The 15 minute guide to a successful interview

Do you want to learn the techniques which will help you to smash your job interviews out of the park and get you the offer? Do you want to learn how to answer any interview question, even difficult behavioural interview questions?

My name is Gordon Berridge, and I am the UK Partner and President at N2Growth, a global, multifaceted professional services firm. Over the years I have partnered with many senior HR leaders, business line leaders and CEOs. I have had the good fortune to learn why they ask the questions they ask and the structure behind those questions. Simultaneously I have witnessed many candidates achieve their interview goals and many more failing to make the grade.

I am going to help you learn why candidates will fail their interviews and why employers won’t call them back for a second interview or make them an offer and then give you some useful tips on how to prevent failing in an interview. Most people don’t really know what it is they did during their interview that turns the interviewer off. I would like to give you an insight into what might be going wrong.

Interviewers use behavioural interviewing techniques and behavioural questions to determine if you will be a suitable employee. Interviews are generally made up of 3 sets of questions, but the bulk of your interview depends on how you answer a few questions, sometimes only one question.

A typical interview will have behavioural, common HR related, and Identity questions. Research suggests that:

·         HR and Task questions make up about 10-20% of the interview

·         Behavioural questions roughly up to 40%

·         Identity questions carry the most weight, sometimes up to 90%

If you just focused on behavioural and common questions alone, you probably will not get the job, which is what happens to most candidates. Though you might feel you did well because you answered a lot of questions, you must be careful not to confuse activity with delivering real value.

Let us deep dive into these questions. But before we do, you need to note, these questions must be answered calmly and confidently back to your interviewer. It needs to be exactly the way they want you to do it so that they can trust you, and ultimately want to hire you.

HR Questions:

Common HR questions vary from ‘Tell me a little bit about yourself’ to ‘what do you know about the company’ and ‘why have you applied for the role’. These should be simple and straightforward questions to answer. However, you should take some time to prepare your answers for these questions; stumbling around on these questions will hinder you as you move through to the more substantial questions later in the interview.

During these questions it is a great opportunity for you to get across to your interviewer:

–           That you want to work for the company

–           That you have the relevant skills

–           That your experience to date aligns with the role

–           That you highlight niche area and achievements which will benefit the company if they hire you

–           That you fit well with their cultural

–           That whatever your reasons for applying for the role, their company excites you

One question which will undoubtedly come up is, ‘Why did you leave your last job’. Whether you were released or it was an amicable parting keep this brief and honest, don’t fidget just be open, to the point and honest.

Behavioural Questions: 

How do you answer behavioural interview questions? There is an old anagram, S.T.A.R (Situation, Task, Action, and Result).

–           The first thing you want to do when answering a behavioural question is to describe a work-related situation or task which you needed to execute. Here you need to be concise.

–           The next thing you do is describe the action you took. Avoid telling the interviewer what you might do or would do. Tell them what you DID!

–           Describe what happened (Result). What you achieved, what you learned, what quantifiable factor or figures can you provide here?

–           Most importantly does the result solve the problem you described in the situation/task?

Simply put, S.T.A.R is the formula for answering any behavioural question. Behavioural and competency interviews are designed to help the interviewer understand what your strengths are. Behavioural interviewers will look at the problem (S.T), the action (A), and the result (R) of your answers.

Again, preparation before the interview is key. Think about your experiences, your situations and tasks, think about the actions you took and the results you achieved.

Here are some strategies which may help you in your next interview.

1.        Always listen to the questions your interviewer is asking. Allow them time to complete what they are saying, resist the urge to answer the question before they finish speaking. You don’t want to jump to the wrong conclusion. Sometimes repeating the question helps you to really think about your answer and gives you a little extra time to deliver.

2.        Using the right language or industry terms makes you sound more like an expert. Carefully consider this before you give your answers.

3.        It may be beneficial to research keywords, buzzwords, and terms which the company uses to come across better. Finding common ground and connecting the dots are fundamental.

4.       When giving, answers remember brevity is everything. Basic details only, please! The interviewer will ask you for more detail if they want it.

5.        Be sure you know the examples you want to give the interviewer before you say them. Don’t hinder yourself by giving incomplete information or worse still, false information.

6.       Do NOT blame anyone else for any failures. Keep the interview positive.

7.        Always start your answers with the most important part, it is human nature to emphasize the important. It also keeps your interviewer interested.

Identity Questions:

Your traits, your beliefs, what motivates you and what you like and dislike, your answers to these questions paints the picture of you. The answers you give creates a picture in your interviewer’s mind of who you are based on many things such as what you say, what you do, the books you read, the people you associate with and know, what you do in your spare time, the projects you’ve worked on, accomplishments, ambitions, etc. Interviewers know that you are who you are, based on the feedback you give to the questions around these subjects.

Think of it as a blank tactics board in a football or rugby coach’s room. The best coaches (in this case interviewers) will build up a picture of the game before it starts. The coach sees the game in their head before it kicks off, and depending on what you have done in training (preparation/interviewing/answering questions) will determine whether or not you take part in the game (get the job). If they don’t see you on the field, then wave goodbye to that game (job). This is often why some of the most unlikely people are offered jobs. It’s because they know how interviewers think, they know how to present themselves, and paint the picture in their interviewer’s mind.

One of the key things to remember is to think long-term. It is more important than any skill you possess. Employers will rarely want to hire short-term employees; they want to hire folk who want to work with the company for many years, contributing to the overall growth of the company. Employers know this is how their company will be successful and competitive, not by frequently hiring, creating the dreaded ‘revolving door’ and having that stigma attached.

The way you answer the identity questions describes who you are and if you have the right ingredients, they’re after. It’s not always about giving the right answer; you need to give the interviewer an answer which allows them to visualize you working for them. This is a powerful and charismatic trick!

You now have the ability to create your own picture in your interviewers head. This may have a hint of manipulation about it, but my point is to provide you with what is possible if you consider the way you approach these questions. At all times you must be yourself, be genuine, but be aware of what you are saying.

Figure out how you want to come across to your interviewer before your interview, paint the picture in your head of the picture you want to paint in your interviewers head.

The right answer to an identity question depends on you, your goals, your culture, and many other things. The idea is to be natural. The purpose here is to show you the elements which need to be in your answer.


I do hope some of this information helps you in your next interview. I would be grateful if you could pass this on to a friend, colleague or someone you know who is going for an interview soon. Feel free to share it too. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

If you would like addition support leading up to your interview, please get in touch I will happily assist you in the following areas:

Interview Preparation. 

–          What to bring what not to bring

–          Techniques to remain calm

–          Researching the company including the main things you must know about the company

–          Things they need to know about you.

Answering Interview Questions.

–          Understanding the strategy behind the question

–          What the interviewer is trying uncover from you

–          Spotting ‘Red Herring’ questions

–          Answering questions with ‘Real-life’ answers

Strategic question answering techniques:

–          How to directly answer the interviewer’s questions (Meant to keep you focused and from talking too much)

–          How to make adapting answers to personal experiences easier and sound natural

I would also love to hear stories from you guys who have had recent interview success, why do you think you succeeded, how did you prepare and what advice would you offer. Also to those who missed out on the job, what do you feel let you down.

All the best to those interviewing today.

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