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English Interview Strategy Mini-Course

Part 4: Structuring Your Answers

Question Types

The 3 Main Question Types

What are...
The 3 Main Question Types
...in an interview?

Technical (What is a variable variable?)
Behavioural (Tell me about a time you failed.)
Descriptive (What are your greatest strengths?)
  • Question Types in terms of Your Interview Objectives:

  • fiber_manual_recordTechnical questions are directly about SKILLS FIT, but consider approaching them in a way that might show you as a JOB HERO. This for example could be about mentioning aspects in terms of planning the tasks, handing tasks over to the next level, offering further steps etc
  • fiber_manual_recordBehavioural questions These questions are really focused on you in terms of CULTURE FIT and often JOB HERO elements too. They require you to tell stories about yourself and are a great opportunity to also show yourself as a possible COMPANY HERO. To do this show how your stories positively affected the department in general or the company as a whole - show yourself as a JOB / COMPANY HERO!
  • fiber_manual_recordDescriptive questions they are possibly about SKILLS FIT but also CULTURE FIT and can easily include JOB HERO aspects. Aim to see beyond them as merely 'descriptive' but also as opportunities to show what type of person you are (CULTURE FIT) and why you are especially able to do this job (JOB HERO).

S.T.A.R. Answer Structure

How To Answer Behavioural Questions

What are...
Behavioural Questions

These questions are asking you to descrbe what you did in specific situation. They are interested in how you behaved.
The rationale behind these questions is that past actions can predict future behaviour. Correct or not they are very commonly asked!
The most complete answer template taught is the S.T.A.R. approach. Situation Task Action Result. But there are others too.
  • 4 Stages to the S.T.A.R. Method

  • S is for Situation: Describe the general context of the story
  • T is for Task: What you had to do and what the issue was.
  • A is for Action: The main part of the answer. What you actually did to solve the problem.
  • R is for Result: What were the implications of this action afterwards.
  • REMEMBER: The ACTION part should be at least 60% of the answer!

Here is a video I recommend!

Another Expert's View:

Heather Austin

Top Tip: Put on the subtitles! closed_caption

Key Takeaway:

Here is a good introductory video on the S.T.A.R. technique

Here is a video I recommend!

Another Expert's View:

Bill Todd

Top Tip: Put on the subtitles! closed_caption

Key Takeaway:

Another good introduction on S.T.A.R. - everyone has their own application!

Here is a video I recommend!

Another Expert's View:

Madeline Mann

Top Tip: Put on the subtitles! closed_caption

Key Takeaway:

Here is a version called PAR - Problem Action Result

More Answer Templates


  • Possible template for:
    "Tell me about yourself"

  • Start: Relevant Past
  • 2nd: Relevant Present
  • End: Relevant Future
  • Possible template for:
    "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"

  • Start: This Job mastery in 2-3 years
  • End: Then 2 years of this job expansion
  • Possible template for:
    "Why should we hire you?"

  • Start: Introducing your answer logic
  • End: Listing how you meet their requirements
  • Possible template for:
    "What is your greatest accomplishment?"

  • Start: Headline Accomplishment
  • 2nd: Why difficult/obstacle
  • End: How did you get the success
  • Possible template for:
    "Why do you want to work here?"

  • Start: JOB Activity reason
  • 2nd: Company OFFERING reason
  • 3rd: Company VALUE reason
  • End: PLUS Future Personal reason
  • Possible template for:
    "What do you do in your current job?"

  • Start: Job Title
  • 2nd: Key Responsibility
  • End: Business goal helped/achieved
  • Possible template for:
    "What is your biggest weakness?"

  • Start: Direct Answer
  • 2nd: Why is it a problem
  • End: Current plan & action to fix weakness
  • Possible template for:
    "What is your greatest strength?"

  • Start: Direct Answer
  • 2nd: Example
  • End: Result / Benefit
  • Possible template for:
    "Walk me through your CV / resume."

  • Start: Career Skeleton
  • End: THEN Career Motivation

Here is a video I recommend!

Another Expert's View:

J.T. O'Donnell

Top Tip: Put on the subtitles! closed_caption

Key Takeaway:

Experience Learn Grow Model for Behavioural Questions (alternative to S.T.A.R. template)

Pro Tip 1: Relevancy

Not Relevant = Bored Listener

Aim for Relevancy At All Times
...in an interview?

If you are not 100% relevant at all times in your answer you are requiring that the listener filters out what is not relevant. However, the listener will not know what is relevant until the end of the story. This means they are not listening to your answer, they are 'holding' your answer in their head for later. And how they decide what is relevant is out of your control. They might might focus on the beginning details, or your final piece of information. Result? You didn't really satisfy their question.
You need to filter out the extra information that is not relevant to the listener before you speak.
Don't aim to be simply 'concise'. Aim to be relevant. Being concise may mean you give an incomplete answer. This incompleteness can be thought of as being vague, being evasive or being superficial. Any one of these would create a negative impression.
Being relevant means that at all times you are answering THEIR question, NOT YOUR story.

Pro Tip 2: Direct Answers

Answer First, Explain After

Why do...
Questions Create Tension and Expectancy
...for the asker?

Remember that when a person asks a question that question has now become what is foremost in their mind. By continuing to talk without having actually clearly answered the question it means the listener is NOT LISTENING TO YOU, THEY ARE LISTENING (waiting) FOR THEIR ANSWER.
To combat this frustration for the person asking the question, answer the question directly and then explain. For example, first state your weakness. Or, state there are '3 parts to your answer' and at the beginning of each part say what the part is about. "So the second element I could introduce is customer feedback, by this I mean...."
When the questions are open (eg Tell me about yourself) the listener hasn't asked you anything, so, is more relaxed and ready to listen from the beginning. Note though that the opening statement in your answer (and every answer) is GOLD. Use it wisely. The start and end of any answer are the most memorable.

Pro Tip 3: Importance of Stories

Stories are the Best Way to Communicate Information and Keep Attention

Why do...
We Love Stories
...even in an interview?

We naturally want to hear stories, how things are going badly and how the 'hero' solved things. We also need to know how EXACTLY the hero did it. "And then Superman saved the world" is not an interesting end, the listener has learnt nothing.
The S.T.A.R. or similar methods are really just story telling structures. They are ways to communicate information in an easily understandable format, and they naturally have an order that the listener can follow.
Your interview stories have a hero (you), but they also need problems and details (relevant only) about HOW the hero (you) won the day!
For an interview you really need to have between 5-10 stories that you can adapt to any question.

Here is a video I recommend!

Another Expert's View:

Cass Thompson

Top Tip: Put on the subtitles! closed_caption

Key Takeaway:

Stories are such a fundamental part of communicating information.

Pro Tip 4: Answer Length

Let Them Talk Too!

Who really...
LIKES listening ALL the time

So... your answers need to be relevant but you have to be flexible to let them push you to what is relevant to them. They are interested in learning certain things about you. You may not have guessed beforehand what those things were, so you need to give them space to direct you.
The first rule is to be looking to be interupted. Don't just wait to be interupted, (which you should ALWAYS allow) but be ready to see their hands raise, their mouths open, their heads and bodies lean in. Be ready, they are going to direct you to WHERE THEY ARE INTERESTED.
The second rule I have mentioned above - answer immediately. The impact here is if they want to change direction mid-answer, you have still answered their question.
The third idea is to give them a choice half-way through a long answer. Give them the chance to change direction rather than be forced to listen to you. For example, "That was how I dealt with the situation [what their question asked], would you like me to tell you my general approach to how I deal with all interpersonal problems? [Their question did NOT ask you about your 'theories' but you feel it's a great thing to tell them].
The final thing to remember is that no one likes the office 'chatterbox'. The person who stops you in the corridor for 10 minutes to have a general chat. The person who adds half an hour to every meeting by talking too much. The person who talks without staying relevant or without thinking about the audience. The opposite of being the chatterbox is to be perceived as relevant, concise, interactive.

Pro Tip 5: Passive Questions

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

How to ...
Go on the Attack
...in an interview?

Some questions are quite aggressive, "What are your weaknesses?", "What is the best way to deal with this (technical issue)?".
Some questions allow you to be aggressive, "What are your strengths?", "Tell me about a time....".
By the way, "Why should we hire you?" is a great question for you to sell yourself - but many people will fear the interviewer hasn't understood if they have the core skills or not (Skills Fit) and so will answer defensively - sticking to describing the core minimum skills they have.
Other questions are very passive, they are giving you the choice, the biggest one is "Tell me about yourself", or "Walk me through your CV.", or "How did you hear about the job.". These are all 'directionless' questions, or possibly just to allow everyone to settle in to the interview. But most imortantly for you, they are passive because they give you the control, the chance to attack if you want - use this chance to show yourself as a JOB HERO or a COMPANY HERO!

Pro Tip 6: Different Answers at Different Stages

The Messenger not The Message

Why give...
the Same Question, Different Answers
...to the same company?

You might be asked the VERY same question by the HR Junior, and your potential boss, and your potential team mates and the company director - but each answer should be different because each of them have different needs. That is why there are different interviews!
For example with the initial stages, when HR are screening you pre-interview, you must really focus on SKILLS FIT. With team mates you are looking at CULTURE FIT and JOB HERO. For your line-manager, some SKILLS FIT, lots of CULTURE FIT, and lots of JOB HERO. For a director CULTURE FIT and COMPANY HERO.
Think about the question about salary. The HR department just want to know that the salary is possibly within their range, so your answer should be vague. Even at the initial interview stage you should keep your answer vague because to get the best salary you need to have shown your value as JOB HERO and/or COMPANY HERO, but if the question comes before you have done this it is difficult for them to attach the same value to you (yet). So initially this question must be answered vaguely so that you generally fit into their schema [CULTURE FIT] and then once you have demonstrated your value properly you can ask for the best salary possible.

Pro Tip 7: Use Pauses and Repetition

Great Commedians, Funny People, Repeat

Why do...
Native and Non-Native Speakers Need This

There are FOUR ways you can help yourself as a non-native speaker to communicate more effectively immediately.
1) Don't speak quickly. All of us who speak a foreign language do this. We want our turn in the conversation to end because we are slightly unsure about what we are saying. So we speak quickly, we 'eat our words' hoping that the conversation will move on and people will miraculously understand. Don't do this, if you have something to say, then give it the time it deserves. A nervous fast answer only communicates that you are a poor communicator and the actual message will be lost.
2) Pause. Allow people time to process what you have said. Don't panic and go on with your next point, allow what you have just said to penetrate and make sense. This is especially needed if you make pronunciation or grammar or word choice errors, the listener will need a half second to catch the meaning. Give it to them.
3) Repeat. Say important parts of your speech in two different ways. This is a great technique and not boring as long as the repeated information has relevancy and new information. For example, "I was working in a big team, we were in 7 different offices across 3 countries,....". People don't listen well so give them twice the oportunity to hear you.
4) Drive the Bus. When you are driving the bus quickly you really should tell your passengers where they are going and when you are about to take a turn. If you don't they will get lost or fall off their seats. Do the same when you speak. "There are a few things that I had to bear in mind... Firstly.... and we did that because... which resulted in... Secondly... but on the other hand..." etc. Be a considerate driver!


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English Interview Strategy Mini-Course

About Native Listener Founder
About Native Listener Founder
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  • lens 20+ years sales & marketing experience
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  • lens From London, UK
  • lens B.A. (Econ.) Degree
  • lens 20+ years sales & marketing experience
  • lens 20+ years English teaching experience
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