How to answer questions in an interview!

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When you are looking for work, getting an invitation to an interview is wonderful, particularly right now.  It is an achievement!

Now you need to prepare for the next stage – time to start thinking about questions you might get asked.

First, remember to keep a balanced approach!  The panel want you to succeed.  There is nothing recruiters like better than to have the candidates they select for interview, do well.

You will probably be asked a range of different kinds of questions.  Some may be simple to answer and others much more challenging;  tough questions are not asked to make you feel uncomfortable but they are meant to test you.

Sometimes, you may be put under pressure just to see how well you cope with stressful situations.  If you have applied for a high pressure job then you should expect this!  So stay calm and show them how well you would cope.

Many interviewers start the interview with “getting to know you” factual questions about your experience.  These are usually intended to put you at your ease and help you give your best.

You may well be asked why you applied for the role and you need to prepare a credible answer.  It should show you have some real interest in the organization and in the role.

Also, you may be asked why the organization should hire you.  This is your opportunity to set out your wares.  Again prepare for this.  You should make sure your answer is compatible with your application form.   It is often wise to check your application form just before the interview – just to make sure you keep your answers consistent.

You may be asked why you left your last position.  Be honest but have a care – it is never wise to be critical of a previous employer. The same thing applies, if you are asked to describe your worst boss; again have a care and give a balanced view.  Show how you have learned from experience!

If you are asked about your weaknesses, be honest and be brief.  Concentrate on a minor shortcoming that doesn’t have a profound effect on job performance.  For example, I mention that I have a tendency, in my enthusiasm, to over commit and take on too much work.  But I go on to explain that I’ve learned to pace myself.

If the role has a management or leadership element, you may be asked for an example of something you handled well.  Have some challenging examples ready to quote.

In general, where you can, use your experience in your answers as evidence of what you bring with you.

If you are asked what you are looking for in a role, have an answer ready that shows a real taste for the work and some enthusiasm.

If you are asked what you are looking financially, ask what the salary range is for the position. But be ready in case you aren’t given the information you need. Read salary surveys, government data and association reports in advance so you have an idea of what comparable jobs pay right now. That way, you can give a response that’s in line with current standards.

Remember in all your answers to treat the panel with respect; stay calm, polite and do not patronise them.

Whatever questions they ask, stay away from politics and religion in your answers!

When they are asking questions, listen carefully and take a deep breath before answering – think before your speak.  If there is something you don’t understand, then ask for clarification.

At the end of the interview, you will probably be asked if you have any questions.  These days you are expected to say yes.  Have something prepared about the role and how it might develop.  Again show a real interest in this role, these people and this organization.

Above all remember that the interviewers hope to see good candidates.  They will be willing you on to do well.

  • So you have an interview – how will you make your mark? (
  • Writing your CV! Part 1 The Basics (
  • Writing your CV! Part 2 Making Choices (
  • Writing your CV! Part 3 Pondering on CVs; language,confidentiality, competencies and referees! (

Wendy Mason works as a personal and business coach, consultant and blogger. She has managed or advised on many different kinds of transition and she has worked with all kinds of people going through personal change. If you would like her help, email her at or ring ++44(0)2084610114 or ++44(0)7867681439 

Writing your CV! Part 3 Pondering on CVs; language,confidentiality, competencies and referees!

This post is concerned with the particular issues faced by those moving between public and private sectors when completing their CV.

I’m going to comment on language, confidentiality, competencies and references.


A recent post here set out the reasons why public sector jargon needs to be avoided in CVs and job interviews.  Keep your language clear and simple.  When in doubt ask a non-public sector friend to read it and give you honest advice on clarity.


Some public sector staff work in areas where the issues of confidentiality are real and significant.  But in all honesty most do not!  If you do, there will be clear guidance available.  You should consult your HR department about what you can say and how best to overcome the barriers to you getting a new role.

Most public sector staff do not work under the same restrictions.  The reality is that you can record on your CV the kind of work you have been doing.  Of course you should avoid information; under a security classification, relating to an individual member of the public or a fellow staff member, likely to embarrass the organisation or  Government Minister for which you have worked.

Most people will be able to describe their work in sufficient detail for a CV.  But see the comments made in the next section about how you do it.


In my last post I included a list of skills and personal qualities (competencies) that employers are likely to look for. The list was by no means an exhaustive.

When you complete your employment history, try to show how your approach and your achievements demonstrate the competencies you quote.

For example, putting together a team and then driving through an initiative to improve the service to customers while reducing costs illustrates a number of competencies.  It can be understood quite easily by those outside the public sector.

Experience of project and programme management again can be understood outside the public sector and can be used to illustrate planning, organizing and delivering benefits when applying for roles in small to medium-sized organizations that do not have large projects for you to manage.

Those who have worked very close to Ministers managing legislation have had to use planning and organizing skills.  They are also likely to have demonstrated tact and discretion. If you have worked in difficult and sensitive areas  including policy discussions with Ministers (where influencing skills, relationship management, tact and discretion were needed, as well as the ability to be flexible and adaptable) this should be included but with discretion.

Think in terms of the competencies as you write descriptions of the work you have done.  Think in terms of organisations, tasks, problems solved and people influenced.  Describe the tasks you have completed in terms that others will understand and focus on what you delivered and how you delivered.


Some government departments will only offer bland references as your employer.  You will need their reference.   But it may only be a confirmation that you worked for them in a particular grade over a particular period of time.

Most large private sector employers know this – for others you may have to explain.  But you will need something more.  Try asking your line manager or someone in your management line if they would be prepared to give you a personal reference.   Also consider approaching retired senior colleagues and others who have left organisation.

It helps as well if you can provide a personal referee who holds a senior position in the private sector.  This is where people you have met during work in a voluntary capacity may be useful. Otherwise, consider people who you have met through clubs and associations.

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for a reference, most people feel flattered to be asked But you should always give people the opportunity to say no and make quite clear that you will understand if they feel they simply don’t know you well enough to help.

I would welcome your thoughts on all this and I am very happy to answer questions.

  • Writing your CV! Part 1 The Basics (
  • Writing your CV! Part 2 Making Choices (
  • Watch your language – it’s a different world out there! (
Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her or ring ++44(0)7867681439

Writing your CV! Part 2 Making Choices

Curriculum Vitae

In my last post I suggested that the following information should be in your CV:

  1. Contact details – name, address, post code, telephone number, e-mail address
  2. A short summary with Keywords for recruiters
  3. Skills and personal qualities (Competencies)
  4. Employment history and experience
  5. Qualifications, professional memberships and achievements
  6. Education and training
  7. Any special skills e.g. driving licence
  8. Interests and hobbies if relevant
  9. Referees

I mentioned as well that there are different styles of CVs.

  • A ‘traditional’ CV that lists everything in date order starting with your education and qualifications, followed by your employment history, interests etc.
  • A ‘more ‘informal’ CV starts that starts with a pen picture of yourself which highlights your skills and experience relevant to the job.
  • Variations and combinations of the two above

Here I’m going to provide you with some advice to help you complete 1 to 9 above

1. Your contact details, name address etc should be simple to complete but have a care on your email address.  This is the time for a simple and straightforward email address – not for a the jokey one that includes your nickname

2. Your summary is an opportunity to show an employer what you will bring to their organization in terms of your key expertise and transferable skills.  It should show how you will make a positive difference to their success. This is a part of your CV that should change in response to the requirements of each particular role.

Begin with previous experience but do not supply too much detail. You can have an intro along the lines of: “With 5 years experience in customer management…”. Only if it is very relevant to this particular job application be exact here – details will come later.

Use key words to focus the reader’s attention on the key skills that you want to highlight: for example, “multi-disciplinary team leadership”. This will put emphasis on more reasons why you may well be the candidate for the job.

When you have established an outline of your background and your skills it is time to look at the future.  You can state what you’re looking for and where you would like to go.  Alter your goals here marginally depending upon the job you’re applying for; for example, “seeking to further develop my career in the field of project management”.

3.” Skills and personal qualities” are usually a list and the kinds of skills that employers look for include

  • Leadership and management
  • Effective communication
  • Problem-solving and Decision Making
  • Creativity
  • Customer Focus
  • Interpersonal abilities
  • Influencing and persuading others
  • Teamwork
  • Planning and organizing
  • Computer literacy 

Highly regarded personal qualities include

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Professionalism and work ethic 
  • Positive attitude and energy

If you can make a claim to these qualities – it is reasonable to include them here!  Add any others you think may be relevant.

4. In describing your employment history, concentrate very much on the last ten years and what you have delivered.  This is where you draw on your STAR stories.  For each element include your job title and how long you were employed in the role, then set out briefly;

  • Situation – Describe the situation/problem you were faced with
  • Task – what did you have to do?
  • Action – what action did you take and why.
  • Results – highlight the outcome

Experience previous to the last ten years should be very much summarized unless it is directly relevant to the role but do not ignore key successes.

5. When setting out your qualifications and achievements include most prominently what is most relevant.

6. On qualifications etc, again go for what is most relevant

7. On special skills, stay with what is relevant and here you could add information from your STAR stories that relate to voluntary activities.

8. I would advise avoiding adding hobbies and interests unless they are directly relevant to the role.

9.. I don’t include the details of referees unless they have been asked for.  But I do add a note to say that they are available and can be supplied on request.  When you do provide contact details for referees remember to warn them to expect an enquiry.

I would welcome your thoughts and I am very happy to answer your questions, if I can.  My next post will discuss particular issues for those moving between public and private sectors when completing their CVs

Related articles
  • Writing your CV! Part 1 The Basics (
  • Reading between the lines – what a CV can reveal about a job applicant(
  • >Transferable Skills (

Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her or ring ++44(0)7867681439

Wendy worries about Dave, replies to his latest letter and promises new posts on CV writing.

Woman writing a letter.

Wendy is a bit worried about Dave, particularly his reluctance to network.  She hopes that her recent posts have encouraged him to give it a try.

She isn’t surprised that Dave is feeling a bit depressed and that things are difficult with his wife. Being made redundant is stressful for the individual concerned and those around them.

Life changes for the partner or spouse too and this can take a toll.  It helps if you can talk about this together. And sometimes you may need outside help from a counsellor.

Keep an eye on how things are developing between you and if they are getting worse have the courage to ask for help!  Much better that than to lose the relationship. 

Dear Dave

Thanks for your last letter.

I hope that my recent posts have encouraged you to try networking.  I’m sure it really will help in your search for the right kind of work.  I’ll be very  interested to hear how you are getting on.

In my next couple of posts I’m going to concentrate on CVs and how you can use the work you have done on your STAR stories to show your competencies.

Yes, I do think potential employers will be interested in both your Civil Service jobs and the voluntary work you have done.  But it is up to you to work out how to explain what you have done in a way that shows other people what you have delivered.  Potential employers want to see evidence that you can deliver what they need. I’ll help you with this!

That is one of the reasons why you need to establish your own CV template that you can then adapt to each job application.  If you read the adverts carefully you will usually find each advertiser is looking for something a little different.  If it isn’t obvious from the advert then it may be when you do your home work. 

If you are serious about your application, it is worth finding out more about each organization you are applying to be part of.  You should be able to find out quite a lot using the internet.  Then work out what extras you may be able to offer in terms of your particular experience.  As I say above this needn’t just be related to paid work.

Anyway, when you have read my next couple of posts, I hope you have a go at producing the first version of you CV.  I’ll be very pleased to review it for you.

 Mean while, if you have any further questions please get in touch.  

As I’ve said before, if there are other things you would like me to write about here please let me know

With very best wishes


Related Posts

  • >The Latest Letter from Dave and we have a dilemma – to network or not to networK? (
  • >Transferable Skills (
  • Job Search and the Internet – Using Social Media to Network (
Wendy Mason is used to working with people moving out of the Public Sector! She is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger.  Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her at or ring ++44(0)7867681439
You can find her business blog at

>Why you need to network!


Description: Social Networking Source: own wor...  In my last post, I mentioned that Dave, like others leaving the public sector, doesn’t think networking will be the right thing for him. So today, I am going to write about the value of professional networking.

Everyone has a network of friends and contacts already.  Networks are not about exploiting people, they are about building and maintaining relationships.

In professional networking you are gathering information that may help you in your work, not just your job search.  You never know when you will need these relationships or when your contacts may need you and the information you have in return! Just like personal networks, professional networks are about reciprocal arrangements.  And personal networks and professional networks blend into each other in terms of people offering mutual support.
But let us deal with the issue of networking and job search! 

Most people leaving the UK public sector come from an environment where the rules require all new posts to be advertised.  While it is true that people find ways round the rules, that is expectation.  It is part of the culture.  

People can get very upset if they find a juicy public sector role has been filled without being advertised at least internally across the organization.  But those same people can get very upset if they a key role has been advertised outside the organization without looking first for someone inside the organization. That again is part of the corporate culture.  

In the world outside things are often different. 
As Ian Machan said here recently probably between 30% – 80% of all jobs, never get advertised – the iceberg factor.  If you spend your time just on the advertised vacancies, you have less chance of getting a post because there is far more competition for those roles. 

If you spend at least some time on the hidden, less competitive vacancies, you are raising your chances of success.  

So, it is wise to take a balanced approach, between applying for advertised posts and exploring the “hidden market.
Jobs that don’t get advertised usually get filled in one of three ways:
  • Recruitment Consultants search their files of registered applicants who are suitable candidates
  • Direct approach through networks of personal contacts and head-hunters (who again often rely on their own wide networks of contacts).
  • Previous applicantsunsolicited CVs received or near-miss candidates from previous advertising campaigns.

Small-to-medium-sized organizations (SMEs) may never advertise their jobs nationally – or at all. With far smaller recruitment budgets, these organisations prefer local or specialist publications, recruitment agencies, unsolicited and direct applications or people found through contacts.
In some larger organizations, again not all vacancies are advertised!  This is so particularly in competitive areas such as public relations, journalism or consultancy work. Employers expect applicants to take the initiative.
Some organizations prefer to hire someone we
ll known to contacts as being capable of doing a good job against the risk of an unknown “best” candidate. 

The degree of formality around filling even quite senior posts can vary widely.  This may come as something of a shock to former public sector employees.
Networking is critical in accessing this hidden market. 

There is a huge amount to be gained from developing your contacts in terms of gathering industry knowledge and hearing about these never-advertised positions.
A professional network is not just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have source of new work, support, advice, ideas and consolation. So, strengthen relationships with people you already know and put some energy into meeting new people.
My next post will deal with your online presence, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and the rest—they’re not just for teenagers, they are efficient and effective ways to stay in touch with a whole lot of people and to find new opportunities.

In the mean time if you need advice about networking please get in touch – my contact details are below or you can use the contact form here. 

>The Hidden Job Market


Today we have the second of a series of three guest posts from Ian Machan of Prepare4private Limited – “Levelling the playing field for Public Sector workers seeking jobs”.  As I explained before, Ian has extensive experience in both the private and public sectors. I hope you enjoyed his last post on Transferable Skills .  His third post should be here next week.

We at Prepare4Private have received some warming news.  A victim of the cuts in the NHS is looking for a new job. He is searching the Job sites, looking in the papers, as you would also expect. However he is also attacking the Hidden Job market with success.

The Hidden job markets is the catch all phrase for those jobs that never get advertised. I’ve seen estimates that from 30% to 80% of all jobs never get seen. My experience is that 80% is too high, but that still suggests a sizeable number are out there.

So how is our NHS friend getting on? Well he is approaching firms that he thinks have jobs needing his type of background and experience. He is approaching them by letter, even though he knows they aren’t advertising. The result? He is getting more interviews than through the “visible” market. He’s amazed but I, and now you, know he shouldn’t be.

So, look around your area, or where you want to work, make a list of the companies that are based there and write to them with a CV. Oh, one last thing. He also says he gets more success writing to the Line managers, rather than the HR group.

>Transferable Skills


Today we have the first of a series of three guest posts from Ian Machan of Prepare4private Limited – “Levelling the playing field for Public Sector workers seeking jobs”. Ian has extensive experience in both the private and public sectors. He is a Mechanical Engineer who has worked for blue chip organisations across a range of sectors including Heinz and 3M. For the last 12 years Ian has offered consultancy services to a wide range of organisations.

When you look to move to the Private Sector you may find it hard to find a direct equivalent to the job you are leaving.  Job adverts may leave you feeling despondent, but don’t worry. 
What you have to do is consider in particular your transferable skills. These will be the skills that you have acquired over the years of your employment, and outside of employment that are relevant to a new employer. Sit down with a cup of coffee and you CV, and go through the document jotting down the skills that you used in each position, e.g.:
  • Leading a team of people
  • Setting up and delivering a project
  • Negotiating change
  • Setting up a new spreadsheet to analyse an area. 
Now also think about your hobbies, sports, or even how you run your house. I remember talking to someone who was working in fairly basic job, but who chaired the local cricket club. He was responsible for a project to demolish and re-build the clubhouse. He was controlling the contractors, managing the money etc.
This is no time to hide your capabilities, so summarise your skills, and make sure they come through on your CV.
Now go and look at those job adverts, or job descriptions through the lens of your skills, not the shades of your old jobs.

Ian Machan “Levelling the playing field for Public Sector workers seeking jobs: