Before the Interview
For those of you who are bravely saying to yourself, “I’m just going to wing it!” our advice to you would be to do the opposite. Preparation is essential in being successful in the interview process. Your research will show the interview committee your initiative, interest, motivation, and resourcefulness.
Before your interview, watch the video (The Learning Portal Ontario, 2018) and read the suggestions below to properly prepare. Download the Before the Interview checklist to help you prepare for future interviews.
Confirm the interview information
It is better to be safe than sorry. Make sure you have the following details right before the interview:
Verify the details of your interview, ensuring that you have recorded the correct date and time.
Map out the location and address of the interview in advance to ensure that you will arrive on time.
Record the names (with correct punctuation) and the titles of the people you will be meeting with and research them beforehand, when possible.
Ask about the amount of time being allocated for the interview.
Inquire about whether there will be employment tests and the duration of these tests.
Review & understand the job requirements
Prepare in the following ways so you can show you are a good fit:
Understand the job requirements and be able to demonstrate how your skills and experiences match these requirements.
Review the Accomplishment Statements on your resume and prepare additional examples of your achievements from previous work, volunteer, or academic studies that relate to the job requirements.
Research the position & the company
In order to show you know about the company, look for information in the following ways:
Use the company’s website to learn about and understand their mission, values, products, services, and market and be able to relate this to why you want to work with them.
Use news sources and social media (Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) to research the recent organizational activity, view discussions, and updates from the company.
Familiarize yourself with the facts: How long have they been in operation? Who are their clientele? What are their products? Are they a local or international organization?
See if you know anyone who works at the company, or ask people in your network if they know about the organization.
Review sample questions, prepare answers & rehearse
Practice in the following ways so you can deliver great responses in the real interview:
Articulate your answers both in your head and out loud before your interview and you will increase your ability to remember your answers.
Plan and practise your answers as well as your delivery in advance and it will increase your confidence, allow you to articulate more clearly, and will make you overall more comfortable during the interview process.
Build your confidence & reduce your anxiety
Follow these tips for help presenting yourself with confidence:
Before your interview, practise visualizing yourself performing well, imagine that the interviewers are impressed by your professionalism and your ability to answer the questions with a sense of ease and competency.
Sit up straight, put your feet flat on the floor, breathe deeply, and exhale through your mouth to slow your heart rate down, this will allow you to focus more clearly on your answers while reducing your nervousness.
Use positive self-talk, believe in your own awesomeness by repeating to yourself things like, “I’m prepared,” “I’m the best candidate for this job,” and “I can do this.”
Prepare what you need to bring.
When you are going to an interview, don’t go empty-handed! Here is what you need to bring:
Interview details including the address, phone number, and interviewer names.
The original job posting to review while you’re waiting.
Additional copies of your resume and cover letter.
A pen and paper for taking notes.
Your portfolio and samples of your work, when applicable.
A list of prepared questions to ask at the end of your interview.
Your references, neatly typed on a single sheet of paper.
Sample Questions and Answers
Below are some examples of common interview questions. Find out why employers might ask you each question, and read an example of a good answer to that question. Watch the videos that accompany each question to see examples of an interviewee answering poorly, and then see what they should have done instead.
Why Employers Ask You Tell Them about Yourself
This question is often used at the beginning of the interview as a way for the interviewers to get to know you. When answering this question, avoid being too general and don’t go into irrelevant personal details. Use your resume to guide you in providing an outline for the employer to understand your work history. Focus on describing your related education, experience, personal traits, and emphasize your interest in this position or company.
Example Answer to “Tell Me about Yourself”
“I am in my final semester of the three-year Dental Hygiene Diploma program at Algonquin College. Throughout my program, I had the opportunity to complete a number of clinical placement hours in a dental clinic where I gained practical experience in providing various preventative oral health care procedures and patient education. Additionally, I have previously worked as a receptionist in a dental clinic and in a variety of customer service environments including Reitman’s and Loblaws.
I wanted to pursue this line of work because I have a passion for helping people live healthy lives. This has always been obvious in my previous work experiences, as I have often been regarded by my managers and colleagues as welcoming, approachable, and kind.
I believe I bring many qualities to the table, for example, having successfully balanced my school schedule and maintained two part-time jobs, I know my time-management skills will be an added benefit to your team on a daily basis. I am excited for an opportunity to work with a family-oriented team who is committed to making a positive impact on their community through a number of preventative dental care initiatives.”
Video by The Learning Portal Ontario, 2018
Why Employers Ask About Your Strengths
This question tests your self-knowledge. The interviewer is looking for you to describe some of your core skills or traits that would make you an excellent candidate for this job. You should be able to clearly and directly identify your strengths as if you were a product that you were trying to sell to the employer. The best strategy is to speak confidently, and relate your strengths to the requirements of the job. Simply listing a number of qualities is not sufficient. Focus on identifying three strengths and add value to your responses by expanding your answers and providing concrete examples from your work, school, or volunteer experiences.
Example Answer to “What Are Your Strengths?”
"In all of my past jobs, I’ve always considered myself to have a strong work ethic. For example, I remember a situation that occurred during my Culinary Management field placement when I was working with a chef who had my team on a strict timeline. Unfortunately, there was some confusion and we did not receive a delivery of vegetables that we needed to prepare for an upcoming event. After calling the supplier, we learned that the shipment would arrive later on that evening, after the time in which everything should have been ready to go. Rather than go home, I volunteered to stay late and finish everything, ensuring that we would be prepared well before the event started.”
Video by the Learning Portal Ontario, 2018
Why Employers Ask About Your Weaknesses
We all have weaknesses. An interviewer might ask you about yours to see if you have a realistic picture of your own limitations. In your response, discuss a weakness that doesn’t directly affect your ability to do the job you are applying for and then follow up by demonstrating what you are doing or have done to improve upon this weakness. A thoughtful response shows self-reflection and initiative in overcoming your weaknesses. Avoid weakness that are actually strengths, such as “I work too hard” or “I am a perfectionist,” which come across as insincere and don’t actually answer the question.
Example Answer to “What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?”
“When delivering presentations to large groups of people or speaking in front of crowds, I sometimes feel nervous and I have a hard time getting my words out. However, while completing my Diploma Program, I have taken many opportunities to voluntarily present information during my group projects, which involved speaking in front of 30-40 classmates. As a result, I feel more comfortable presenting; however, I know I need to continue to improve my skills further. This is why I have decided to attend a Toastmasters group once a week.”
The video by The Learning Portal Ontario, 2018
Why Employers Ask Where You See Yourself in Five Years
This question is asked to address what your future goals or career aspirations are and how you intend to achieve them. Employers may also be looking to get a sense of your long-term commitment to their organization. Avoid speaking about ideas that would make the employer question your interest in working for them, e.g. that your real goal is to start your own business or return to school full-time.
Example Answer to “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”
“In the next five years, I would like to become the best Computer Programmer your company has on staff. I would like to take opportunities to learn and grow so that in the future, I become the expert that others rely on. My goal is to learn from the talented team of professionals at this company. In the long-term, I feel like this will prepare me to take on greater responsibilities as those opportunities present themselves.”
Video by The Learning Portal Ontario, 2018
Why Employers Ask How You Handled a Conflict with a Coworker/Supervisor
This question is asked to see how you are able to manage conflict and work as part of a team. The interviewers are seeking examples of real life scenarios that have occurred and how you handled them. Your ability to demonstrate appropriate problem solving skills in resolving conflicts, while dealing with different personalities, will give the employer confidence that this is something you will be able to effectively deal with in the future.
In your answer, avoid doing the following:
Saying that you’ve never had a conflict.
Using negative language to describe others in the situation.
Including that you relied on your manager to solve the problem.
Employers want to know that you are able to overcome small conflicts and move forward without interrupting the flow of the workplace. Use the STAR Technique to structure your answer.
Example Answer to “How Did You Handle a Conflict with a Coworker/Supervisor?”
Situation: “When I was working as an administrative assistant with a large accounting firm, the firm was experiencing some staffing changes and I was asked to support a manager that I had not previously worked with. The new manager provided less feedback than my previous manager, which I found challenging. This caused a few disagreements because I did not understand what the new manager wanted.”
Task: “I knew that I needed to clarify the manager’s expectations of me and identify how I could support him better.”
Action: “I suggested that we meet and have a conversation about this. In the meeting, I acknowledged the disagreements and asked for specific feedback on what was and was not working. Having an honest discussion regarding work styles and expectations led to a better understanding of how we could work together more effectively. Listening and understanding each other’s point of view was helpful in coming up with a solution.”
Result: “After we had this conversation, we successfully worked together for several years. Since that experience, whenever I start a new job, I always take the opportunity at the beginning to discuss expectations.”
Video by The Learning Portal Ontario, 2018
Why Employers Ask How You Handled an Angry Customer
Similar to the previous question, this is often asked to see how you are able to appropriately manage conflict and use sound judgment when faced with difficult situations. Again, the interviewers are seeking examples of real life scenarios to demonstrate how you were able to think on your feet, find a solution, and maintain your professionalism. Avoid saying that you’ve never had this happen, but rather, relate it to a situation in which you exercised conflict resolution. Show how you took the initiative to implement a solution without having to escalate it to your manager.
Example Answer to “How Did You Handle an Angry Customer?”
Situation: “When I was working as a sales associate at Walmart, a customer came in looking for a specific product that was currently on promotion. Due to the fact that it was a busy time of year, we did not have any of that product left in the store. The client appeared agitated and verbalized her frustrations towards me and several other employees.”
Task: “I knew that I had to calm the customer down and find out what I could do to help.”
Action: “I took the customer aside, listened to her concerns, validated her frustrations, and apologized for the inconvenience. Through our conversation, the customer disclosed that finding transportation was very challenging for her and she was upset because she knew she wouldn’t be able to get to another store to purchase this product. I presented a solution by calling other stores to locate the product and offered to have the product delivered straight to her house the following day.”
Result: “As a result, the customer felt understood and told me how much she appreciated my efforts, despite her initial concerns. Later on that day, my manager pulled me aside to recognize my excellent interpersonal skills and my ability to handle a difficult situation with such professionalism.”
Video by the Learning Portal Ontario, 2018
Why Employers Ask About Your Target Salary
In this question, the employer could be interested to see if you have a realistic expectation of your salary based on your skills and experiences. They may also be evaluating whether or not your expectation fits within what the company can realistically offer you. Make sure to conduct your own research and show your flexibility by providing a salary range rather than a concrete number. You can research this information ahead of your interview using the following resources:
Example Answer to “What is Your Target Salary?”
“In my research, I have seen salaries ranging from $42,000-$46,000 based on positions requiring my level of education and experience. However, I am very flexible to discuss the salary that you had in mind for this position.”
VIdeo by the Learning Portal Ontario, 2018
Answering Different Types of Questions
Preparation is essential for a successful interview! You should be able to convey to the employer that you are the best candidate for the position. You are the interviewer’s main source of information about your qualifications. Do not assume that the interviewer knows all of your qualifications and accomplishments; you must clearly spell them out as you answer the questions during an interview.
Introductory questions give you an opportunity to describe yourself and your accomplishments as they pertain to the job you are applying for. These questions are used to assess your background, your experience, and your organizational fit. Being that they are open-ended questions, they give you an opportunity to sell yourself.
Examples of common introductory questions include:
Tell me about yourself.
How has your education prepared you for this role?
What do you know about our organization?
Why are you interested in working for our company?
What experience do you have that relates to this position?
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Behavioural questions will ask you to describe a specific situation or experience and require you to provide an example of how you handled it in the past. Behavioural interviews are founded on the idea that the best predictor of future behaviour is based on evaluating past behaviour. The key is not to get the “right” answer but to demonstrate how you came to an appropriate result. To answer these questions well and completely, you need to be prepared with specific examples or experiences.
The KEY to Answering Behavioural Questions: STAR Technique
When answering behavioural questions, you should use the STAR technique to ensure you’ve included the appropriate amount of information and detail.
Situation Briefly describes the event or situation and include information on the who, what, where, and when.
Task Give a clear explanation of the task you had to complete and any challenges that accompanied it.
Action Speak about the actions you took to complete the task, purposefully mentioning qualities or traits that the interviewer is looking for.
Results summary, emphasize what the result of your efforts was and quantify it when appropriate.
Examples of common behavioural questions include:
Give an example of a situation where you had to deal with conflict, either with a customer or coworker. How did you handle it?
Describe a situation where a coworker or supervisor had expectations that you felt were unrealistic. How did you deal with that?
Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it.
Tell me about a time when you made a mistake? What did you learn from it?
Describe a situation in which you had to balance multiple priorities.
How did you handle meeting a tight deadline?
Give an example of a time when you collaborated as part of a team.
Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
Share an example of how you were able to motivate employees or coworkers.
Have you gone above and beyond the call of duty? If so, how?
Situational questions are focused on hypothetical scenarios. They require you to demonstrate sound judgment with a response or solution to a problem that you may not have experienced before. Sometimes these questions require you to think outside the box, and carefully consider what is really being asked.
Examples of situational questions include:
What would you do if you saw your colleague stealing?
If you discovered your supervisor was breaking the company’s code of conduct, what would you do?
As the team leader, you are faced with a situation where two team members are arguing, how would you deal with the situation?
If you had two important deadlines coming up, how would you prioritize your tasks?
More unconventional questions an employer may ask:
If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
If you had to sell this pen, what would you say?
Job Knowledge or Technical Questions
These questions typically assess the particular technical or professional skills and knowledge you will need to perform a job. Hands-on tests, simulations and questions are phrased to find your level of experience with specific equipment, software, processes, procedures, etc.
Examples of technical questions include:
What is the order of operations used when evaluating formulas in Excel?
What are the key Pivot Table “sections” into which users can drag columns?
How do you properly use a blood pressure monitor?
What is the process in which you enter an invoice into SAP?
Show me how to wire these two three-way switches.
The law in Ontario prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of: age, ancestry, colour, race, citizenship, ethnic origin, place of origin, creed, disability, family status, marital status (including single status), gender identity, gender expression, receipt of public assistance (in housing only), record of offences (in employment only), sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding), and sexual orientation. The Ontario Human Rights Commission protects job seekers against unlawful questions.
Employers’ questions must be related to the job for which you are applying; however, use your discretion when answering, as questions could be asked unintentionally. Here is how you might respond if asked an inappropriate question:
Your Turn! Questions to Ask the Employer
When an employer asks you at the end of the interview, “Do you have any questions for us?” you want to avoid saying, “no.” Having a lack of questions prepared may suggest that you’re uninterested in the opportunity, so come up with some well-thought-out and engaging questions in advance. Be conscientious of the interviewer’s time, and choose no more than three questions to ask.
Examples of questions you SHOULD ask include:
What skills make the most successful employees here?
What is the top priority of someone who accepts this job?
Can you describe recent projects of someone in this position?
What does a typical day/week look like in this role?
How large is the team I would be working with?
Is there any advice you can provide that would help me prepare for my first three months in this role?
What is your favourite part about working for this organization?
What are the next steps in the hiring process?
When should I expect to hear back?
Examples of questions you SHOULD NOT ask include:
How much will I get paid? What is the salary? Is this negotiable?
How many weeks’ vacations will I be entitled to?
What does the benefits package include?
How long until I can become a manager?
Can I apply to other jobs once I’m working here?