While you can’t prepare for all interview questions, it’s best to be prepared for as many as you can.
You can make educated guesses and at least start to prepare answers that are relevant to areas the employer might be looking for that are in the position description.
Firstly, review the ‘required expertise’, ‘qualities’ and/or ‘essential competencies’ of the role in the position description or on their website. What sort of person are they looking for to fill the role within their organisation? How would you suit their requirements?
From our previous conversations on soft skills, think about, for example, qualities such as strategic agility, priority setting, effective team management, organisational capabilities, delegation capabilities, integrity and trust, and drive for results.
You should always include in your answers examples that have the relevant qualities and competencies they are looking for.
Many interviewers also look for examples that follow the STAR technique or similar.
The STAR technique is:
Situation: you will be asked about a recent challenge or situation in which you found yourself.
Task: the interviewer will be looking to see what you were trying to achieve from the situation.
Action: the interviewer will be looking for information on what you did, why you did it, and the alternatives.
Results: you should address the outcome of your actions.
Most importantly for them, they want to know:
What did you achieve through your actions, and did you meet your objectives?
What did you learn from this experience, and have you used this learning since?
To clarify the STAR technique, here is an example behavioural question on staff management capabilities and experience:
Can you tell me about a time when you had a conflict between your staff and how you dealt with it?
‘I would sit the individuals down and talk independently with them. Then, I would organise a mediation, giving them a chance to talk through things and usually allow them to resolve their issues.’
Situation: ‘I had two staff reporting to me in my management role at X company two years ago who did not get along. They had many differences of opinion, and it was affecting the morale of the whole group.’
Task: ‘I realised the best approach to address this was to mediate and resolve the conflict and to ensure that there was more professional conduct from them.’
Action: ‘I sat John Bloggs and Sue Staff down and talked with them independently. A mediation was then set up with them, myself and the HR department manager.’
Result: ‘After discussion with them both, they were able to voice their concerns in an open environment, and it was agreed that whilst they had differences of opinion, they would be more respectful of each other and were going to ensure that this did not affect the rest of the team.
As you can see, answer A does not give details on when and how you dealt with a conflict, which is why answer B is best.
If you look at the question again and think about what the interviewer is asking, it is clear that they want to know about a particular time when you have dealt with staff conflict, not just how you would deal with it.
It is very easy to get into the trap of answering behavioural questions with answers like ‘this is how I would do this’.
Through experience, you can build up knowledge of your actions that have worked and, sometimes more importantly, have not worked.
The employer is hoping that this experience will be something you can bring to the new role, as you know how to handle the situations and requirements, so they don’t have to train you, and you can achieve the highest outcomes for them.
As one of my mentors told me last week about his 70-plus staff, ‘Real-life work experience is the best trainer’.
However, ensure you benefit from your experiences by preparing examples for your next interview.