Chapter 3: Interview Skills

3.2 Preparing for a Job Interview

Approach your interview with a positive mindset and be prepared to talk about yourself. Start your preparation for an interview with self-reflection. Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel comfortable talking about myself?
  • What skills do I really want to demonstrate to my interviewers?
  • What past experiences do I want to share with my interviewers?

While modesty may be a virtue in the workplace, it is best to be confident and open in an interview. This means that you can and should talk about your accomplishments and successes, as well as the skills you have gained and the lessons you have learned. For some people, this may feel unnatural or uncomfortable. That’s okay! If you start with self-reflection, you can prepare to become more comfortable and practice talking about yourself.

Know that in a job interview it is appropriate and respectful to speak confidently about yourself. If it doesn’t feel natural to speak about your own accomplishments, prepare your talking points in advance and practice them. If you are already a confident person, you may want focus on empathy. Focus on how you can help your employer and not just how awesome you are! You should always avoid bragging, boasting, or otherwise coming across with exaggerated confidence or bravado.


Reflect on your own comfort in speaking about your accomplishments and being empathetic to others. Place yourself on each of the following spectrums.

quiet or outgoing

reserved or blunt

Self conscious or self assured

easily embarrassed or overconfident

self-focused or community-focused

Identify Evidence of Your Qualifications

No matter how you feel about self-promotion, a good way to start your preparations is to make a list or a chart. Start by pulling up the job ad you applied for and the cover letter/resume package you submitted to the employer. Try making three columns:

Job Qualification How I Meet the Qualification Evidence, Examples, Stories
In this column, identify the most important qualifications in the job ad In this column, describe how you meet the qualifications. Use the work you already did in your cover letter and resume! Expand on your qualifications with more detail. What specific evidence, examples, or stories will help illustrate that you have the skill?

The first column should be filled in using the job ad. The second column can be filled in based on the details you provided in your cover letter and resume. The final column should be for your notes. In a job interview, you are going to need to expand upon the information you provided in your initial job application. You will need to be able to tell stories that explain with more detail how and why you meet particular qualifications.

 Case Study: Maryam Prepares Her Evidence

Maryam recently applied to be a customer service agent for a bank and is preparing for her interview. She is very nervous about speaking about herself. In her culture, it is considered rude to boast about yourself. However, she knows she needs to promote her skills and experience if she wants to get this job. So, she starts her interview preparation with a list. First, she identifies the top five skills in the job ad. She writes these into the first column. Then, she notes some objective evidence that shows she has the skill. Lastly, she expands on that evidence with more detail and stories that help demonstrate her experience.

Job Qualification How I Meet the Qualification Evidence, Examples, Stories
Customer service retail customer service representative at Pantaloons
  • rang up transactions
  • selected items to flatter clients’ natural shape
  • provided customers with feedback about fit and style
Maintains customer confidence retail customer service representative at Pantaloons helped a woman with cancer purchase a new wardrobe after a double mastectomy
Negotiation skills participated in Model UN in Grade 10
  • researched the country of Denmark
  • acted as a delegate to represent Denmark and negotiate
  • debated with other delegates about world issues and helped pass a draft resolution
Writing and documentation skills
  • completed bookkeeping course
  • wrote essays in English class
  • last term, got an A in Fundamentals of Bookkeeping
  • learned how to track transactions using double entry system
Computer skills took a computer class in high school story: competed in regional code-athon
Sales skills retail customer service representative at Pantaloons
  • met the items per transaction goals set by the company for average sales
  • signed up customers for loyalty rewards program
  • promoted to fitting room agent
High School Diploma
  • Bookkeeping Certificate, College of New Caledonia (to be completed next year)
  • All India Senior School Certificate (AISSCE)
  • may need to explain my board exams and their results
  • specialized in Commerce

Types of Interview Questions

The internet is full of examples of common interview questions and answers. As with all things you find on the internet, some advice is better than others. Instead of focusing on how to answer specific questions, let’s talk more generally about the types of questions that are common in interviews. For example, the British Columbian public service website describes four different types of information that they ask for in job interviews, which includes questions about the candidate’s knowledge, response to different scenarios, behaviour, and awareness about the position and organization (British Columbia, 2021a). Each interview is unique, so do not rely on preparing for specific interview questions based on what you read online or here in this book. Examples are just that: examples to help you prepare.

Background Questions

Background questions are general questions that focus on learning more about you as well as gauging your interest in the job. Typically, background questions will ask you to talk about your previous job experience, employment history, skills, and other qualifications. Background questions might also be about the employer and research you have conducted to prepare you for the interview. For example, interviewers may ask you what you know about the organization, its values, and the work that it does.

Here are some examples of background questions:

  • Tell us about yourself and your experience.
  • Why did you decide to apply for this job?
  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
  • What would a co-worker or past employer say about you? What would they say are your strengths and challenges?
  • What do you know about our organization’s mission and values?

Behavioural Questions

Behavioural questions are questions to help determine how you act in the workplace. The questions are designed to help get a sense of how you acted in past situations and at past workplaces. Often, the behavioural questions that an interviewer asks are linked to the major skills identified in the job ad. If you will be working on a team, the questions likely will be about teamwork. If you will be working with customers, the questions may deal with conflict or challenges related to customer service.

Here are some examples of behavioural questions:

  • Tell us about a time you failed to meet a deadline. What did you do? Why?
  • Tell us about a time you worked on a team. What role did you play? What did you accomplish? What would you do differently next time?
  • Tell us about a time you had to calm down an angry customer. What happened? How did you respond?
  • Tell us about an accomplishment you are proud of.
  • Tell us about a time you failed.

Situational Questions

Situational questions are questions where you apply your past experience to a new or hypothetical situation. Think about these questions like a case study. The interviewers will present you with a problem or describe a common scenario at their organization and ask how you might approach it. These questions are also often linked to the major skills identified in the job ad.

Here are some examples of situational questions.

  • You are working on a team to complete a goal. One of your team mates is working slowly and you are waiting on them to proceed. When you email them, they don’t respond. What do you do?
  • You are working on three different projects that all have upcoming deadlines. How would you prioritize tasks to get all three projects done?
  • What would you do if you heard a co-worker complaining about their manager?
  • What would you do if your till was short at the end of the night?


Click on a choice to identify the skill that each of the situational questions is asking you to demonstrate.

  1. What would you do if you missed a deadline?
    1. Time Management
    2. Continuous Learning
    3. Oral Communication
  2. How would you explain the procedure to the patient and their family?
    1. Conflict Resolution
    2. Writing
    3. Oral Communication
  3. A customer is complaining that a discount was not applied on their past order. How do you respond?
    1. Time Management
    2. Continuous Learning
    3. Conflict Resolution
  4. Someone slipped and fell at work. What would you document in an incident report?
    1. Oral Communication
    2. Writing
    3. Conflict Resolution
  5. What do you do when you need to learn a new policy?
    1. Time Management
    2. Continuous Learning
    3. Writing

Competency-Based Questions

Competency-based questions are questions that ensure that you have the knowledge necessary for the job you have applied for. These questions will be very specific to the job you have applied for. In most cases, these questions will not focus on soft skills. Instead, they will ask you more about the hard qualifications of the job.

  • Tell us about your experience with JavaScript.
  • Do you have any familiarity with the Microsoft Office Suite?
  • Have you worked with children with Down Syndrome before?
  • Have you worked in an endocrinology department before?

Questions for the Interviewers

Often the end of the interview is reserved for as a time for you, the interviewee, to ask questions. In this situation, the employer will be interested in determining your interest in the position. The questions you ask will tell them what parts of the job you are most interested in, or what logistical considerations you raise as a candidate. Usually, the question is asked as a version of this:

  • Do you have any questions for us?

Responding to Interview Questions

Now that you know a bit about what question types you might be asked, it is time to figure out how you might answer. Sometimes in tv and movies you see prospective job candidates exaggerate their skills and abilities in their resume and in interviews. While that might make for a good joke, those misrepresentations are not appropriate. It is your responsibility to present yourself and your experiences truthfully and accurately. If you are new to the labour market, that’s okay! It is better to be direct about how you want to develop as a working professional then to pretend that you are someone you are not. Your credibility as a professional is dependent on your ability to represent your experience, knowledge, and skills truthfully. When it comes to interviewing, this means making sure your answers are thoughtful, complete and honest.

Embrace the STAR Format

For people early in their career, it can sometimes be helpful to prepare your answers using a particular format. Using a format may help you to be less nervous on the day of your interview. It will also help you to make sure that you provide enough detail in your response. One of the most common challenges with interviews is providing enough evidence to show that you are a well qualified candidate. This means that you need to take the time to answer each question with clear, concrete examples.

We recommend you start with the STAR format to help ensure that you have provided enough information to tell a good story in each and every one of your answers. The leadership consulting firm DDI designed the STAR format to help effectively answer interview questions (Development Dimensions International, 2021). It is now used all over the world. British Columbia’s provincial government also encourages its public service candidates to answer questions using this technique (British Columbia, 2021a).

the STAR format, described in proceeding paragraph
Figure 3.1 STAR format

Here is how you would organize a response using STAR format:

  • Situation. Start by describing a specific situation you were in. This can be drawn from your work history, from volunteer experience, from school or even from your personal life. Just make sure it is relevant to the question you were asked.
  • Task. Next, describe the task you performed. If there were multiple tasks, describe each of them in a logical order. This is where you describe what you were expected to do.
  • Action. Describe the actions you took to complete the task. This is where the detail is important. Take time to describe exactly what you did. You may also want to describe why you did it, or what resources you used to complete the task.
  • Result. Finish your response with some concrete evidence about what happened. If you can, try to quantify your results. Focus on the benefits that resulted, any awards or recognition you received. This is a chance for you to explain the positive outcome of your actions, including what you learned or the skills you gained. For extra points, make a connection back to the position you are applying for! How will you bring the results forward to your new role?

Case Study: Maryam Practices the STAR Format

Maryam is reviewing common interview questions as she prepares for the interview. She knows that customer service skills are the most important part of the job she has applied for. So, she writes out a STAR response and then practices it in front of a mirror.

Tell us about a time you went above and beyond to help keep a customer happy
Situation Customer needed new clothes after a double mastectomy
Task Provide emotional support and appropriate selection of items to increase customer
  • Showed her compassion
  • Selected clothes to flatter her new shape
  • Encourage the other sales associates to compliment her
  • Spoke with the manager about a discount
  • Able to secure a discount
  • Completed a transaction for 10 complete outfits
  • Became a regular


After Maryam wrote up her STAR response, she practiced saying it out loud. She practices by recording herself on her phone.

Click on the play button to listen to Maryam practice her response, then then answer a few questions.

It was about two years ago when I was working at pantaloons that a customer came in who was really self-conscious. When I checked in on her at the fitting rooms, I could hear her crying on the other side of the door. She was really upset because the clothes just didn’t fit properly. I asked her what was wrong, and encouraged her to let me take a look so I could help figure out what she needed. She told me she had recently undergone a double mastectomy as part of a cancer treatment. It was clear that she wanted to feel more comfortable in her body. So I empathized with her, and I told her I knew how to help. I went back onto the sales floor and selected a variety of natural fiber, loose fitting tops and crossbody dresses. Now at first she refused to try them because they just weren’t her style but one of my coworkers encouraged her by saying she’d look great in the dress I picked. She tried it on and it really showed off her delicate collar bone and drew attention away from her cleavage. She was just so thrilled. I offered to find her more options. Now when I went back on the sales floor explained the situation to my manager, and we decided that we would offer her our employee discount as a way to acknowledge her situation. In the end, she left with a new word row above 10 complete outfits. We made a great sale, but we helped a woman regain her confidence. And more importantly, we made a customer for life. She still asks for me when she goes to pantaloons.

  1. What were some of the actions that Maryam took?
  2. What results does Maryam describe?
  3. How does Maryam’s answer show she went above and beyond to make a customer happy?

Make Connections to the New Job

The STAR format is a great way to ensure that your answers are complete, positive, and action oriented. However, it focuses more on the past. For some of your interview questions, you may want to go a bit further and describe the way that experience connects to the job you have applied for. You want your interviewers to imagine you at the organization and doing the work. So, answering their questions means more than just speaking about your past experience.

Here are a few sentence starters you can use after you finish your STAR response to make sure you connected your past experience to the new job.

  • This experience would benefit your company…
  • This example shows you can expect me to be…
  • I would be able to do this for you by…
  • As you can see, I am…
  • This example relates to…

Your Rights as an Interviewee

As an interviewee, there are also certain kinds of questions that an employer should avoid. In BC, employers are permitted to ask questions about your personal characteristics, unlike other provinces where they are prohibited (Blair, 2018). These questions are connected to human rights legislation and discrimination concerns. Your employer should avoid asking you personal questions as a part of the interview (WorkBC, 2021). If they do ask personal questions, the question should directly connect to the details of the job (e.g. you might be asked if you identify as a member of an underserved population if there are preferential hiring practices for a particular underserved group). You are allowed to ask how the question is relevant, or can avoid answering questions that make you feel uncomfortable.

Potential employers have to follow the BC Human Rights Code, which means that your potential employer is not allowed to discriminate based on personal characteristics. According to the BC Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT), the following personal characteristics are protected against discrimination:

  • Race, colour, ancestry, place of origin,
  • Religion, Political Belief
  • Sex, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Sexual Orientation
  • Mental or Physical Disability
  • Marital Status, Family Status, Age
  • Summary or Criminal Conviction (BCHRT, 2021)

If you do choose to respond, be honest. You could lose the job offer if an employer realizes you lied in the job interview, even if it is about personal characteristics (Blair, 2018).

Interview Etiquette

There are a number of expected behaviours associated with an interview. Etiquette are the rules and conventions that we follow to be considered polite and professional. Here are some of the conventions and behaviours you should expect to follow as an interviewee.

  • Dress professionally. Interviews are usually considered business casual. You should look professional, neat and tidy. This means you may need to dress up more than you usually do. In some cases, a suit is appropriate. As a work-integrated learning student, dress pants and a button-down shirt is a good option. Dresses or a modest blouse are also good options.  It is also a good idea to avoid scent.
  • Arrive early. Try to arrive about 15 minutes before the scheduled start time. Give yourself extra time to find parking and get familiar with your environment, especially if it new to you. It is considered very unprofessional to be late.
  • Turn your phone to silent and put it away. Be sure your phone is on silent. You do not want to have notifications interrupting the conversation. It is a good idea to put it away to avoid being distracted by it.
  • Make eye contact. Look at your interviewers as you respond to their questions. If you are on a panel, focus your attention on the person who asked you the question. In addition to making you look professional, eye contact may also give you clues about the interviewers feel about your answers. Look for smiles and nods or frowns and furrowed brows.
  • Bring your resume, a pen and paper. Your job application documents will serve as a useful reference for you. They might help you remember key dates or experiences. You can bring a few notes or reminders as well, but try to keep these minimal and do not read directly from them.
  • Make small talk. There may be a few minutes before the interview begins where the panelists chat with you. Sometimes people will bring up topics like traffic, parking or the weather. Follow the lead of your panelists, and avoid personal or controversial topics.
  • Take notes. It is totally appropriate to take note of the questions as they are asked. Use your note paper. You can also take notes when the interviewers are describing the position and the company to you. You do not need to take notes if this is uncomfortable for you.
  • Ask the interviewer to repeat the question if you need to. If you aren’t sure what the interviewer said, or if the question had multiple parts, it is okay to ask them to repeat the question. At the end, you can also ask the interviewers if you have answered all of their questions.
  • Pause if you need it. You don’t need to start talking as soon as the question is asked. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts and think about your STAR format.
  • Thank the interviewers. At the end of the interview, thank the interviewers for their time. Sometimes, it is also appropriate to shake hands. If someone offers you their hand, grip it confidently and move your hands up and down a few times. During COVID, this is a formality that you will likely forego.

How Interviews Are Assessed

There is a lot of variety in how interviewers approach the assessment of candidates in an interview. Often, the hiring committee will have devised a rating scale, rubric, template, or even score card that they use to help rank and reflect on the candidates for the position. Typically, this information is internal and is not shared with the candidate before or after the interview.

Here is an example rating scale template used to assess Public Service interviewees in British Columbia:

Use a rating scale to assign numerical scores to candidate responses to interview questions.  Weighting may vary depending on the importance of the competency, knowledge, skill, or ability. Adjust the point values or use a multiplier as required.

Government of British Columbia Interview Rating Scale

Planning and Conducting Interviews: Information for Hiring Managers (British Columbia, 2021b)
Beyond Recruitment Level Recruitment Level Below Recruitment Level
9-10 points 6-8 points 0-5 points
Excellent response Good to very good response Less than acceptable or unacceptable response
Competency Questions:

Should ensure extremely effective performance; significantly and consistently above criteria for successful job performance.

Knowledge or Skill/Ability Questions:

Ideal response or surpassed expectation; covered all the points looked for in a response; reserved for the exemplary set of skills that yield a particularly sophisticated approach or response; no errors.

Competency Questions:

Should be adequate for effective performance; meets criteria relative to quality and quantity of behaviour required for successful range of skills for handling the situation and the desired result, or outcome is obtained.

Knowledge or Skill/Ability Questions:

Clear response; includes most of key information; minor errors; demonstrates or describes the range of appropriate skills. At the lower point rating, some deficiencies exist in the areas assessed but non of major concern.

Competency Questions:

Insufficient for performance requirements; does not meet criteria relative to quality and quantity of behaviour.

Described plausible but inappropriate behaviours for handling the situation or the desired result or outcome is not obtained.

Knowledge or Skill/Ability Questions:

Includes little or incorrect information; demonstrates a lack of understanding; does not describe a sufficient range of appropriate skills; many deficiencies; no answer provided or inappropriate answer; response would have negative outcomes.

After the Interview

You might think that the interview is over when you walk out the door. However, there are still a few things you can do to leave a positive impression with your employer.

Follow up with a thank you. It is appropriate to reach out once to check in and thank the interviewer for their time in the days immediately following the interview. You can do this via email or phone. However, do not send multiple messages. Use the format that the interviewer used to contact with you. If the interviewer told you when to expect to hear back from them, follow-up based on the timelines they set.

Provide references, if you are asked. If the interviewers decide to proceed with your application, they may request that you provide them with references. The first thing you should do when this happens is ask your references if they will speak on your behalf. You can even ask your references before your interview! Don’t include references that haven’t agreed. Typically, your previous employer is a good starting point. If this is one of your first jobs, you may also consider a personal reference like one of your instructors at school or a respected family friend. If you can, provide the interviewers with your references’ names, job titles, email addresses and phone numbers, unless the interviewers ask for something specific.

Ask for feedback if you are not selected. It is hard when you are not the chosen candidate. However, each job interview can be a learning experience! It is appropriate to ask for feedback on your interview performance and on your qualifications. Some interviewers will provide feedback and some will not. If you do get feedback, use that to practice and improve for your next interview!

Key Takeaways

  • An interview is an opportunity to sell yourself to a potential employer.
  • Prepare for potential questions
  • Plan your responses using the STAR format.
  • Be polite and professional throughout the interview process, even if you don’t end up getting the job.

Media Attributions

  • “Quiet or Outgoing” by Deb Nielsen and Emily Ballantyne is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.
  • “Reserved or Blunt” by Deb Nielsen and Emily Ballantyne is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.
  • “Self conscious or Self assured” by Deb Nielsen and Emily Ballantyne is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.
  • “Embarrassed or Overconfident” by Deb Nielsen and Emily Ballantyne is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.
  • “Self-focused or Community-focused” by Deb Nielsen and Emily Ballantyne is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.
  • “Figure 3.1 STAR format” by Deb Nielsen, Emily Ballantyne, Faatimah Murad and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence.Adapted from Development Dimensions International.


Blair, J. (2018, October 24). Equality in hiring – When are interview questions discriminatory? BC Human Rights Clinic.

British Columbia. (2021). Interviews and assessments. Government of British Columbia.

BC Public Service Agency. (2021). Planning and Conducting Interviews: Information for hiring managers. Government of British Columbia.

British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) (2021). Personal characteristics protected in the BC Human Rights Code. British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

DDI (2021). STAR method. DDI World.

WorkBC (2021). Know your rights as a job applicant.


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Getting Ready for Work-Integrated Learning Copyright © 2022 by Deb Nielsen; Emily Ballantyne; Faatimah Murad; and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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