You’ll feel much more confident in interviews if you prepare. Follow this technique for preparing outstanding answers to ‘competency questions’:
- ‘Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team. What did you contribute?’
- ‘Tell me about a time you had to overcome a problem.’
- ‘Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult person. How did you handle it?’
- ‘Tell me about a time your communication skills made a difference to a situation.’
You don’t want to be too brief, waffle, miss the point, repeat yourself, forget where you’re going with your answer, or spend the whole time talking about how great your manager was! Avoid all these issues and give a well-structured answer by using ‘STAR technique’.
STAR stands for…
- Situation. Give your answer some context by outlining the company you worked for and your role.
- Task. Give a bit more context by explaining the specific project or activity you were involved in.
- Action. Explain what actions you took. This should take up most of your answer.
- Result. Finish with a positive outcome resulting from the actions you took.
‘Tell me about a time you’ve demonstrated your customer service skills’.
A bad answer: ‘A customer couldn’t find beans, so I pointed in the direction of my manager so they could tell the customer where the beans are.’
Why is this a bad answer? This answers the question, but there’s not sufficient detail to show what the candidate’s capable of, or to really sell their skills or abilities. This answer is too brief and it’s not even interesting. You’re competing against other candidates, so make sure, you’re giving the best answers!
A good answer: ‘In my previous role working as a customer assistant in the online shopping department of FridgeMagnates Ltd. I was contacted by a customer that had received the wrong fridge-freezer, due to an error in the warehouse. They were very unhappy and wanted to make a complaint and get a refund.
‘To fix this, I first listened to the customer’s problem and repeated back what they’d said to check that I’d fully understood their problem. I assured the customer that I would take responsibility for resolving the issue.
‘The product they wanted was no longer available, but rather than just give them a refund, I used my knowledge of current products to suggest several suitable alternatives which matched their needs. This helped me to reach an agreeable resolution with the customer.
‘This happened right at the end of my shift and I was already due to finish, but I stayed late to ensure the order got processed the same day without any errors. I followed this up with a call to the customer the next day to ensure they had received their order and that everything was ok.
‘They were extremely happy and they even asked to speak to my manager so they could give feedback about how helpful I’d been. I won the ‘employee of the month award’ because of this.’
Why is this a good answer? This answer has sufficient detail and a clear structure, describing the ‘Situation’, ‘Task’, ‘Action’ and ‘Result’. The ‘Action’ takes up most of the answer and really sells the candidates skills and abilities. This answer could fit a number of different questions, including ‘Tell me about a time you overcame a problem’ or ‘Tell me about a time you had to deal with an angry customer’ or ‘Tell me about a time your communication skills made a difference.’
10 tips for answering interview questions
- Be extraordinary. Give examples of actions that went beyond just doing your day-to-day job.
- Fit the description. When talking about skills, keep them relevant to the job. Read the job description. If they want someone with an eye for detail who can work under pressure, then why tell them you’re a creative person who loves learning new things?
- Avoid ancient history. Talk about things you did recently. This will be more impressive than things you did a long time ago.
- Listen to the question carefully. Interviewers may not ask questions exactly how you expected, but your prepared answers could fit a range of questions, so don’t get flustered. Pause before you answer. Think about which of your answers fits best, you may be able to adapt something you prepared rather than improvising.
- Be interesting. Vary your tone of voice to emphasise key points. Avoid technical jargon or talking about complex processes.
- Don’t be a mercenary! Leave your questions about pay, hours of working and time off until after you’ve received a job offer. When asked ‘why do you want to work for us?’ Explain how well you will fit in with their culture and values, rather than focusing on what you’ll gain.
- Show your interest. Make good eye contact, use your least-creepy smile and ask questions at the end of your interview.
- Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate. You may have your commercial awareness tested, so keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date.
- Seek feedback and learn from it. If you’re unsuccessful, make sure you ask for feedback, so you can learn from any mistakes and improve.
- Keep it real. We don’t recommend making up your answers, as a good interviewer will know if you’re fibbing.
Predicting interview questions
Here are some easy ways you can anticipate what’s coming:
- Search the internet. A simple internet search will bring up questions and answers relating to your job-goal, such as ‘Interview questions for law firms’ or ‘Lab Assistant interview questions and answers’.
- Search your memory. Think about questions you were asked at previous interviews. Hopefully you made a note of these at the time!
- Use your network. Try to connect with people that already work in that company or role, talk to them about the selection process and what questions they were asked.
Who’s got all the answers?
- MDXWorks.com: Guidance for interviews and help answering questions like: ‘Tell me about yourself’, ‘What do you know about us?’, or ‘Do you have any questions?’ We also recommend using the MDX Interview simulator. If you’re expecting an assessment at your interview, check out the mock assessment day tests, including numerical, verbal, ‘e-tray’ tests and more (Use your MyUniHub ID and password to log in).
- ‘The Guardian Guide: ‘Using the Star technique to shine at job interviews: a how-to guide’
- Totaljobs.com: Sample competency based questions.
- Prospects.com: Great tips for answering a range of common questions.
- Glassdoor.com: Hints from other candidates about how they responded to questions.
- Targetjobs.co.uk: Tips for answering tricky interview questions.
Need more help?
If you’re a student or graduate of Middlesex University and you’d like help preparing for an interview, contact the MDXWorks team. We can provide you with further guidance or even arrange a mock interview for you with one of our friendly team of professionals.
There are some common questions which routinely get asked at interviews, so make sure you prepare! Read our blog-post: ’10 tips for answering common interview questions’.
By Matt Lewis, MDXWorks On-Campus / Online, Middlesex University
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