Whilst there is no set way to answer interview questions, an understanding of the underlying motivation for asking the question may help to form your thoughts around what to say, i.e. think of the three main questions employers have for you.
You also need to consider the context in which you're answering interview questions. You need to tailor each answer and align yourself with the industry, organisation and position.
Although an employer will be interested in hearing the content of your answer, it is important that you show the employer the process that you go through in tackling the question. In this sense, it's useful to keep in mind a number of elements in your answer. Employers will look for your ability to:
- Identify/analyse the problem
- Formulate a plan
- Implement the plan
- Monitor the situation as it unfolds
- Evaluate your efforts
Despite all your research and preparation before interview, you might be asked questions that you didn't prepare for and don't have an answer for on the spot. It is also possible that despite preparation, you genuinely don't know how to respond to a question. The first rule is not to apologise for what you lack. The interview is your opportunity to market yourself and that means that you need to emphasise the positive and your strengths.
In this case, you may need to think laterally: think back to your experiences and try to find an example that allows you to draw a bow between that experience and the context in which you're being interviewed.
Remember: don't get put off by these types of questions; the organisation has invited you for interview, which means they already believe you have something to offer.
Rehearse but don't memorise
You can prepare your answers and practice your interview skills but you never know exactly what you'll be asked. Especially when you think you'll be very nervous, it may be tempting to learn your answers by heart so you can recite them word for word at interview. The main issue with this approach is that rehearsed answers may not come across very naturally. Since a large part of the impression you make at interview is based on your non-verbal communication, providing a rehearsed answer may not help you win the job.
What you say, how you say it & body language
A face-to-face interview consists of three elements:
- What you say
- The way you say it
- How your present yourself
The focus for many people during interviews is on what they say; the actual words. It is often underestimated how much you can influence the outcome of your interview by using appropriate tone of voice and body language:
- Words: 10 per cent impact
- Tone of Voice: 40 per cent impact
- Body Language: 50 per cent impact
Using the STAR approach
Similar to the way in which you address Selection Criteria, an effective framework to use when answering competency-based questions is the STAR-approach:
Describe the situation, professional role or context you were in.
State the tasks that were associated with that role, or depending on the question, you could also describe the challenges or problems you faced in that situation.
Try to be explicit and specific when you describe the actions you took in working on the task or in overcoming the challenge: use a specific example (or two) and include qualifiers, i.e. relevant information about 'how much...', 'how many...', 'how long...' etc.
Results refer to the outcomes that you achieved as a result of your efforts.
When you describe the Situation, Task, Action and Result in your response, you provide the interviewer with evidence: the information they need to make an assessment of your skill level and depth.
Again, you need to tailor your answer to the particular context in which you answer, so make sure you choose examples that are most relevant for the job and organisation.