Typical question types

It's very unlikely that the employer will give you a list of questions in advance (though it happens!) however the structure of the interview will be influenced to some extent by what you have told the employer about yourself – you already have this information so in preparing for your interview always have in front of you your application form or CV, your '3 essential lists', the job description and information on exactly what the company is looking for.

You might not be able to guess the questions word for word but the employer is going to ask you for evidence that matches up to his or her selection criteria.

Questions are likely to be based around:

  • your motivation
  • your knowledge of the job and company
  • your understanding of what you have to offer
  • you being able to give examples of the required competencies
  • your knowledge of the current issues in that sector of business/industry.
Motivational Questions

Testing your motivation is a key element of any interview. Employers need to be convinced that you have sound reasons for wanting to join them and you are strongly motivated towards the role you are applying for.

It might be useful to think about the following when preparing for these type of questions:

The Organisation

  • Identify YOUR personal reasons for wanting to work for the organisation?
  • Are you sure they are YOUR reasons? Are they specific to that particular organisation?
  • ​Are you able to convince them that you 'get' the organisational culture and want to be a part of it?

The Role

  • Identify what has made you decide to apply for a job in this particular field.
  • Demonstrate your career planning ability and role awareness.
  • Can you talk about the value of the role within the company structure?
Decision Making Questions

Q. Why did you decide to…..?

Very often an employer will be keen to find out why you made particular choices at various stages of your life so far. The most common questions in this area include:

  • “Why did you decide to study your degree subject"?
  • “Why did you choose Heriot-Watt”?
  • “Why have you decided to embark on a career as an ……."?

Any ‘decision making' question can be answered using the following structure:

  1. First you might want to talk about the context that led to a decision needing to be made.
  2. Next, talk about the specific 'outcomes' that you wanted to achieve with this decision.
  3. Talk about how you investigated all the possible options that were available to you.
  4. Talk about how you used your outcomes ‘list' to narrow down all possible options.
  5. Finally, talk about what it was specifically about the option you eventually did decide upon that made it the ‘best' decision for you.
Strengths Based Questions

Some organisations use strengths-based interview questions to find out what kind of activities you most enjoy and fire you with enthusiasm. We all utilise our strengths when performing at our best and when taking on board a new skill. If you genuinely enjoy what you are doing, you tend to perform better!

EY is perhaps one of the organisations that use a strengths-based approach in their graduate recruitment activities. Typical questions might include ‘What do you do well?', ‘When do you feel you are most like “yourself”?' and ‘When are you at your best?'

Competency Based Questions

Q. Tell me about a time when you…..?

Now we get to the heart of any competency based interview – describing your skills/strengths in a way that clearly demonstrates you have what the company is looking for and you know why they are important to the job you have applied for.

Any ‘competency' question can be answered using the following structures:

  1. CONTEXT: Place your example story in context, explaining what the main elements of the situation were.
  2. ISSUES: Demonstrate that were able to identify what the critical issues were in this situation.
  3. PROCESS: Talk about the thought process you went through to arrive at your ‘action plan'.
  4. ACTION: Tell the story of how you implemented your action plan and highlight any issues you had to overcome
  5. IMPACT: Finally, talk about how your critical thinking and direct actions had a positive impact on the situation and, as a result, a positive impact on the company's business.

Another structure to follow is the STARR approach:

  1. Choose one source of activity and provide a SPECIFIC example;
  2. Describe what you set out to achieve in this TASK;
  3. Describe what you did in terms of ACTIONS and impact;
  4. Talk about that outcome and how you measured your RESULTS;
  5. REFLECT on what you have learnt.

Hint: Make sure that in telling your story, your interviewer has a clear picture of you being competent in: Dealing with Problems --> Identifying Critical Issues --> Taking Direct Action --> Having an impact

Your Weaknesses

Q. What are your Strengths/Weaknesses?

First the easy bit - you have already identified your strengths in your ‘essential lists', so now it's just a case of telling them how your strengths will benefit you in the role - and the company as a whole.

Let's be honest - the 'weaknesses' question that often throws candidates during an interview. The main problem is that most people think that it is a trick question designed to catch you out and expose you as unsuitable for the role!

Good news! The actual reason that employers ask this question is to find out how aware you are of your development needs and to be sure that you have considered how to deal with this.

Try to consider any question relates to your weaknesses along the following lines:

Think about what you would like to include in any training plan that the company might put in place for you and highlight:

  • What technical skill are you would like to develop further;
  • Why will this be useful to you in the role;
  • What form this training/skills development might take.

Hints: Avoid discussing your personal qualities. Try to focus on a technical skill that can be improved through training. Make sure that you avoid talking about skills that are central to carrying out the role!!

Business Awareness

First and foremost, you MUST be clear about what the organisation does and how the role you are applying for fits into the future success of the business.

Most companies will also expect you to demonstrate evidence of your awareness of the main issues affecting that organisation in the short and longer terms, the key issues that affect the business sector you hope to be employed in and the implications of current ‘big changes affecting the world of commerce and industry.

The following are some suggestions to help you deal with this type of question:

  1. Know the overall business, the sub divisions of the business and your own future service line.
  2. Be clear about how the business operates and makes it's money.
  3. Know what makes the organisation you are applying to successful in its field.
  4. Think about a successful company you know and try to identify what makes it stand out from its competitors.

Hint: As well as the more well known names, you can also talk about the company you have worked for part-time whilst studying at university as you should have good knowledge about how they go about their business; their market; their products/services; their competitors etc.