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Types of question

You'll never be 100% sure what questions the interviewers will ask, but researching the job role can help give you a rough guideline on the type of answers you'll need to prepare for.

Always remember that tailoring your answer to the job role is more important than simply answering the question – using every opportunity to weave in the essential and desirable criteria within your answer will not only impress the employer, but also increase your scoring.

Provide focused, relevant answers backed up with evidence and examples of your skills and experiences. Employers rarely invite you to tell them everything you know about something, so be specific.

What they could ask you

This is not an exhausted list of interview questions. In many ways, the job specification and job description can be a way to predict certain questions and even the company’s values themselves. Find out more about job specifications, job descriptions and researching an organisation.

If you don’t understand a question, you can ask the interviewer to repeat it or explain it further. Or repeat it in your own words to ensure that you have understood it correctly. In both cases, you will have bought some thinking time.

Around 80% of all interviews begin with the innocent question, ‘Tell me about yourself?’ or ‘What interests you about his position or our company?’, but if you haven’t prepared it can make a difference to getting the job or not.

The best way to answer this question is to focus on the present and indicate why you are well suited for the position. Remember that the key to all successful interviewing is to match your qualities and achievements to what the interviewer is looking for.

Employers will make no assumptions about you. They want you to tell them exactly why you want the job and why you think you would be good at it. In other words you must sell what the buyer is buying. This is the single most important strategy in job hunting.

Other settling in questions include:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
  • Why have you applied for this kind of work or career?

Here, they'll want to explore your background in a bit more detail.

Questions that they can ask you include:

  • Why did you choose Cardiff University/this course?
  • How appropriate do you think your course is to the future?
  • What subjects do you find most interesting and why?
  • How hard have you had to work on your course?
  • Apart from your academic knowledge, what skills have you gained from being at university?
  • What do you regard as your greatest personal achievement?
  • What kind of vacation work have you done and what have you learned from it?
  • Tell me about your interests outside your studies.

Find out what employability skills you've gained during your degree.

These questions, which are commonly used by employers, prompt you to offer real-life examples of when you demonstrated skills in the past.

Find out more about competency-based questions and how to answer them.

Strengths-based questions focus on what you like doing as opposed to a competency-based interviews which focus on what you have done.

These types of interviews are growing in popularity as identifying someone’s strengths can indicate they will perform better in the role and often feel a greater sense of job satisfaction which often results with remaining in the role for a longer period of time.

Preparing for a strengths-based interview – assessing what you most enjoy will help you to clarify what you want out of your career, as well as preparing you for contact with an interviewer who takes a strengths-based approach. You can assess your strengths by analysing your abilities and skills.

Reflect on your experiences; consider the academic achievements and extracurricular activities you have included on your CV or your online application form. Think about what you most enjoyed, and why? Also consider when were you most engaged and what did you take most pride in?

Find out what sort of questions you could be asked in a strengths-based interview.

These questions test your abilities and skills.

Example questions include:

  • What would you say is your greatest strength? What are you good at? What comes easily to you?
  • What qualities or skills do you think make you suitable for this job?
  • What would your friends say about you?
  • What do you want out of life?
  • What do you learn quickly?
  • When do you feel you are most like yourself?
  • What did you find easiest to learn at school or university?
  • What do you enjoy doing? What motivates you? What things give you energy?
  • Describe a successful day you have had…
  • What have you achieved recently that you were really proud of?
  • What things are always left on your to-do list and not finished?

Assessment Day also has some examples of strength-based interview questions that you can download.

Behaviour-based questions

Behavioural questions ask you for examples from the past of how you have handled particular situations. For example, a behavioural interview question might be ‘describe a time when you had to make a difficult but important decision’ or ‘describe a time when you disagreed with your manager’.

This type of question is designed to learn more about you and how you react in different situations – the interviewer will be partly assessing your skills, but also your motivation, your personal qualities and how you fit with the organisation’s culture.

Structuring your answers

Identify six to eight examples from your past experience where you demonstrated top behaviours and skills that employers typically seek. Half your examples should be totally positive and the other that started out negatively, but either ended positively or you made the best of the outcome.

Vary your examples – don’t take them all from just one area of your life, but use fairly recent examples. Revise possible scenarios before your interview.

You can use the SHARE technique or the STAR technique to structure your answer:

  • S – situation
  • H – hindrance
  • A – action
  • R – result
  • E – evaluation.

Have a look at our advice on competency-based questions as there are similarities with this type of question, and you might be asked a mixture of both.

Situational-based questions

Situational interviews explore the future – how you might respond in challenging situations within the workplace and the action you would take. An example would be 'You're working on X, but the outcome is not what you expected. What do you do?'

The interviewer is trying to assess how you think on your feet and also get an insight into your logic, reasoning, values, motivations and, sometimes, your levels of common sense.

When answering these, take a few seconds to think first. This shows you are calm and considered, and it doesn’t weaken your performance.

Be logical and start by explaining the first few steps you would take. With this type of question, there will be no perfect answer – the interviewer is trying to get an insight into your thinking. Show awareness of the issues involved and how this would impact on the situation.

Additional tips for answering these questions

When faced with these questions, you should avoid negative thinking – demonstrating bitterness or a negative approach may reflect badly on you and your attitude, so look to emphasise the positives by shifting the focus to how you successfully dealt with a situation.

Demonstrate your organisational skills, as the interviewer will want to see evidence of being able to put together a plan or strategy and work towards this in a methodical way. You should also look to explain how you fit others into your planning and organisation processes.

Keep in mind that your ability to communicate effectively is important for any graduate role, particularly in situations where you are likely to be dealing with clients or customers on a regular basis.

You should also:

  • Show you're a decision maker, as the employer is looking to assess your ability to stick to a decision, be fair and demonstrate critical thinking, reasoning and logic.
  • Demonstrate your problem solving skills, as the most important thing is not the solution itself but how you went about reaching it.
  • Expect to be judged on your people skills, interactions with others and evidence of strong relationships during your work or studies.

These are used by engineering, scientific, IT, financial services and management consultancy firms. They will test that you have the technical knowledge needed for the job.

Questions may focus on your final-year project, and why you are approaching it as you are, or on real or hypothetical technical problems. You will be expected to know general themes or theory, and you should be prepared to admit if you do not know the answer. Employers can tell when you are bluffing, and will be just as interested in your thought process and logic.

They may use a pick and mix approach, asking questions that explore your different aspects, and you may also have to answer competency-based questions.

These are questions that test how well you know about the sector and company's competitors, among other things.

Examples include:

  • How would you rate us against our competitors?
  • How do you think we can remain successful?
  • Tell me about an article you have been following in the news (business-related!).
  • What market issues is it currently facing?
  • Give me an example of a successful company. Why do you think it is successful?
  • Choose a company which, according to you, could further develop their business. Tell me how they could do it and the challenges they may face?
  • From your experience of working with customers or service users, tell me about a time through delivering excellent service you gained or included a sale.
  • Choose a company which has grown in the last few years and discuss.

If you're interviewing for an academic position, they may ask you:

  • What are the key achievements of your most recent research project?
  • How does your research fit with the departments’ research objectives?
  • What opportunities for multi-disciplinary work does your research offer?
  • Does your research have any potential to serve the wider community and how do you propose to measure impact?
  • What are your plans for future research and how do you propose to fund it?
  • What research support do you expect from our institution?
  • What do you think makes a good supervisor?
  • What courses can you teach and develop?

At an interview, you may also be asked awkward or tricky questions, such as 'Why should we hire you?' or 'Tell us how you make a cup of tea'. More often than not, they aren't looking for the right answer – it's your approach that interests them.

Find out more about these questions and how to answer them.

What you should and shouldn't ask

You will normally be invited to ask questions at the end. If you genuinely have questions, take this opportunity to find out more about the job and what it has to offer you. Asking a question will also demonstrate your interest in the post.

Do ask questions about:

  • the organisation's future
  • opportunities of any internal rotation
  • the Trust's or board's preceptorship programme and its length.

Don't ask questions about:

  • salary, car parking or pensions
  • things already in their recruitment literature or website
  • minute details in the annual report.

How they assess you

If there is one outstanding candidate who presents themselves well, answers all questions using appropriate examples and evidence, and has relevant experience as well as enthusiasm, then the chances are they will be offered the job.

At other times, the decision is less clear cut. Two or more candidates may be very close in terms of their experience or how they answered the questions. Many employers use a scoring or assessment sheet to settle this kind of situation in a fair and objective way – such as this interview scoring grid:

Interview scoring grid

Interview scoring grid

18 May 2017

An example of a scoring grid used by employers during an interview.


Find out more

If you want to take part in a mock interview with one of our advisors, please contact us:

Careers and Employability (Cathays)