The interview process in 2 minutes
We’ve created this short video to help you prepare for your assessment centre. Check out the video of useful tips and advice, then you can explore the more detailed guide below.
Watch the film

And here’s the process in more detail.

  • preparing

    Find out how to get ready for the big day.

  • what to expect

    Discover what you’re likely to face.

  • answering questions

    Give your responses that STAR quality.

  • a good example

    See what a great answer looks like.

Preparing

An interview is like an exam – and you’re the subject. So to prepare, you just need to work out what to revise.

Once you’ve done the groundwork, you’ll have good revision notes and it’ll become easier.

The starting point for your preparation is the job you’re interviewing for. What do you know about the:

  • Organisation?
  • Job description?
  • Competencies?
  • Key skills for the role?

All of these will give you information about what the interviewers will be looking for.

For example, if the advert says that they’re looking for an “ability to deliver to tight deadlines”, it makes sense that you might be asked “tell me about a time when you had to deliver to a tight deadline”.

Many interviews are competency based. Competencies are behaviours which the organisation believes are important in order to be successful in a particular role. An interview will often include a number of competency questions, in order to test a range of behaviours which are most critical to the role.

Some areas that might be covered include:

  • Planning and Delivery
  • Problem Solving and Judgement
  • Working with Others
  • Communicating and Influencing.

Most competency based interviews ask you to give examples from your past experience that show your skills. These are then used to predict how you will perform in the future. However, some are hypothetical and instead ask you what you would do in a particular scenario.

As well as competency questions, an interview may also focus on your understanding of the role you have applied for and what has motivated you to apply. It is important you think about why you want to work for the organisation as a whole, as well as the specific role you have applied for.

There are a couple of ways to do your ‘revision’ in preparation for an interview.

  1. Prepare specific examples relevant to the job information. Go through what you know about the job – the list of responsibilities, skills and competencies – and ask yourself: “When have I done this well?” and “How would I do this in this job?” for each item on the list. In your interview, you can use these examples to demonstrate your suitability for the job.
  2. Think of when you’ve been proud of something you’ve done, been successful, or produced a really good result. You’ll probably find that you’ve used skills such as planning, working with others and communicating at the same time. So you can cover several competencies in one ‘big example’.
    However, think of four to five really good examples that show your variety of skills – you don’t want to re-use the same one over and over again.
    Having done the detailed preparation, create some bullet points to look at before you go into the interview. Lots of people find themselves forgetting to talk about their best examples – but you can give yourself the best chance if you’ve ‘revised’ properly.
    Top tip: Using keywords and phrases, or coloured writing will help you remember.
  3. Make yourself aware of the purpose and aims of the organisation. What are their values and vision? What status do they have in their sector? What challenges does the organisation face?
    By taking time to go through their website in detail, you’ll not only gain a deep understanding of the culture and the way they operate, but you may also gain insights into the kind of people they recruit. This will help you to tailor the examples of your experience so they can closely match what the organisation is looking for.
what to expect

What to expect

Interviews come in many different forms. Sometimes there will be just you and one interviewer. Other times, you might be speaking to a few people. And, in some cases, you could be in a group interview.

Whatever style interview you find yourself in, interviewers should ask everyone the same questions. You should try to give enough detail in your initial answer without being too long-winded. However, sometimes the interviewer may ask follow up questions to help ensure they have all the evidence they need. You should listen to the question carefully; remember to stick to the point and answer that question without getting side-tracked.

Once you’ve been asked a question, don’t be afraid to take time to collect your thoughts, and think of your best example to answer the question before speaking. It’s also okay to ask the interviewer to repeat a question, or to check your understanding of what’s being asked.

Be yourself and act naturally. The interviewer will want to get to know you and get the best out of you, to ensure they have all the evidence they need to effectively assess your suitability for the role. They’re not trying to trick you or catch you out in any way.

Your interviewer will also be busy taking notes and may not be able to maintain eye contact with you. Don’t let this distract you or put you off. It’s their job to get everything down so they have an accurate record of what you say in the interview.

Having said this, the interview should be a two-way conversation, so think about any questions you’d like to ask. This gives the interviewer the chance to share more with you about the role and the organisation. But you’ll appreciate that, for security reasons, there are some questions we can’t answer at this stage.

preparing
answering questions

Answering questions

If you don’t have work-related experience, you could always use examples from school, sport, voluntary work, hobbies or even your personal life. You should try to use examples from the past two years, this should help ensure you can remember lots of detail about what you did and why.

The best way to answer competency-based questions is by using the mnemonic (a simple memory technique) ‘STAR’. This will help you structure your response. It works like this:

Situation - What was happening? What was the context?

Task - What did you want to achieve? Or what were your aims?

Action - What did you do, and why? Refer to “I” rather than “we” to give a clear picture of your own role, rather than your team’s performance. This should make up the bulk of your answer.

Result - What was the outcome of your actions?

Try to use situations with positive outcomes. However, if there’s something that didn’t have a positive result but demonstrates your skills, say what you’ve learnt from the experience and what you would do differently next time.

what to expect
a good example

A good example

Here are two examples of ways to answer the same question. The first is a bit weak, while the second is much stronger.

WEAK COMPETENCY ANSWER

Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you worked with others as a member of a team?

Candidate: I worked for an insurance company in a team dealing with a big backlog of claims and we got the backlog down. We all worked very hard as there was a lot to do in a short amount of time. My manager was very pleased.

STRONG COMPETENCY ANSWER

Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you worked with others as a member of a team?

Candidate: About a year ago I worked for an insurance company, dealing with a big backlog of claims. There were six of us in the team, and my role was to work on some of the more specialist claims, giving technical support to colleagues when they needed it.

We were given a target to reduce the backlog.

Over two weeks, we all worked together to reduce the claims. I reviewed the outstanding claims and channelled them to people according to their specific knowledge. I checked everyone was happy with the approach and changed a few things based on some of their feedback. Whenever I’d finished my caseload, I helped out anyone who was behind on theirs. During the fortnight, we took turns to organise a motivational treat and I brought in a tray of homemade brownies. We agreed to have them once we’d reached a particular target.

By the end, we’d reduced the backlog and the manager praised the way we all pulled together and how I’d improved the efficiency of the process.

In fact, that new system’s still being used now.

Colour code:

Red - Situation

Blue - Task

Green - Action

Orange - Result

What did we see in this example?

Competency – Working with Others

Understanding own role

Listening to and responding to feedback

Working collaboratively

Supporting colleagues

Motivating others

answering questions