Counselling and career development

Interview skills

  • Preparation is the key to good interviews.
  • You are marketing yourself as an asset to the organisation - make sure that you know why you are applying for a specific position within a specific organisation.
  • You have a few seconds to make a good first impression - a bad first impression will most likely stay with the interviewer.

Why interviews?

For the employer For your (the job seeker)

Do you meet the requirements of the position in terms of skills, abilities and competencies? You find out more about the company.

Will you fit in with the company's culture?

What is the level of your interpersonal skills, and are you an all-rounded person?

Can you picture yourself working at this company?

Will you fit in with the company's culture?

You get the opportunity to provide examples of the skills, abilities and competencies you claim to have on your CV

Is there a match between your career development needs, and the demands and priorities of the company?

Before the interview

Research about the organisation

Knowing more about the organisation will create a good impression because it shows that you are serious about this position and genuinely interested in this organisation. Find out more about the core business of the organisation, its mission and values statements, and different business areas and locations. This information can be found in the annual report, as well as sales and promotional literature. You can research this information on the Internet and in financial magazines and newspapers. You may also phone the company to ask for company literature available to the public.

Research about the position

Find out more about a particular kind of position by talking to individuals who work in similar positions (informational interviewing) or by researching the information on the Internet, or in magazines, newspapers or books.


Think about strategies to answer different kinds of questions. Practice answers to questions by looking in a mirror, or asking a friend, family member or mentor to "interview" you.

Your questions

Prepare a list of questions you might want to ask if given the opportunity. Examples: What will this job entail? To whom would I have to report? Would I be working more in a team or more alone? What are the main challenges I will encounter in this job? Are there any mentoring programmes in place? When am I likely to hear whether my application has been successful? What kind of training and development programmes are available for entrants?


Get enough sleep the night before - look rested and not as if you were partying the night before. my employability skills Unisa Directorate for Counselling & Career Development my interview skills.


Dress appropriately (not under or overdressed). Avoid excessive perfume or aftershave and too much jewellery. Look well-groomed (clean shoes, clean fingernails and clean and neatly styled hair).

What to take with you

Take supporting documents with you. This could include a copy of your CV, certified copies of qualifications, testimonials and letters of reference. All of these documents can be included in your career portfolio which you can also take with you.

The interview

Do not be late - you should have confirmed the date, time and venue of the interview. Remember to consider possible delays (for example, public transport and traffic). Arrive about 5-10 minutes before the interview, take a deep breath and try to relax in the reception area. Remember that your interview starts as soon as you enter the premises of the organisation - greet the receptionist or secretary politely - they may be asked later to comment on your behaviour. Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake, smile and look them in the eye. Greet them by name and introduce yourself. For example, "Good morning Ms Makhanya. I am Peter Smith."

What will typically happen in an interview?

Greeting Welcome and introductions.
Getting comfortable To ensure that you are relaxed.
Icebreaker question To get you to feel comfortable about the interview.
Background of the company Give you an idea of what the company does.

An outline of the position

So that you know something about the position.

Probe your experience

Establish if your experience matches what is required for the position.

Probe you abilities

Establish if you are capable of performing the duties required by the position.

Probe your competencies

How proficient are you and will you cope?

Invite you to ask questions

Have you prepared any questions?

Wrap up the interview

Do you need clarity on certain issues? Closing and informing you of the next steps

Interview do's and do not's

look enthusiastic and energetic be too formal or informal when conversing with the interviewer answer yes/no to all questions - if you do not answer the questions, you cannot give a good impression mumble babble (provide only the necessary detail)
apologise if you are late for the interview get personal with the interviewer, bring up politics or religion ask about salary and benefits unless the interviewer mentions it
wait for the recruiter to lead you where you need to be and wait to sit argue or lose your temper
follow the lead of the interviewer in terms of formal vs. informal talk negatively about previous employers or supervisors
get to the point and answer the questions directly sit with your elbows on the table, rest your head on your hands 
maintain appropriate eye contact (don't stare or look away all the time) slouch in your chair. Slouching could project laziness and this is not a quality you want to reflect in a job interview 
ask the interviewer to clarify/ rephrase a question if you did not understand the question speak too softly or too loudly
be factual and honest
sit still. If you struggle to sit still, cross your legs and rest your hands on your lap - a recruiter will get distracted if you are restless and concentrate on what you are doing, rather than on what you are saying
relax your shoulders (tense shoulders look uncomfortable)
speak with emotion. Avoid monotones and vary your speaking speed and tone

Difficult interview questions

Be honest when dealing with difficult questions.

For example, being asked why you did not complete grade 12. Give a short reason for leaving, and then add something positive. "I did not do well during my last of school and after consulting with my parents, I decided to find a job to gain some practical experience where I could serve customers. I enjoy dealing with customer complaints and learnt a lot about how to deal with upset customers during my first six months at XYZ Discount Store".

If you have a criminal record and are asked about it, you could focus on the positive. For example, "When I was young, I made some wrong choices and I have learnt from my mistakes and I want to be responsible. I want this job so that I can provide for my family because they are very important to me".

Behavioural competency interview questions

Employers use behavioural questions to evaluate your experiences and behaviours so they can determine your potential for success. Some of the characteristics which companies might find desirable are: analysis, assertiveness, communication (oral), communication (written), decision-making, independence, management, planning and organising, and teamwork.


  1. If appointed, part of your job would be to deal with unhappy customers. What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example (negotiation/ resilience/ listening).
  2. Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead (initiative).
  3. Describe a specific problem you solved. How did you approach the problem? What role did others play? What was the outcome? (analysis/ problem-solving).
  4. Can you work under pressure and do you have the time management skills to meet deadlines? Give an example to demonstrate.
  5. Give me an example of a time in your life when you had to make an important decision. How did you go about making that decision and how does it affect you today? (decision-making).
  6. Please give me an example of a task that you had to accomplish as part of a team. (teamwork).
  7. Describe some times when you were not very satisfied or pleased with your performance. What did you do about it?
  8. Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stresses at work that tested your coping skills. What did you do?
  9. How well do you work with people? Do you prefer working alone or in teams?
  10. What do you do when people disagree with your ideas? Describe a situation.
  11. Describe a situation where you found yourself dealing with someone who didn't like you. How?
  12. Do you consider yourself to be a leader? What are the attributes of a good leader? Give me an example of when you had to show good leadership.
  13. Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion.
  14. Can you tell me about an important written document you were required to complete? NB: Think of possible questions that could be asked about the requirements for the position. For example, if “excellent communication skills” is one of the requirements for the position, what type of questions could be asked. Think about the context of the organisation. For example, if the organisation is a contact centre, then what type of communication skills would be important?

Preparing for behavioural competency-type questions

You can analyse each of the above questions according to the STAR principle:

  • Situation or Task: Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish (briefly). Describe a specific event or situation, and give enough detail for the interviewer to understand.
  • The Action you took: Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did - not the efforts of the team. Don't tell what you might do, tell what you did. Results you achieved: What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?
    Example question: What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example (negotiation/ resilience/ listening). Answer:
    Situation/ Task: A client was unhappy because her delivery was late.
    Action: I gathered information about her order and payment from the relevant personnel responsible for orders and payment and informed the client that delivery is confirmed for later that day.
    Results: The client wrote a letter to the branch manager to congratulate her on my fast and efficient service.

Other possible interview questions

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your greatest strengths? And weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to work for this organisation?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • What are your short- and long-term goals?
  • Why did you leave your last job? / previous jobs?
  • What would you consider an ideal work environment?

Last modified: 2023/08/07