Attending An Interview

How questions will be asked

Examples of Interviewing Questions

What should you stress ?

Techniques of handling questions

How to handle difficult questions

Questions you may ask

Panel and Group Interviews


Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 Task 4 Task 5 Task 6

Further Reading

Additional Resources


Preparation for an interview is very important. There are different things you need to think about before attending an interview, such as updating your documents, planning what to wear and thinking about how you should behave. The main focus of this module is on handling interview questions but you can refer to the last part of this document to locate sources for information about preparation for other areas.

How questions will be asked

In a job interview you need to be prepared to answer different kinds of questions. Generally a skillful interviewer avoids asking questions demanding only Yes/No answers. In order to find out whether or not you fit the job well, the interviewer would like you to speak more so that he or she has more time to listen to and evaluate what you say. To encourage you to give a full answer, the following expressions are commonly used by the interviewers:

Could you tell me about ...?
I wonder if you could tell me ...?
Would you mind telling me ...?
I’d also like to know ...?
Do you happen to know ...?

To prompt you to speak more, these follow-up questions might also be asked:

Why do you think that?
Could you explain why you think that?
Can you explain further?
Can you give me an example of that?
In what way exactly?
What do you mean exactly?
Please tell me more.
Are you sure you mean that?

If you are able to handle the interviewer's questions well, you will leave a good impression. It is therefore important for you to think about all possible questions before you attend an interview. The following list gives you some ideas about questions you might be asked. Study them carefully and plan your answers before you attend an interview. Look at Successful Interview Skills, Chapter 5 for more examples of interviewing questions and appropriate responses to them.

Examples of Interviewing Questions

Education and training

  1. Can you tell me about your course at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University?
  2. Why have you chosen this course?
  3. Do you think that the course is beneficial to your career? If so, in what ways is it beneficial?
  4. Did you enjoy any particular part of your studies more than the rest?
  5. Can you tell me about a project that you worked on at university?
  6. Tell me something about your background.
  7. Can you tell me about your extracurricular activities and what you gained from them?
  8. Do you speak Mandarin?

Employment history

  1. Have you had any work experience?
  2. Can you tell me about your last job?
  3. What has been your greatest achievement in your working history?
  4. Can you tell me about a problem you have had at work and how you dealt with it?
  5. Which of all your jobs have you found the most interesting and why?
  6. Why did you leave your last position?


  1. Tell me something about yourself.
  2. What do you consider to be your strengths?
  3. What do you feel are your weaknesses?
  4. How would you describe your personality?
  5. What would you like to be doing ten years from now?
  6. Can you tell me about your outside interests and hobbies?
  7. What are you most proud of having achieved in your life so far?
  8. Where do you see yourself in five years?

The vacancy

  1. Why do you want to work for this company?
  2. What do you know about this company?
  3. Can you explain why you have applied for this post?
  4. What do you think you can contribute to this company?
  5. We have a lot of applications for this job.  Why should we appoint you?

Closing questions

  1. What is your availability?
  2. Do you have any questions you would like to ask?

What should you stress?

Of course you want to impress the interviewer and demonstrate that you have the qualities needed for the post. To achieve this, you need to plan ahead for opportunities to sell yourself. Think carefully about what strengths you can capitalise on and the best timing to do it. Be specific and confident. You can use language like:

I think, I’m good at ...
I feel, I have good experience in ...
I believe, I am able to ...

After you mentioned a strength, you should back up what you have said with examples and past experience. This will give the interviewer an impression that you are presenting yourself with facts and evidence instead of boasting or pretending you know something. For example:

I think my strengths are my ability to work independently. I can motivate myself to get things done. I also think that I have good analytical and quantitative skills. I have really been able to develop those skills in my Quantitative Methods and Accountancy classes.

Techniques of handling questions

Apart from knowing how to answer questions you can predict, be prepared to handle unexpected and difficult ones. Here are some strategies you can use:

Before any attempt to answer a question, make sure you really understand it. If you are not sure you do, you may clarify the question by rephrasing it:

So, you want to know how I plan my career for the next five years?
So, what you’re asking is my experience in ...?
If I understand the question correctly, you would like to know ...
Are you talking about my post-secondary education?
When you say ‘technical work’, do you mean experience in the laboratory?

You can also ask for repetition by saying:

Sorry, could you repeat that?
I’m sorry, I didn’t hear. Can you say that again?
I’m sorry I don’t understand.
I beg your pardon.

However, do not overdo it as your interviewer may feel that you cannot concentrate on the conversation.

Sometimes it is difficult to think of an answer straight away. You need to give yourself a few moments to think but you should not just sit and look at the interviewer in silence. To give yourself a little more time to organise your thoughts you can begin your answer with short phrases such as:

Well, ...
That’s a good question!
Let me see ...
First of all, ...

If you really need more time to think about your answer you may say:

I need to consider my reply .
Can you give me a moment to think .
Oh, let me think for a moment .

It could be embarrassing if you sit there in silence for five minutes to consider your answer to a question. If you really cannot answer, don’t panic. Just say something like:

I’ve no idea, I’m afraid.
Sorry, I’m not sure about that.
I think that area’s a bit too technical for me but I really want to explore it in the future.

Do not lose your spirits even you cannot answer a question or you feel you have done it badly. It could be a tough question for any candidate. It is more important to get your concentration back and focus on the next question.

How to handle difficult questions?

Some questions are more difficult than others. The interviewer may, for example, ask you about your weaknesses. One suggestion is that you should give weaknesses that sound more like strengths, such as:

I sometimes take my work too seriously. And I always work outside office hours to get something done.
I am a very easy-going person. I will do the jobs that no one else wants to do.

Some interviewers may welcome positive answers like these while others will probably feel that they are too good to be true. To avoid appearing insincere, you can mention one of your real weaknesses (but no more than one!) which would not stop you from getting the job. For instance, an accountant who says his weakness is his poor analytical ability would probably not get hired. However, an accountant who said that he felt weak in his ability to speak Putonghua but that he was taking an evening class to improve his ability would probably not be discounted. For any weakness you mention, you need to have thought about how to deal with it. This is very important because employers want to hire people who are self-aware and who can help themselves. Also, you may begin by mentioning a strength and that might reduce some of the negative impact created by the weakness. For example, you may say:

Although I’m very fluent in English, I always feel that my Putonghua is not good enough. I’m taking an evening class to improve it. I think I am improving and gaining the confidence in speaking Putonghua.

I think my strengths are ... Well, my weakness is I lack some confidence; however, I think that with time and after I get more work experience, I will feel more confident about working.

I have a tendency to say ‘yes’ to too many responsibilities. For example ... But I soon realised that I could not do too many things at the same time. This experience helped me learn to prioritise.

Money is a sensitive subject. You should research the salary range for the job ahead of time. When asked how much you expect to be paid, you may mention the bottom-line figure you have in mind or give neutral responses like:

How much does the job pay?
How much is a new employee usually paid?
How much do you usually pay someone with my experience?
I would expect to be paid what other people in this job are paid.

Sometimes you may be asked why you want to join the company. Make sure you do your homework to find out about the people you hope to work for so that you can easily use the information to your advantage during the interview. You can say:

Your firm is a young organisation with many innovative ideas. It has been very successful in an expanding market since its establishment 10 years ago. Working for you would be exactly the sort of challenge I am looking for.

This is a well-established university. It has excellent tradition and reputation that any employee can be proud of.

For people who have work experience, you might be asked why you left your last job. The interviewer is trying to find out if you had any problems on your last job. Do not say anything negative about yourself or your previous employer. Common reasons for leaving are budgetary cutbacks, the job was temporary, the company went out of business, there was no room for advancement or you wanted a job that would allow you to better use your skills. If it involved personal reasons, such as difficulty in getting along with your previous colleagues, child care, health problem, etc., try to explain without being negative and show that you learned something from the situation and that the problem will not affect your work anymore.

The interviewer may also ask about your future plans to find out if you set goals for yourself and what kind of expectations you have of the company. You can mention your study plans or professional interests which are not likely to affect your abilities to fulfil the job requirements. Your answer may show that you know where the job might lead.

I know that generally it is possible to move from this position to a management position with two years experience in the company and I would look forward to having the responsibility for training and supervising new members of staff. From there, I know I could move into ...

I have an interest in marketing and I would consider graduate study in business in the future. I think my goals will become more clear as I gain experience in sales and marketing.


Some employers find it rude for interviewees to ask about salary and benefits. To play it safe, you should avoid this subject at this stage unless the interviewer initiates it.

Questions you may ask:

Towards the end of an interview, you are usually asked whether you have any questions. Take the opportunity to ask questions you have prepared beforehand to show that you are interested in the company and the position you are seeking. You can ask:

How would you describe the duties of the position?
How much travel is normally expected?
How frequently do you relocate professional employees?
What are the prospects for advancement beyond this level?
How often do the training programmes begin?
What new product lines/services have been announced recently?
How many people are you interviewing for this position?
If I am extended an offer of employment, how soon after this would you like me to start?
When can I expect to hear from you?

But if you feel that you know all you need to about the position, you may say:

I think that you have covered all the important points already. But if I have any questions later I will contact you.

Finally, if you have prepared something important, e.g. your strengths, but you had not been asked about it, you can make use of this opportunity. You may begin by saying:

If you don’t mind, I would just like to add a brief comment about the sort of person I am.

My background has already demonstrated my academic achievements and professional abilities; however, in addition, I would like to highlight my personal strengths.


Panel and Group Interviews

The format of interviews can be slightly varied. You may be interviewed by a panel or with some other candidates at the same time. When that happens, try to stay calm and present yourself as you would in a one-to-one interview. Generally speaking, you have more than one listener in these interviews so you can expect a different interaction pattern. Try to maintain eye contact with everybody there. Questions in a panel interview tend to be more rapidly paced because the interviewers have more time to frame questions while you are answering someone else. You need to have very good concentration so that you can follow the questions and think quickly to organise your answers.

During a group interview, the interviewer is less likely to interact with each candidate individually. He will present a few work related problems for the group of candidates to discuss and see how they can apply their education to work place situations. Before you go to this kind of interview try your best to research issues, trends, problems and effective ways to solve difficulties in your area so that you are more likely to have ideas during the discussion. Be prepared to participate actively with good manners. You certainly need to find chances to speak. But be careful not to appear to be too aggressive. Do not interrupt anyone who is speaking. Make sure you respond politely when you do not agree with something someone else said or when what you have said is criticised. Remember, the interviewer is definitely interested in observing how you communicate with other people.

There is no way to predict and practise for every possible interview situation because the answers you give to any question may change depending on what you want to emphasise and/or de-emphasise and to whom you are speaking. However, part of it can be predicted and prepared. All you need to do, therefore, is be well-prepared, think positively and be sensitive to the interviewer’s style. Good luck!



Task 1

Most of you have probably attended interviews for different purposes, e.g. exams, part-time jobs, etc. Discuss or review any past interviewing experiences you have had. What happened? Were you successful? The following questions may be useful:

  1. How many interviews have you attended?
  2. What were they for?
  3. Did you think they were good interviews or bad interviews? What made them good or bad?
  4. Did you prepare for the interview? If you did, then how did you prepare for the interview?
  5. Do you think it is necessary to prepare for an interview? Why/Why not?
  6. If you think preparation is necessary what should the preparation involve. Write your ideas below. ___________________________________________________________


Task 2

The following is a partial list of do's and don'ts for interviews. Can you think of more? Check p. 55 in Successful Interview Skills for more examples.


Do not


Task 3

Some questions are almost always asked in every interview. Although the answers may vary depending on who you are speaking to, there will be less variation in the answers to these questions than to most. You should be prepared to answer the following questions:

  1. Tell me something about your background.
  2. Tell me something about yourself.
  3. Tell me something about your strengths and weaknesses.

Think about what these questions require you to say and write down your answers to these questions. Practise saying them in an organised and natural way.

Task 4

The purpose of this task is to make you think about what makes a good interview or a bad interview. Look at International Business English p.173 exercise 13.7 A and B. Listen to the two interviews on the tape and decide

  1. Which interviewer did the better job?
  2. Which of the candidates performed better? Why?
  3. What answer would you give to each of the questions the interviewer asks?

Task 5

Simulation Interview: Work in a group of three. You will be taking part in three interviews - as interviewer, interviewee and ‘observer’ respectively . Discuss who will play which role in each of the interviews. Decide on a specific job for which the interviewee is being interviewed. You can look in the SCMP job vacancies pages. Here are some guidelines to follow for each role:


  1. Use the job advertisement to help you decide what sort of person you are looking for.
  2. Spend some time thinking about what questions you are going to ask.
  3. Write the questions out in the order you will ask them.



  1. Look at the job advertisement and think about what sort of person the employer is looking for.
  2. Think about the experience you have. If possible have your CV ready for use in the interview.
  3. Think about why you want to leave your present job and what you have to offer this new company. All this information can be made up.
  4. Write down all information about yourself so that you don't have to think about it when the interviewer asks you a question.



Your role is to make notes and give advice to the others on their performance in the interview. As you listen to the interview make notes on these points:

  1. What impression did each person give?
  2. If they were nervous, how did this affect their performance?
  3. Were there too many Yes/No questions?
  4. Which questions did they answer well?
  5. What advice would you give them for their next real interview?


Ensure each person has a chance to play each of the three roles.

You may also record the interviews and assess your groupmates’ performance using the peer evaluation form in the Job-seeking Package in the ELSC Resources Room for a more critical review.

Task 6

If you want more guided practice on interviewing, try the role-play tasks in the Job- Seeking Package.

Additional Resources

Pathway on Job Interviews

Job-seeking Package


Further Reading

Business Writing for Hong Kong by Grahame Bilbow, Longman, 1991, pp.191 -197.

New International Business English by Leo Jones and Richard Alexander, Cambridge University Press, 1996, Unit 13.

Job Seeker’s Guide by South China Morning Post, pp. 10 - 13.

Successful Interview Skills by Rebecca Corfield, Kogan Page Ltd., 1992.


Below shows sources for preparation of other areas for an interview:

Appearance: Successful Interview Skills pp.32 - 35

Documents: Job Seeker’s Guide pp.10 - 11

Manners: Job Seeker’s Guide pp.12 -13 and Successful Interview Skills pp.35 - 37

The above materials can be found in the ELC Resources Room on the Business shelf.


Last revised:  15 September 1998

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