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Job interviews…how do you anticipate questions and prepare answers? My three top tips!

Here in Canberra it seems to be interview season! I’ve heard several reports of bulk rounds advertised in various government departments. Savvy candidates should think ahead of the interview and get ready for questions. But what will the panel ask? That is impossible to tell. However, in my experience, there are three types of common interview questions you can expect, and therefore prepare for.

1) The “Getting to know you” question

Often the first question in any interview falls into this category. The purpose of this question is to let the candidate introduce themselves, allow the panel to get a feel for the candidate’s personality and experience, and to ease the way into the harder hitting questions to come later. Common versions of this type of question include:

  • “Tell us about yourself”

  • “Walk us through your resume”

  • “What interests you in this role and this organisation?”

This type of question may seem innocuous; it is more important than you think. First impressions are crucial. Your answer to this question will demonstrate how articulate you are, your passions and values, and your ability to quickly engage with the panel members. In a public service interview, this question can be used to gauge your personal drive and integrity. If you talk about your vocation for public service or your ability to reach important goals like advanced study, you demonstrate to the panel these vital attributes.

This question is a gift to the candidate, so use it well! Start by being mindful of body language, keep an open posture, smile, and let your natural enthusiasm show when you talk about your interests. This is your chance to be sure you share with the panel any special skills you have for the role. Practice variations of this question and remember to highlight why you want the job you are applying for.

2) “The Behavioural Interview” question

A behavioural interview question is easy to spot because it’s rarely a question; it’s usually an invitation to tell a story. I favour these questions because they show how candidates have performed in the past, which can be a strong indicator of how they are likely to behave in a similar situation in the future. These questions often form the bulk of an interview. I recommend candidates spend most of their preparation time thinking about work examples that demonstrate the skills required in the selection criteria. For instance, if the selection criteria states Demonstrated ability to handle competing priorities, expect a question like “Tell us about a time when you successfully handled competing priorities…”

Here are a few standbys which frequently turn up:

  • Tell us about a time when you went above and beyond to serve a customer

  • Tell us about a time when you helped achieve a goal as part of a team

  • Give an example of a change you implemented in your workplace

  • Tell us about a time when you met an important deadline, despite obstacles

These questions are best formulated around the STAR model (situation, task, action, result). Be mindful of choosing examples with positive results, and try to quantify whenever possible; “Meeting the deadline meant I was able to tender for a project which helped grow the department by 20%” or “The change resulted in cost savings to the company of $30,000.”

Finally, the last question in any interview may be the most important, and it is the question you get to ask. This is one question you do not want to answer with a simple “No”:

3) “Do you have any questions for the panel?”

I hope it won’t disappoint you to hear that I’m not going to give you any examples of what you should ask. This question is an opportunity to show that you’ve researched the organisation, thought about the role, and have developed genuine interest resulting in your question, whatever it is. Only you can formulate this question, but by all means, have it ready to ask!

If you’d like help preparing questions and practicing answers, give me a ring. I see clients in my office in Canberra or via Skype, Facetime, or phone elsewhere.

A job interview is an important performance, don’t skimp on the rehearsal. Good luck on your career journey!

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