Focus Management Consultants Limited

Recruitment Specialists for the food and drink industry

Interview techniques

Employers use a large variety of assessment tools and techniques, including online assessments and it is important to research in advance the assessments you face.

If it is to be an interview, then find out the type and style of interview, as well as who will be interviewing you. If the answer is that it is an ‘assessment centre’, then find out the exercises that you will be asked to complete. If there are aptitude tests, then find out what type of tests you will be asked to complete and if there are practice questions that you can be sent.


Biographical Interview

A standard interview is a ‘Biographical Interview’ and this will generally start with an introductory chat, moving on to questions specific to your application and experience. General information about the company and role may follow, finishing with an opportunity for you to ask your own questions.  Most interviews of this type will last between 30 to 90 minutes.


In order to be successful:

  • Be familiar with your CV and prepared to answer questions from it.
  • Ensure you have read any job description thoroughly and think of ways in which your experience will benefit your potential employer.
  • Listen to the questions, and answer them clearly.
  • Give positive examples from your experience to date but be concise. Avoid one-word answers however. Prepare yourself in advance for likely questions.

At the very least, you’ll need to have prepared your answers to these:

  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why should I employ you?
  • What are your development needs? Your key strengths?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • How would your last team describe you?
  • What’s been your biggest achievement at work?


Competency Based Interview

Increasingly, organisations will use a Competency Based Interview often in combination with the Biographical interview.

A Competency Based Interview is a more accurate technique which is designed to draw out what you actually DID, SAID, and THOUGHT in a situation in or outside of work.

Interviewers are trained to listen for evidence of each competency and press for detailed descriptions of actual behaviour.

A competency is an underlying characteristic of an individual which is directly related to effective or superior performance on the job.  Levels of competency vary between each individual, for example, if you show a higher level of competency in a particular area, you will undoubtedly perform to a higher standard in that role. 

In advance of the assessment day, find out from the organisation the competencies that you are being assessed against.   

For instance, competencies like the following might be relevant for a managerial role:

Leadership Sets direction, motivates and empowers others in order to reach organisational goals.
Planning & Organising Organises and schedules events, activities and resources. Sets up and monitors timescales and plans.
Strategic Thinking  Demonstrates a broad-based view of issues, events and activities and a perception of their longer term impact or wider implications.
Personal Drive Shows personal drive, resilience and determination to achieve high quality results despite problems, setbacks and reversals.
Influencing Influences, convinces or impresses others in a way that results in acceptance, agreement or behaviour change.
Problem Solving Analyses problems and breaks them down into their component parts. Makes systematic and rational judgments based on relevant information.
Spoken Communication  Speaks clearly, fluently and in a compelling manner to both individuals and groups.
Team Working Interacts with others in a sensitive and effective way. Respects and works well with others.

Think about the situations, within the last 2-3 years, where you feel you have shown these competencies.

The interviewer is interested in your actions or contributions, and the broader implications of your actions on others or the organisation. Some of the questions you could be asked:

  • Give me an example of a successful team you have led? (Leadership)
  • What’s been the most complicated project that you’ve managed? (Planning)
  • Talk me through a time when you were unable to persuade someone? (Influencing)
  • Tell me about your current departmental strategy? How was it developed? (Strategic Thinking)

In answering these questions it’s important to be precise but with relevant detail. Notice that the questions include negative examples. Don’t be phased by this, as no-one is perfect, and it’s what you did that counts, even if the result wasn’t perfect.


A very useful method and the format for some competency based interview is the STAR approach. This helps you to tell the story by breaking it down into the Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

  • Situation - problem, challenge or circumstance you faced
  • Task - what was required
  • Action - or approach you took to solve the problem
  • Results - in business terms, quantifiable where possible in terms of £s, percentages,   days, sales or cost savings

You should be prepared for follow-up questions that enable the interviewer to focus on what’s important to them. Potential follow-ups might be:

  • What was going through YOUR mind when you did that?
  • What was the first thing YOU did?
  • How did YOU do that?
  • What was YOUR role in the event?
  • Tell me what YOU said in that conversation?
  • What feedback did you receive?
  • What did you learn from that experience?
  • How has your behaviours changed since then?

Give the interview a meaty example at the beginning to probe, and then work with them to fill in the details.


Assessment Centres and Other Exercises

It is vital to prepare for an assessment centre. They can last for a half day, a whole day or a couple of days. This is quite an intense experience for all concerned, and will feature a number of candidates and a number of assessors. They are highly structured and time sensitive and usually built around a set of key competencies.

  • Timetable – this highlights what exercise is happening, when and where
  • Location – be there when you need to be
  • Listen to all detailed instructions and guidance
  • Question anything you don’t fully understand
  • First impressions still count
  • Plan, do and review your approach to each exercise
  • Manage your time on an exercise, balancing speed and accuracy


When you’re approaching an individual exercise, consider the competencies that are likely to be assessed. Then think:

  • What knowledge, skill or attitude does this enable me to demonstrate to the assessors?

Examples of exercises

  • Role play – interpersonal style, coaching skills, customer service, selling
  • Presentation – analysis, structure, verbal communication, personal impact
  • In-tray / business exercise – analysis, decision-making, planning, structure, written communication
  • Fact-find exercises – analysis, questioning, communication
  • Group exercise – leadership, communication, drive, structuring, teamwork (and perhaps influence)
  • Situational judgement – in specific situation, including short / long term thinking and task / people orientation


Psychometric Assessments

Although there are a large range of online assessments - either aptitude (ability) tests or personality questionnaires. While you could be asked to complete these on the day of the assessment centre, increasingly these are completed online and in advance.

Aptitude tests can measure a range of verbal analysis, numerical reasoning or problem solving.

Practice does improve results - you become more familiar with the testing process, rather than your underlying capability is run by one of the largest tests publishers, and so is a good place to start.

However, not all tests look the same or have the same approach. So if you do practice, don’t automatically expect your actual test to look or feel the same. Take advantage of any example questions and make sure you know what to do before you start the test.

If the test is timed, you’ll need to work quickly. Try to balance this with being as accurate as possible, but don’t get stuck on a question. Although not everyone will complete each test, the more you attempt, then the greater chance you have to get a decent score.

With a personality profile, the questionnaire is assessing your fit to the role and the work place. There is no right or wrong personality, so it is wrong to call it a personality test. However, there are right and wrong personalities for jobs and workplaces.

Whilst the format of these questionnaires vary. You will usually be asked to choose between varieties of statements.

The questionnaire will ask you to profile yourself, highlighting your own preferences and styles, and the best guidance here is to be honest and truthful.