Interview Questions Chapters 1-14: Guidance
The information below gives some guidance as to what employers will be looking for in good answers to these questions.
1. Why did you choose the university, and the course you have been studying?
Poor Answer: A poor answer would reveal that there was no reasoning or any systematic thought. The reasons given might be either weak (e.g. ‘My sister went there’) and show a lack of independence or are non-existent.
Good Answer: A good answer would show clear decision making that displays the skills of information gathering and systematic judgement. You would show how you gathered information and made appropriate judgements to begin your university life.
2. How successful have you been at achieving the goals you set out to achieve by studying at university?
Poor Answer: A poor answer would give no evidence of deliberate intent or systematic evaluation. Evidence is either weak (e.g. ‘I think I’ve done OK’) and/or shows a lack of systematic thought.
Good Answer: A good answer would show good clear evidence of your ability to set goals and take action with a goal in mind. There would also be evidence of the ability to evaluate progress on a regular basis (and to make changes to actions where needed).
1. How have you changed or tried to develop yourself whilst at university?
Poor Answer: A much poorer answer would be reflected in a lack of thought and perhaps an inability to answer the question.
Good Answer: A good answer would give a good clear response, together with proactive actions. You would show how you came to recognise the areas that you needed to develop, how you decided upon relevant actions and carried them out, and then how you evaluated your on-going progress.
2. What were the most useful and least useful parts of your studies at university?
Poor Answer: The way the answer is given shows a lack of previous thought and reflection.
Good Answer: There would be good, clear evidence of reflection about the university experience, perhaps on an on-going basis. The answer would talk about different aspects of life at university including student societies, accommodation, part-time work perhaps, as well your studies.
3. What are your personal strengths and weaknesses in relation to this role?
Poor Answer: The answer would be unconvincing, showing the opposite of the qualities present in a good answer. The information may not relate to the job or may be presented without any kind of evidence or example.
Good Answer: The answer would be given quickly, showing good reflection, clear thinking based on evidence previously gathered, and a realistic awareness of the job they have applied for – and would take into account evidence from other people.
1. Can you give an example of a time when you have had to balance conflicting priorities? How did you do so? How successful were you?
Poor Answer: The university experience will – by its nature – give students conflicting priorities (e.g. work vs study, or different assignments due at the same time), so a candidate who cannot think of one is either going to be someone who has not prepared well for the interview, is nervous, or who hasn’t thought about their experiences very well.
A weak answer might also give an example of a situation where the conflicting priorities are not really conflicting in a way which causes a serious dilemma for the candidate.
Good Answer: The answer would be specific and clear. It would explain the situation, the actions taken, and some evaluation of those actions. It would also show how a candidate is motivated by various priorities in different ways, and how creative and resourceful they can be in resolving such dilemmas. Remember the STAR principle.
2. How have you gone about establishing goals and objectives?
Poor Answer: The answer would give no evidence of deliberate intent.
Good Answer: The answer would provide clear evidence of the ability to set goals and to take action with a goal in mind. Examples would be given – probably from studies but maybe from other situations as well.
1. Imagine that you are in control of a government department. The employees in that department want you to achieve one thing, the public want you to achieve something else, and you personally believe that the right thing to do is one that neither group have thought about. What would you do?
Poor Answer: The candidate never actually gives an answer, or gives an answer and then changes their mind as they think it through.
Good Answer: There is no right and wrong answer here, so the issues are: (1) How does the candidate think through a complex ethical dilemma and balance competing interests?; (2) How well (and quickly) does the candidate understand the complexity of the situation?; (3) How definitively do they give an answer and do they change their mind?
2. What do you think are the most challenging problems facing society today? Do you think there are any ways to solve them?
Again, there are no right and wrong answers here: if those problems could be easily solved, then they would already no longer be problems.
Poor Answer: A poor answer would give no evidence of societal awareness nor of any creative thinking to solve such problems.
Good Answer: The answer would give clear evidence of general societal awareness and the ability to think clearly about current social issues. The respondent would also give evidence of the ability to quickly make a persuasive case, perhaps based on limited factual information, rather than rumour and speculation.
1. Thinking about your learning at university, which parts of your course (lectures, tutorials, presentations, assignments, etc.) taught you the most?
Poor Answer: There would be no evidence of thought or evaluation. The candidate may take some time to give an answer.
Good Answer: There would be clear evidence of the ability to reflect on – and evaluate – previous educational experience. The answer could make reference to discussions as well as feedback on assignments.
2. How easy did you find it to adjust to studies at university after school or college?
Poor Answer: No convincing evidence of thought or evaluation. A lack of any examples to support the answer given.
Good Answer: There would be clear evidence of an ability to reflect and evaluate previous experience, and probably examples of one or two areas identified as ‘easy’ and one or two areas identified as ‘difficult’. The areas identified might give some insight into the personal strengths and weaknesses of the candidate: areas identified as ‘easy’ will likely relate to personal strengths.
1. What has been the most stressful experience you have had?
The speed with which a candidate might give an answer might be indicative of how stressful that particular experience was.
Poor Answer: No evidence of thought or evaluation. The candidate may take some time to give an answer.
Good Answer: There would be evidence of the ability to reflect on and evaluate previous experience. Since stress is usually the result of demands from external forces (e.g. a job) that the individual does not feel able to meet, then the answer given may show where that person’s strengths and weaknesses lie.
2. Can you give me an example of a time when you used feedback to improve your performance?
Poor Answer: The answer gives no evidence of seeking or using any feedback.
Good Answer: The candidate would present clear evidence of an ability to reflect on and evaluate information given to them. In some situations, the candidate might have proactively sought out information which was not otherwise going to be made available to them. The candidate can present specific information about how information was used, and give an example of how it improved performance.
1. What has been the most challenging piece of written work you have worked on? And why? How did you go about ensuring it was a good piece of work?
This question – and the qualities expected in a good answer – is similar to Q1 in Chapter 6.
Poor Answer: A poor answer would give no evidence of thought or evaluation, and parts of the question might remain unanswered.
Good Answer: There is clear evidence of an ability to reflect upon and evaluate previous academic experience. The answer you give here might show as much about how you respond to a challenge as it does to how serious and difficult the challenges you have worked on have been. You would be expected to use an example based on the STAR framework.
2. Tell me about your experience with writing reports. Can you briefly tell me about a report you have written?
This is a simpler question than most and is designed to simply identify whether the candidate has had experience of something that the employer considers important.
Poor Answer: No evidence or examples are given, or the candidate incorrectly discusses some other form of written assessment.
Good Answer: The answer would give a specific example given of when the candidate has had to write a report. The candidate would be clear about the differences between a report and other forms of written work – e.g. an essay or case study.
1. How successful were you at planning your revision?
Poor Answer: There would be no evidence of a great deal of thought or evaluation, and parts of the question would remain unanswered.
Good Answer: The answer would show evidence of the ability to make a plan, to then have the discipline to keep to the plan, and evaluate the candidate’s own performance in the subsequent evaluations.
2. How have you used the feedback from your examinations to improve your performance?
Poor Answer: No evidence of having sought feedback, or even realising that it could help you improve performance on your other examinations.
Good Answer: There would be evidence of having been proactive in seeking the feedback (and maybe persistent enough to get it as well), and then an ability and willingness to apply that feedback to change something about what you have been used to doing.
1. Thinking of an example of a presentation that you had to give, how did you go about preparing and giving that presentation?
Poor Answer: An answer which shows little awareness or memory of doing presentations, or little interest in doing oral presentations.
Good Answer: A good answer would focus on one specific instance of a presentation – preferably an individual one, or at least a group one where your contribution was very distinct – and would detail how you went about preparing for it and designing appropriate delivery methods using the STAR framework.
2. What do you think are the most difficult issues with preparing and giving a presentation?
Poor Answer: No evidence of any prior thought or evaluation, and parts of the question remain unanswered.
If you find presentations relatively easy, then be sure to say so – but also be sure to say what you enjoy about presentations.
Good Answer: A good answer will show your awareness of different types of presentations – maybe you find some types easy and some types difficult? – and also shows self-awareness concerning what makes them easy and difficult for you.
The areas which you find easy and difficult will show something about your own personal strengths and weaknesses (e.g. if you find preparation difficult, then maybe you could struggle with time management, self-discipline, creativity, being motivated to do the appropriate research, etc.), so be aware of the impact your answer could have, and prepared for follow-up questions on why you find those aspects difficult.
1. What do you think makes a good teamworker?
Poor Answer: No evidence of much prior thinking. The longer you take to answer the question, the more the interviewer will doubt that you have had much recent experience in teams.
Good Answer: A good answer will give details, and because you will be expected to produce a fairly instantaneous answer, will be likely to draw on your own experiences and memories of working in teams. The follow-up question will likely ask ‘Why?’ or ‘How have you demonstrated those qualities yourself?’
2. Tell me about a time when you needed to work with others to accomplish a difficult task. What did you do and how successful was your group?
Poor Answer: No evidence of any prior thought. Answer talks about what the group did, not what interviewee did. Little evidence of thought or evaluation, and parts of the question remain unanswered.
Good Answer: You will be expected to find a relatively tough task to talk about – an easy task won’t sound so convincing because the interviewer is trying to find out about how you approach tough tasks. You will need to talk about your role in helping out the group, so talk about ‘I did … ’ rather than what you (as a group) did. Remember the STAR principle covered in the chapter.
3. Can you tell me about a time when you have had to work with others to complete a challenging task with limited resources? What did you do? What was the impact of your actions?
Poor Answer: No evidence of any prior thought. Answer talks about what the group did, not what the interviewee did. Little evidence of thought or evaluation, and parts of the question remain unanswered.
Good Answer: As above, you will be expected to find a relatively challenging task to talk about – an easy task won’t sound so convincing because the interviewer is trying to find out about how you approach tough tasks. You will need to talk about your role in helping out the group, so talk about ‘I did … ’ rather than what you (as a group) did. Remember the STAR principle.
The number of questions here is somewhat indicative of the kind of importance attached to leadership in selecting the graduates that organisations select.
1. Can you tell me about a time when you felt you needed to take the initiative to achieve a goal. What did you do, and how successful were you in achieving your goal?
Poor Answer: A poor response would mean that no example was given or the example is weak (i.e. would be very common amongst applicants and the general population). If you don’t have an example, then you may have given yourself an exit from the selection process. Taking the initiative is a key aspect of leadership – and no organisation will expect you to sit around and wait to be asked to do something.
Good Answer: You will be expected to think of an example to give – find a relatively challenging task to talk about if you can. If you have demonstrated leadership, then you should not find this a difficult question to answer. The more unusual the answer, the better. Remember the STAR principle.
2. Tell me about a time when you needed to persuade someone to change their mind.
Poor Answer: No example given or example is very weak (i.e. would be very common amongst applicants and the general population: e.g. ‘I had to persuade my team members to … ‘ ). If you don’t have an example, then you may have given yourself an exit from the selection process. Being able to persuade is a key aspect of leadership – and no organisation will expect you to have to use your authority to impose solutions on people all the time.
Good Answer: As above, you will be expected to think of an example to give – find a relatively challenging situation to talk about if you can (have you ever persuaded someone who was in power over you to do something? Or persuaded somebody to give you extra money?). If you have demonstrated leadership, then you should not find this a difficult question to answer. The more unusual the answer, the better. Remember the STAR principle.
3. Tell me about a leader that you admire. Why do you admire them?
This is an unusual question, perhaps, but one which says something about your values and where your inspiration comes from.
Poor Answer: No example given or example is very weak (e.g. a friend or relative). When answering the second part of the question, a weak answer would be little more than ‘He is my father so I admire him’. You’d be expected to give a good, strong answer.
Good Answer: A good answer might give a leader that the interviewer had not heard of, or a friend or relative, but your reasons for admiring them need to be genuine and clear. They might deduce that the things you see in them are things they would expect you to do in a leadership role, so a follow-up question might be ‘How have you demonstrated those values in your own leadership?’.
4. How would you describe your personal leadership approach?
There are a number of ways of answering this question, and the adjectives that you choose to use need to show a balanced but flexible approach. The question will expect you to have reflected on your leadership abilities and to be reasonably self-aware.
Poor Answer: A poor answer would show that you have not been in a leadership role and are unaware of some of the implications of your actions. The answer would likely be vague, meandering, and somewhat indecisive. It is better to have an inappropriate style than not to have one at all. A lack of examples will also be considered weak.
Good Answer: A good answer would be clear, succinct, and backed up by examples to show what you mean. Be as comprehensive as you can, and try to give as much detail as you are able to give. Think about how you communicate, how you go about establishing goals, and how you lead people who are reluctant to follow you.
5. How would you go about leading a team member who seemed not to be producing the work they needed to? Can you give an example of a time when you have had to do so?
Poor Answer: A poor answer would give no examples, or would give examples where the problem was very temporary or not difficult to solve. An answer which does not give the ‘end of the story’ (i.e. ignores the impact of what you did) would weaken the answer considerably.
Good Answer: A good answer will follow the STAR process and will discuss exactly what you did and how. If you have not faced this situation, then it would be acceptable to discuss something hypothetically, but talking about a real situation would give a stronger answer.
6. What was the most pioneering activity that you have undertaken?
Here, the interviewer is looking for signs of initiative: usually, such a quality demonstrates leadership.
Poor Answer: A weak answer would give no example, or an example of something which had had no or very limited impact on others. Talking about doing something that everyone else has thought of, but just being the first, is also not going to be seen as a strong answer.
Good Answer: A good answer would follow the STAR process and would discuss something challenging that you had done, but that no-one else had thought about. Small activities are OK, but the higher the profile and impact, the better.
7. Can you describe how you have gone about setting goals for a team you have worked with?
Poor Answer: A poor answer would give no examples or would give very weak examples (e.g. where there was only one goal, or where the goal was not challenging). An answer that does not describe all four aspects of the STAR process might also be seen as unhelpful.
Good Answer: As above, you will be expected to think of an example to give – find a relatively challenging situation where deadlines were regular or likely to be hard to meet, if you can. The more unusual the answer, the better. Remember the STAR principle.
It is very important to note that the way you are responding to questions at the interview will be an indication of your own communication skills. Time in an interview is limited, so the interviewers might not ask you specific questions about your communication skills (preferring instead to examine those by the way you answer the other questions), but they may ask some questions similar to those below.
1. Tell me about a time when you tried to communicate an important message, but the message was misunderstood. What went wrong and what did you do afterwards?
Poor Answer: No example given or example is very weak (i.e. the situation was not particularly important). An answer that does not describe all four aspects of the STAR process – and particularly subsequent actions – might also be seen as unhelpful.
Good Answer: This question is about resolving misunderstandings in a tactful way. The interviewer will be expecting you to have taken action to address that misunderstanding and then to have evaluated the result. Remember the STAR principle
2. What have you learnt by watching others around you communicate with each other?
Poor Answer: The answer will be vague and might reveal that you have learnt very little, either because you have had little opportunity to observe others, or because you have not taken the time to learn more about their communication skills.
Good Answer: The answer will be specific and demonstrate that you understand something about the impact of communication on relationships. It will also show that you are reflective, observant and aware of the behaviour of others around you, and that you spend time with others. Be aware that whilst ‘communicate’ can refer to written communication as well as face-to-face communication, you will probably only ‘watch’ the impact of face-to-face communication. You might want to check whether this refers to written and oral communication, or just oral communication.
3. Which communication skills do you think are the most important? Why?
Poor Answer: If you are not sure or have little idea, then you might not be particularly aware of the impact(s) of how people communicate with each other, or you may not have thought about this.
Good Answer: This should not be a particularly difficult question but your answer will be individual to you. It will show what you think are the more important skills and that answer will be based on your own values and experiences. There is no right and wrong answer, but you will need to give a reason for your answer.
4. Imagine that you needed to communicate a complex idea to an intelligent audience. How would you go about this? What issues would you need to take into account?
Poor Answer: A poor answer will give a simple (and therefore probably incomplete) and largely theoretical response.
Good Answer: This is a complex multi-faceted question. You will need to consider not only the medium of communication (or more likely several media – written, oral, newsletters, etc. – used at different times in different ways with possibly different audiences), but also the language you use with your ‘intelligent audience’. A good answer will illustrate this complexity with reference to personal experience, using the STAR framework.
5. From your own experiences, can you give some examples of poor communication?
Poor Answer: A poor answer might give examples of poor communication between yourself and your manager, or a personal example. A personal example might show your own learning if you recognised your own mistake quickly enough and rectified it, but there could be questions about whether you thought through how you would communicate a particular message. An answer which is delivered with unnecessary emotion (anger, disappointment) might not come across well.
Good Answer: There is a slight ‘trap’ here, so beware. It is never good to criticise previous managers or organisations/leaders, so try to find an example from an organisation that you have not worked for before. A good answer will use the STAR framework to explain what was communicated, how it was communicated, and what the impact was of that poor communication – maybe with reference to others rather than yourself.
6. Describe a time when a relationship with a fellow classmate, team member or someone you had to work with went wrong. How did you resolve the issue?
Poor Answer: A poor answer will be one where you come across as someone who is not interested in resolving conflicts, where someone else had to help or impose a solution, or where the situation or cause of the breakdown in a relationship does not give the interviewer a very good impression of you. A theoretical answer is better than nothing, but would not be regarded very highly.
Good Answer: This is a question which could be answered in several ways, but is about (1) tactics for resolving conflict and (2) using your communication skills in a helpful manner. A good answer will show a number of characteristics, including your determination to resolve the conflict (so try to find one which had a serious impact), your awareness of the impact of different solutions and your creativity in solving issues, and give an idea of your overall managerial approach to managing tough situations and challenging relationships. Use the STAR framework for your answer, but also try to find an example where there was actually some resolution.
1. What do you think are the biggest issues currently facing international organisations?
Poor Answer: A weak answer would be one which shows ignorance of the main issues happening around the world. The answer would be irrelevant or out of date, or would not necessarily be very important.
Good Answer: There are few right and wrong answers to this question, although the answer you give will reveal something about your awareness of what is happening in the world, and the ways in which organisations are responding to this. If you have specific examples, then these will enhance the quality of your answer, although a follow-up question might ask you to say something about how organisations are addressing those challenges.
Your preparation for the interview might also have meant that you are aware of international challenges affecting the particular organisation who has invited you to interview – so be prepared!
2. What difficulties would you expect to face if you were offered a role in another country?
This is not a question that implies they would immediately offer you such a role (unless it would be for language teaching or something similar), but they might wish to know about your readiness for the future and how you had previously adjusted to difficult situations.
Poor Answer: A poor answer will show very little interest or awareness of what it means to live in another country. Such an answer might refer to difficulties relating to coming back to your own country. Language is often something that is referred to in answering such a question, but showing an understanding of another culture is usually as important.
Good Answer: A good answer will show your understanding of the challenges involved in such a situation. Those might be practical challenges, emotional challenges, interpersonal challenges and others. They might also relate to food, accommodation, understanding cultural values or other issues. Showing that you have some experience of dealing positively with these issues through your own travels on previous occasions will be useful.
3. Imagine a situation where you – as a departmental manager – needed to quickly resolve a conflict between two individuals from different cultural backgrounds about an issue where both held very strong and opposing views. How would you handle such a situation?
Poor Answer: A poor answer will show a lack of ability to handle such a situation well, either because you would get emotionally involved, would show bias or would try to deal with this in a public manner, or any number of other situations which would be inappropriate.
Good Answer: This may or may not have been something that you have had experience of when leading a group coursework assignment (for example). If you have had experience of this, then it would be a good idea to use the STAR framework to give an answer, but make sure that the views of those involved were sufficiently ‘strong and opposing’.
If you have not had experience of this, then you can still give a good answer. Think through how you should progress this. Both parties might need some time to calm down, so is it right to deal with the situation straight away, or would you send both home and deal with this the next day? The situation may or may not really be about their cultures after all: there could be a personal grudge somehow. Be creative about how you interpret such a question, and then think about how you would go about providing a solution.
1. Tell me about a time when you needed to solve a problem that others were struggling to solve.
Poor Answer: A poor answer will give a weak example – it will either not be very challenging or not very urgent – or the solution was not particularly effective. Needing to solve problems is an important skill and something that almost certainly you will have had some experience of, so it would be a little surprising to the interviewer if you cannot think of a good example.
Good Answer: This question requires you to reference the STAR framework. Think quickly about a situation where you have had to do this. It could be a problem relating to resources or deadlines or people, and may relate to your studies, to work, to personal interests and so on. Regardless of this, you will need to remember one that was challenging and where a solution was not easy to find – but in identifying the problem, try not to talk about blaming others too much.
2. How would you go about finding a new way of delivering one of our services? (Or ‘a new use for one of our products?’, if the company is a manufacturing company.)
Poor Answer: A poor answer would give little detail and be irrelevant. It would show a lack of interest in the organisation.
Good Answer: A good answer would enable you to demonstrate your awareness of the company or organisation and demonstrate your creativity by developing an interesting answer. If the company is known for innovation, then you should expect and be prepared for a question of this nature. You should be able to give a reasonable degree of detail in your answer. However, even a cursory awareness of what the company does and how those activities might be carried out differently might be sufficient.
3. Imagine a situation where you – as a departmental manager – needed quickly to resolve a cash flow problem. How might you go about this?
Poor Answer: A poor answer will show the opposite of the qualities listed above.
Good Answer: This is not an easy question since you will need to demonstrate your awareness of basic business budgeting/financing as well as your problem-solving skills. This issue is regarded by many businesses as challenging and very real, but an answer which is creative and reflected in reality will be seen very positively.