Tips for answering interview questions

Find out how to answer questions and present yourself well in an interview.

Employers will start assessing you the minute you walk in the door, so your presentation and attitude are very important. You should show you:

  • can add value to a company
  • appreciate being interviewed
  • want to work for the company
  • are willing to improve your skills
  • have something to offer the company, such as a willingness to work, pride in the work you do and a spirit of co-operation.

General tips for answering questions

Most interviews have a lead-in time of introductions and settling in, questions from the interviewer/panel, and then a chance for the interviewee to ask questions.

  • Speak clearly and vary your tone to show you are interested and enthusiastic.
  • Give yourself time to think about each question. Pause before answering so that you can think about the best response, and make sure you're giving them the information they need.
  • Listen to questions carefully and let the interviewer lead the conversation. If you don't understand a question, ask for it to be explained or repeated.
  • Be diplomatic and discreet, particularly about previous employers or co-workers. Don't badmouth anybody.
  • Speak from experience – give examples that can demonstrate what knowledge and skills you have, and what you have learned in the past.
  • Be positive about the skills you have and what you have done. Don't give the employer a chance to downgrade your abilities by saying things such as "I only have..." or "I don't have direct experience in that area". Instead, tell the employer what you do have or can offer.
Types of questionsWhat to cover in your response
Can you tell us about yourself?
  • Give a brief summary about the study or work you have done that relates to the role you are interviewing for.
  • Talk about about personal and professional goals.
  • Talk about some of the things you like to do in your free time.
Why do you want to work for this organisation? Use your research about the job and the company here.
What made you apply for this particular job? Talk about your interest for the job and organisation.
What makes you the right sort of person to work for this company? Give examples of the skills and experience which make you right for the job.
Have you done this kind of work before? Discuss the skills and experience you have that will transfer to the job you are applying for.
How will you fit into our business? How will we benefit from taking you on? Use your research about the job and the company here.

Behavioural/situational questions

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

How do you deal with conflict?

Tell me about a time when you...

  • experienced failure
  • resolved a problem
  • achieved a goal
  • took a leadership role within a group.
  • Stress your good points and turn your weaknesses in to a positive, such as "I'd really like to learn more about computers."
  • Be able to describe a specific task or situation, what you did, and what the result was.

Answering difficult questions about gaps in your CV

If you have gaps in your CV, you need to be ready to answer questions about them.

Talking about long-term illness

The Human Rights Commission states that employers should not ask general questions about health in job interviews. Instead, the questions should focus on checking that you don’t have mental or physical conditions that would prevent you from doing the specific job you’ve applied for.

  • If you are fully recovered, you need to strike a balance between being honest, and making it clear that you are now ready to work and that your health won’t be a problem for an employer.
  • If your illness is chronic, you need to let the employer know – if it could affect your ability to do the job. Think about it from their point of view, and phrase your answer positively. For instance, "I have arthritis in my foot. It just means I can't stand for more than an hour at a time. This has never been a problem in my 10 years of working at a desk, but I've been told it could spread to other parts of my body."

Workbridge offers a free service to help people with any form of disability to find work. You can contact them for support with your job search and interviews.

Talking about time in prison or serious convictions

If you've been in prison or had serious convictions, you may find that approaching previous employers is more successful than applying for jobs.

However, if you get an interview you may be asked to fill in a form that asks if you have a criminal record, in which case disclose it there. Otherwise you can bring it up during the interview. 

Put yourself in the employer's place. Try to address their concerns up front, and show what you're doing to improve. For example, "I have to tell you I have a criminal record. However, I've taken an anger management course and I've learned how to control my anger in difficult situations."

It's important that you do disclose convictions because it demonstrates your honesty. If you don't mention a serious conviction before you get the job and are found out, there's a very high chance you'll be dismissed. The Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 allows you to conceal less serious convictions that are over seven years old, in some circumstances.

Need more help? 

If you need help, you can contact our trained career advisers between 8am and 6pm every week day, for free.

Updated 31 May 2016