How to read selection criteria to anticipate interview questions

You’ve just got off the phone. You’ve scored a job interview and you’ve got three days to sink into panic or to devote to preparing. You opt for the latter.

Re-reading the selection criteria you wonder what questions you could be asked. You know about the general questions. It’s the specific job-related ones that are a challenge.

So what can you do about this? Here’s 5 steps to help you better prepare for the interview.

Step 1:
Re-read all the job specifications – what the agency does, what the job entails, who you would have links with, what you’re expected to deliver. Then read the selection criteria and link these back to the job specs.

For example, suppose the job is in a regulatory environment (you keep watch to make sure certain people are doing what they are supposed to do under the government’s rules). Part of what you are expected to do is prepare various pieces of written work, including letters, reports, papers and legal instructions.

A criterion is: ‘Strong written and oral communication skills and the ability to liaise with external parties.’

You also know this job is within a complex technical environment and you will also provide advice to staff and clients.

Putting this information together you know the written and oral communication is about preparing technical and legal information and advice for colleagues and clients that is complex.

Step 2:
Imagine you are on the selection panel. What would you want to know if you were filling this job?

You might want to know whether the applicant has had experience in types of writing similar to this job, has had to deal with complex technical material, has provided advice to colleagues and clients. Providing advice is not the same as providing information. Advice may contain information, but it will also contain recommendations about action considered worthy of taking. This means you have to understand the context, the consequences of the advice, and it must be accurate and appropriate.

Step 3:
What questions would then elicit this information? Examples include:

Tell us about a time when you had to give colleagues advice that was difficult to understand. How did you go about helping your colleague understand this advice?
Tell us about a time when you had to give advice to a client and you knew the client would not be happy with the advice. How did you go about providing the advice? What was the client’s reaction? How did you handle this? What did you learn from this experience?
Outline for us the different types of writing you have produced that are relevant to this job.
How do you go about ensuring that the advice you prepare is accurate?

Step 4:
Based on these questions work out what are your best examples are to illustrate each one. By ‘best’ I mean recent, relevant to the job and context, shows you at your best, has a positive outcome, matches the level of the job (not too junior). You may not always be able to meet all these elements.

Step 5:
Rehearse your responses to the questions using your chosen examples. Think about where the panel might probe further to dig deeper into your response. Practice with a trusted colleague and receive feedback.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.