Job interviews

Tips to help you prepare for job applications and interviews

Making an application and getting shortlisted

Getting shortlisted for a job interview can be very competitive, so make sure you put your best foot forward when it comes to creating your CV and cover letter.

  • Read the advertisement and position description carefully and use them as guide as to the critical information required.
  • Make sure your cover letter reflects key words and phrases used in the advertisement.
  • In your application address the requirements of the job that are outlined in the job advertisement and job description
  • If you are applying for a job that requires a particular qualification or skill, put it up front – in the first pages.
  • Don’t make the employers hunt for critical information because they will give up very quickly and toss your precious CV into the “No” pile!
  • When you write your CV and application letter focus on your recent experience. If you are in work concentrate on your present job.
  • Provide good detail of your study and work experience going back over the past three-five years. 
  • Beyond five years, a quick bullet summary may be all that is needed – use your judgement. Employers are most interested in what you are doing today rather than jobs from several years ago.
  • Make sure that your CV and cover letter are tailored for the job you are applying for – don’t leave in the name of a different organisation by mistake!
  • Edit and proof read your CV and letter and give it to someone to read who can give you constructive feedback. And check and double check! Proof read it carefully.

Hopefully your application will stand out and you will be shortlisted and invited for an interview.

Watch the video below from Careers NZ to find out more about preparing your CV.

Must Do’s Prior to an Interview

Find out about the job and do your research – look on the organisation’s website, obtain and read the annual report, prospectus, client information, product catalogues, news articles, look at their Facebook page etc.

Find out who the CEO and the senior management team is or the manager/owner/director/principal so that you know a little bit about them.

When you check their website – have a good browse, not a cursory look

  • Print the website front page, mission statement etc, and take them to the interview (even if you don’t refer to them, panel members will see them and be impressed!)
  • Weave your knowledge into your answers. (I noticed that your website says...” “I saw an article last week...” “In your annual report I note…”) 
  • Search (aka Google) job questions and interview hints – there’s masses of them for all sorts of jobs.
  • Seek and Trade Me Jobs have good information on CVs and preparing for interviews, as do some of the top recruitment sites.

Take your own notes on your strengths, on your behavioural examples, samples of your work (if applicable) and information gathered on the organisation you are applying to. If you have your notes you can always check them out if you have a blank moment.

If you prepared properly, information will come to you more easily under the stress of the interview – you may find you don’t even need to refer to them.

Employers will not mark you down for bringing notes - more likely you will create an impression that you care about this job.

Typical Interview Questions You Can Expect

Some opening questions may include

• Tell us a bit about yourself 
• Why did you choose this job?
• What appeals to you about this job?
• What inspired you to apply?
• How do you see this fitting into your career?
• What skills and strengths do you bring to this job?

You should expect questions on

• Planning, organising, prioritising, dealing with urgent requests such as customer or client service questions
• Solving problems and dealing with complex issues
• Dealing with difficult people and/or conflict in the workplace
• Making and delivering tough decisions, having tough conversations
• The strengths you bring
• Your development needs
• Technical ability and skills (related to the job)
• Teamwork ,working in teams, working across the organisation, working with external agencies and companies
• Building and maintaining good work relationships, internal and external
• Social media skills, such as do you use Facebook?

The last question is not about your personal life, it is about your ability to use an online tool. So many organisations utilise a range of online platforms. Even buying and selling on Trade Me, or booking a holiday online are useful examples – it demonstrates your ability to find your way around an online system.

Google is a good source of interview questions – use a specific query such as “Interview questions for ……….” and add in the career you are interviewing for, such as early childhood education teacher, social worker, accountant etc.

Behavioural Questions

Many interviews are conducted using behavioural based questions - the theory being that “past performance is a good indicator of future performance.”

Such questions will often start with “Tell us about a time...” “Think of an experience...”

Make sure you prepare some real examples – talk about what you have actually done, not what you would do if faced with that situation.

A good answer to a behavioural based question will contain;

• a brief description of the situation (remember the panel wasn’t there so you need to give them some context)
• Who was involved
• What happened
• What your involvement was in what happened
• What the outcome was
• What you would do differently next time

The final question demonstrates an ability to self- reflect and if necessary, to make changes for next time. Let’s face it – very few work situations go exactly as we plan them!

Be Well Prepared

A common mistake made by candidates is to talk about what the team did and not what they themselves did in a particular situation. When answering a behavioural question it is appropriate to use “I” statements. To talk about what you did. The employer is looking to employ you – not the whole team – so it important that you make yourself stand out in the examples you use.

Before the interview, prepare two-three good strong examples that you can then use to illustrate several answers under different headings. The examples don’t have to be all work related. For example, people are involved in lots of non-work related activities where they demonstrate superb skills and abilities that are equally applicable to work. Your skills and abilities do not stop at the door to the workplace.

Coaching teams, organising fundraising, membership of boards of trustees, running sports tournaments, and leading church groups are all good examples where people develop great skills and experience – all applicable to the workplace and all applicable to good answers in an interview. Also employers generally like to see a well-rounded candidate – someone who has a purpose in life outside of work.

Also, don’t underestimate the value of any work experience you might have, particularly at large well-known national organisations. Why? Employers know that those organisations are well run and efficient and do not tolerate poor performers.

Your previous work experience demonstrates you

• Have the ability to go out and look for a job
• Can learn on the job and carry out instructions
• Are punctual, reliable and have good work habits
• Know how to work in a team and complete tasks
• Know how to work with systems, and follow procedures and processes.

Other Types of Interview Questions

You may be asked questions that focus on your future ability to perform well in the job. For example:
• Walk us through what you will do in the first weeks in the job to identify the most important challenges as well as opportunities in your new job?
• What do you think the future trends or challenges are for our industry or sector?
• What do you think will be challenges you will face in this role given the direction that our organisation or business is taking?
• How would you go about solving a problem of (challenging customers, underperforming staff..)

Prepare your own questions

Prepare your own questions about the role, such as:

  • If I got this job, what would a typical day/week look like for me?
  • What do you think the challenges are in this job?
  • How will you work with me to find out what is the best way to motivate and manage me?
  • What are the current initiatives across the organisation, which I might be involved in or contribute to?
  • How would my professional development be supported by the organisation?
  • What is the single largest challenge facing your organisation and would I be in a position to help you solve this problem?
  • Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?
  • What is the next step in the process?
  • When do you expect to make a decision?
  • Why do you (the panel) like working here?
Mistakes recruiters and interviewers observe about candidates

There are some common mistakes recruiters and interviewers say they find when interviewing candidates, such as:

Saying they are really keen to do a job but their body language, facial expression and voice tone say something quite different. Nothing about their face, words, tone of voice tells you that this person is at all keen about this job.

  • Not researching the organisation or the job – e.g. checking the website, asking for information on what the organisation does.
  • Not tailoring their CV / cover letter to the job. Candidates failing to address key words, phrases, critical tasks, essential skills and attributes from the advertisement and job description in their cover letter. The cover letter doesn’t draw the employer’s attention as to why the candidate is good for this job,. Some people even (accidentlally) leave the name of the previous organisation they applied to for job in their cover letter.
  • Not making notes to take to the interview. In reality, in the heat of the interview you know you can go back to your notes – and writing it down helps the memory – so notes show the interviewer you are keen.
  • Not asking for clarity if they are unsure of the question. Candidates giving an answer that misses the mark means that the panel will be confused about whether the candidate even understood the question, and may not be inclined to draw the candidate’s attention to this.
  • Not picking up on prompt questions and statements. Prompts tell you that your answer might have missed the mark or that you have not given the panel enough information.

Above all, find out about the organisation

Nothing tells a panel that you are not interested more quickly than ignorance of their organisation. With modern internet capability and some basic research skills, there is no excuse for not being knowledgeable about the organisation you are applying too.

And lastly – all the best in your job search. Getting a new job is an exciting step on your ultimate career path, and well deserved after lots of time spent studying to upskill yourself in the industry you are passionate about.

Related information

Careers NZ website (opens in new window)

Trade Me Jobs website (opens in new window)

Seek NZ Website (opens in new window)