Common interview questions

With any sort of interview, knowledge is your weapon. We can’t stress enough that you have to do your research. The unprepared typically get caught out quickly - and often. It’s not enough to know background details about the company, you need to know how and why they recruit.

Based on what a company needs, they might settle on one of the following interview techniques. Each style comes with its own set of favourite questions that you can prepare for in advance, if you pay close enough attention. Much like martial arts, every move has a countermove. It’s up to you to come up with the answers, but we might be able to help with the questions.


Competency-based interviews

This is the most common form of interview and a recruiter’s usual weapon of choice. Naturally, companies hire to fill a business need. They need someone who can think a certain way, demonstrate specific skills and and solve particular problems that come up everyday in the job.

For a typical graduate who has no real world job experience as yet, these questions are designed to suss out your basic ability level. They’ll relate to a specific hypothetical situation and you’ll be asked to recall a time where you encountered said situation, and how you dealt with it. For instance:

  • “Why are you a good fit for the company?”
  • “Give an example of when you overcame a problem at work.”
  • “Tell me about a time you supported a member of your team who was struggling.”
  • “Give an example of a time you had to improvise to achieve your goal.”
  • “Tell me about a time when you failed to complete a task or project on time, despite intending to do so.”

To answer questions like this effectively, remember the STAR method:

  • Situation: set the scene for the employer by describing the situation relating to their question.
  • Task: what was your goal in this situation?
  • Action: tell the interviewer what your specific actions were. Your answer should be mainly comprised of this section.
  • Result: the end result – try and put a positive slant on this, even if it was a negative outcome.

This approach should help you answer the question in a clear, structured manner that will help your recruiter understand your achievements and amplify the importance of your limited experience.


Strength-based interviews

Strength-based questions are a different beast entirely. Whereas competency-based questioning is all about what you can do for the company, strength-based questions are all about you and what you’re good at. Though it remains a second-placed technique for interviewers, employers are slowly ditching the competency approach as they seek to find a candidate’s particular ‘strengths’ (geddit?).

It’s a way for recruiters to find dedicated, productive candidates that they can potentially pair with a company’s passions and values.

At its core, it’s essentially a way for recruiters to find dedicated, productive candidates that they can potentially pair with a company’s passions and values. When interviewing for a large graduate scheme role, being exposed to such an approach can be useful, as it may reveal your compatibility to one arm of the business more than another.

Communicating your strengths should be simple; talk about your relevant passions and talents in detail and include supporting data. Here are some example questions to give you an idea of what may be asked of you:

  • What tasks are always left on your to-do list?
  • When did you achieve something you’re really proud of?
  • What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  • What do you learn quickly?
  • What things give you energy?

Case interviews

Would-be investment bankers and management consultants – listen and listen good. You may very well be subject to an interview like this. Case interviews (also known as case study interviews) are perfect to test you for jobs that require logic, analysis and problem solving skills.

There are no right answers – they’re more about how your brain works, whether you can keep a cool head and whether you can use common sense.

The questions in these interviews are designed to make you think on your feet and test whether you’re ready for a high-pressure, big money environment. Mostly, there are no right answers to these questions, they’re more about how your brain works, whether you can keep a cool head and whether you can use common sense. Below are some example scenarios you may be given:

  • “Your client is a ski resort. Global warming has made it such that natural snowfall has been reduced by 50%. The client is concerned. What should they do and why?”
  • “Your client is Motorola. The year is 1980. They just invented the cellular phone 3 years ago. Estimate the market demand for cell phones over the next 30 years and tell them if there is a market for this invention (and prove it).”
  • “Your nephew runs a lemonade stand. Yesterday was Monday and he was open from 2pm – 5pm, and sold 2 cups. What should he do differently tomorrow?”

The key to success here is to take your time and ask questions if you need to. These questions aren’t always as straightforward as they seem. You’ll need to think carefully and laterally to come up with solutions. You may also need to brush up on skills like mental arithmetic and commercial awareness.


Roleplay based interviews

The perfect interview for those of you that would jump at the chance of a star turn on the West End, were it not for your dream of landing a graduate job. Roleplay-based interviews are used to simulate a real life situation that you may find yourself in at the workplace. They’re a stalwart feature at assessment centres.

It’s a technique often used for sales jobs (your interviewer might play the role of a difficult customer, for instance). The idea is to see how you react and if you can improvise and instantaneously make the right call.

Your problem solving and decision-making skills will come into play, but you’ll also need to be persuasive, assertive and have great analytical reasoning skills. They can also be group exercises too, which aim to test your team working, listening, negotiating, leadership and time management skills. Here are some example scenarios:

  • “You are working in the customer support team of a retail firm. A customer who bought a ginger beer from one of your stores discovered that it had a dead snail in it after drinking and is now threatening to call the consumer watchdog. Contact the customer to resolve their issue.”
  • “You are the sales manager of a small firm. You receive a telephone call from an angry customer who bought a home security system from your company but is not happy with it. They are now threatening to take their story to a consumer watchdog and to the trading standards ombudsman. Your objective is to resolve the issue with the minimum damage to the company (both financially & in terms of the company’s reputation).”

These ones are quite tough to prepare for as you’ll most likely be given a script from which to improvise on the spot. In this case, make sure you take time to read the script all the way through first to be clear on what you’re expected to do. Try to come across professionally but also be naturalistic and draw from real-life experiences you may have had for extra points.

And there you have it. Just remember: no matter what questions are thrown your way, no matter how strange, Debut have your back.

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