Tips for answering interview questions

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How to answer questions and make a good impression at interviews.

First impressions count

Interviewers will start assessing you as soon as they meet you, so your presentation and attitude are important. To make a good first impression:

  • arrive on time
  • dress smartly
  • smile when you meet people
  • be professional as soon as you enter the building. The receptionist and anyone else you meet might tell the interviewer what they think of you.

How to answer interview questions

  • Speak clearly and vary your tone to show you’re interested and enthusiastic.
  • Take time to think about each question before answering so you can give a good response.
  • 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.
  • If you’ve had a job before don’t criticise previous employers or co-workers.
  • Give examples from your experience that demonstrate your knowledge and skills.
  • Show confidence in your skills and be positive about what you have done. For example, instead of using phrases such as "I only have..." or "I don't have…" tell the employer what you do have to offer.

Questions about your experience

When you answer interview questions about something you’ve done it’s best to use the STAR method (situation, task, action, result).

  • Situation – describe what the situation was.
  • Task – describe the task you had to do.
  • Action – describe what you did to achieve the task.
  • Result – describe the final result.

For example:

“When I was an assistant manager at Sally’s Sandals we hosted a VIP sales event for our loyalty card customers, and I was in charge of organising it. I needed to make sure that the store was decorated, we had food and drink for the customers, and we had enough staff members to work that evening. The event went very smoothly and we exceeded our sales targets for the evening by 50 percent.”

Common interview questions

Can you tell us about yourself?

Summarise your work and study experience and talk about your goals.

Why do you want to work for us?

Use your research about the job and organisation to answer this question.

What made you apply for this job?

Talk about your interest in the job and the organisation

What makes you the best person for this job?

Explain how your personality, skills and experience make you ideal for the job.

Have you done this kind of work before?

Discuss any skills or experience you have that will help you do the job.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Discuss your strengths and then talk about how you overcome your weaknesses.

Tell me about a time when you…

Describe a specific task or situation, what you did and what the result was using the STAR method - 

  • Situation – describe what the situation was.
  • Task – describe the task you had to do.
  • Action – describe what you did to achieve the task.
  • Result – describe the final result.

Answering questions about a gap in your CV

When answering questions about a gap in your CV it’s important to:

  • address the gap directly
  • explain why you chose to or needed to take a break
  • explain the issue around having a gap and make it clear it’s sorted out
  • provide evidence of your strong work performance if the gap was due to redundancy.

Gaps due to long-term illness

Employers will usually ask you if you have any mental or physical conditions that could prevent you from doing the job you’ve applied for.

  • If you’re fully recovered from an illness, be honest and make it clear that your health won’t be a problem for the employer.
  • If you have an illness that could affect your ability to do the job, be honest and answer the question positively. For example, "I have arthritis in my foot that prevents me from standing 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 in time."

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.

Gaps due to prison time or serious criminal convictions

If you've been in prison or have serious criminal convictions, approaching previous employers could be useful when job hunting. They will know what you’re like as an employee and may offer you another job. They may also give you a good reference.

If you get a job interview you may be asked if you have a criminal record. Consider the employer’s concerns and discuss what you've done since the conviction. 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 to tell the interviewer about any convictions to demonstrate your honesty. If you don't mention a serious conviction before you get the job and they find out about it, you risk being dismissed. The Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 allows you to conceal some convictions that are more than seven years old.

Updated 8 Dec 2023