How to predict interview questions

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This video covers if it is possible to predict interview questions and how to structure an answer to a competency based question.

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About this video

Sean Russell who is an ex-Director of the University of Warwick and the University of Birmingham Careers Services and has over 10 years’ experience interviewing people shares his top tips for predicting interview questions and how to structure an answer competency based question.


Alison: Hello I’m Alison Osborne from and welcome to our video series on ‘How to Succeed at Job Interviews’.

I am here with Sean Russell who is an ex-Director of the University of Warwick and the University of Birmingham Careers Services. Sean has over 10 years’ experience interviewing people and is now a career coach, trainer and consultant.

Alison: Sean, thank you for joining me today.

Sean: Pleasure.

Alison: I think the burning question on everyone’s mind when they have an interview is what questions will I be asked? Do you think it’s possible to predict interview questions?

Sean: Absolutely, and thinking back to the interview panels I’ve been on I’ve been surprised when people haven’t done that, and I think in terms of predicting, questions come in various forms, there are general questions, so a nice comfortable opener for a panel might be “ tell us a little bit about yourself “ which seems like you can talk about anything, but you really need to nail that with about 2, 3 or 4 bullet points, or “talk us through your CV”, which again is a very open question. They might well ask you questions about your knowledge, particularly if the role is very much linked with perhaps technical knowledge, and again you should be able to predict that from the job spec and the person spec, and also questions around your experience, your current role, previous role, and it’s all about matching the job to your previous experience. Then the last type of questions, which are generally called competency based interview questions, are probably the most common, and these are questions which typically start off with “tell us about a time when you have demonstrated an example of …” and then whatever competency it might be, teamwork, time management, a whole range of terms which again will be made explicit in the job description, so that’s where you can really predict questions. And one of the reasons interviewers use competency based questions is that it’s a very easy way to make sure that interview panels are consistent in their approach and with their questions to all candidates.

Alison: Could you tell me a little bit more about how I would structure an answer to a competency based question?

Sean: Yes I think with all answers it’s good to have a structure in mind, particularly with those, and a fairly well recognised structure is to kick off by talking a little bit about the situation which forms the background to your example, what the actual task was, what you achieved, and what the result was, and then looking back on it, how you felt you did in that particular situation or task or project. That gives you a nice structure. The key thing to remember is not to spend too much time on the narrative, giving the background, because the interview panel want to know what you did, whether it was successful, what the result was, and particularly how you reflected on it, because one of things they’re interested in is your development, and if you can say something like ‘this was generally quite successful, but if I did it again I would do these things differently ‘then that is a brilliant answer. They may well then have further follow up questions, to dig down into a particular aspect of that teamwork, if you said you were a good team player, they may say well what is it about your personal characteristics that make you a good team worker? Or leader or whatever it might be.

Alison: Well thank you very much for your time Sean.

Sean: Not at all - absolute pleasure, thanks very much indeed.

Alison: You can see more videos, careers advice, blogs, case studies and much more on our website Careers Videos

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