further clarify if the role is suited to you. Consequently, it’s always good to have at least 3 to 5 pre-prepared questions at the ready before you go into an interview, just in case some get answered during the process. Some good questions to ask could include: What prospects are there for personal and professional development? What are the organisation’s goals for the next six months? When do you expect to make a final decision on the role? What do you like best about working at said company?
Design & Build specialise in helping candidates with all stages of the recruitment process - resumes, selection criteria and interviews and we know what organisations – especially within the built environment industry- are looking for in candidate’s answers. If you are wanting to seek advice on how to ‘cut through’ within the current job market, and especially in an upcoming interview, reach out today at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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