Interview Questions Advice

There is, at heart, only one fundamental question that an interviewer is looking for the answer to, : ‘How are you going to help me?’

No matter how experienced they are, no interviewer can guarantee hiring the right person, all they can do is minimise the risk of hiring the wrong person. Therefore, any question an interviewer asks will fall into two distinct groups:

  1. What is the benefit of hiring person x? and,
  2. What is the risk of hiring person x?

Therefore, all things being equal, the person who performs the best in the interview will get the role, not necessarily the person who is most qualified.

In order for you to have the greatest chance of performing well, you need to know in advance, in relation to the role, where you are strong and where you are weak and then have strategies for dealing with both situations. The following advice  may help you to achieve this.

Before any interview, go through the job description and, looking at the role and person specification, score each a point from 1 to 5, where 1 is a weakness and 5 is a strength. Assume that any question asked on an area that has a score of 3 and below, is an area of relative weakness and anything scoring 4 and above is an area of relative strength.


Dealing with questions in areas of weakness

Firstly, make sure that you do not introduce into the conversation any areas that fall into the weakness areas. If asked, remember, that no matter how well you answer these questions, you are still in negative territory. The mistake most people make is that they try and justify their answer, and all that happens is that they dig a bigger hole.

There are a number of approaches one can take, however we will focus on the following two.

  1. Construct an answer

For example, if an interviewee were asked “had they ever had to fire anyone” and they hadn’t, they could respond with, “no, but if I had to, the approach I would take would be very similar to how I manage good performance, namely I would” …. (then briefly explain the steps they currently use). They might, if feeling very confident, then ask the interviewer has there been a problem with poor performance as one of their key strengths is improving the performance of individuals and teams.

  1. Challenge the relevance of the area being questioned.

For example, if an interviewee was asked “how knowledgeable are they about X?

They might respond with either, “I have a good understanding of it,” or “in comparison to my knowledge of X, it is good, but not as strong Y.” Then if they believe that it is not a key component of the role, may say something along the lines of “looking at the role description and our conversation so far, my understanding is that you are looking for someone who can drive new business growth, which is an area that I am particularly strong in and would be interested in finding out more about that and explain, how I would deliver on those targets.

Regardless of the approach that you take, to be successful, all responses require you to recognise the situation, deal with it and then move as quickly as possible to conversations in areas where you are strong.


Questions in areas of strength

There is a temptation when answering questions in areas that you are strong in, to give all the information to demonstrate your expertise before you need to. The dangers of doing this are that:

  1. The conversation becomes very stilted as there isn’t a balance between the two parties in terms of amount of time talking and listening
  2. There is a possibility that by giving all the information, the impact of any detail, is lost as it will be competing against all the other information given.
  3. There is a chance that without checking with the interviewer, you could be seen as an ineffective communicator
  4. If your answer is unduly long, you may forget what the original question was and find yourself in a bit of a rabbit warren, not knowing where to go or what to say next.


So, whilst you want to get into the detail to demonstrate your expertise, you need to be aware of the pitfalls and have a strategy to ensure that you don’t fall into that trap. An effective strategy to achieve this is to use the “STAR” Principle. Star stands for:


What was the situation that you found yourself in as this will provide the context for what you did


What was the task/ activity that you did to ensure that the situation became better


What were the steps that you broke the task/activity into


What was the outcome of your efforts


By using this framework, you can see that there are natural breaks between each section where you can check with the interviewer, if they need/want more information. This framework also allows you to have an element of control as to where the conversation goes. An example of what this type of answer could look like would be:

Interviewer  “Talk me through your experience of planning and implementing large scale projects.”

Interviewee  “As you may have seen from my CV I have had x years of successfully planning and implementing large scale project for x number of organisations in y sectors, and can think of a number of examples that would be relevant, so would you like me to talk this through from a planning emphasis or from the implementation perspective?”

Interviewer  “Let’s look at it from the planning perspective.”

Interviewee  “Okay, well when I was at company x, the situation was…, so I was tasked with ….…, would you like me talk through some of the challenges I faced that I feel would be most relevant to what you are looking for here?”

Interviewer  “please.”

Interviewee  “Over the planning stage, there were a number of challenges, such as…. but the biggest one was … and these are the steps/actions I took to overcome them, the result being that the implementation was very smooth, and the overall project was delivered on time and within budget.”


For this approach to be successful, you need to have a number of different examples that you can draw from to be able to offer a choice to the interviewer and feel confident and comfortable engaging with the interviewer in a conversation.

If you would like to find out more about this topic, contact us to book your free 90 minute personal 1:1 career consultation:


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