ARCHIVED - Acing the Interview

The following is adapted from Interview Toolkit, created by the Human Resources Services Directorate at Health Canada.


The interview is a very important event that often decides whether or not you get the job.

Employers may also use a variety of assessment instruments such as in-baskets, simulations, role plays, and written tests to assess candidates. However, the interview is the most commonly used method of assessment and can be the most critical part of the appointment process. To increase your chances of success, careful preparation is essential to ensure that you present yourself and your qualifications to your best advantage.

An interview in the Public Service usually follows a fairly formal structure. You can expect to be interviewed by an "assessment board", often composed of two or three people. These normally include one or more managers and a human resources (HR) representative.

The appointment process in the private sector ranges from informal to highly structured. Less formal interviews may be done by one person. In both the private and public sectors, there may be more than one interview. You could even be interviewed by three different persons simultaneously or at various times. Once the interviews are completed, the interviewers regroup to compare notes and agree on a final decision.

Before the Interview

Gather Information

The Fit

The interview is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are the right fit for the job and the organization. The interview is also your opportunity to determine if the job fits you. You need to begin preparing for the interview shortly after you apply for the position. Research takes time, so begin early. Gather information about the job, the organization and yourself to help you prepare specific examples to illustrate just how you "fit."

Research the Job

Obtain as much information on the position as possible, such as:

  • The Statement of Merit Criteria - lists the Essential Qualifications, Asset Qualifications and Operational Requirements for the job. It is a blueprint against which the candidates will be assessed in the appointment process. Read the job advertisement carefully for the specific screening requirements.
  • The Work Description - provides more detailed information on the specific position for which you are applying.

The HR representative listed in the job advertisement can provide these documents and also answer questions regarding the assessment board or the types of selection tools used (e.g. tests, in-basket, role plays, etc.). You may ask the HR representative about the competencies that will be covered during the interview. This would help you focus your preparation on areas that you know will be relevant to the assessment board. Also, research the competencies to see how they are defined by that particular department. For example, "initiative" may be defined differently from one department to another.

Advise the contact person in advance of your language of choice for each assessment (English, French or bilingual). It is important to choose the language you are most efficient in. For example, if you are stronger in spoken English and written French, request to have the interview in English and the written test in French.

Research the Organization

The Department's mission statement, Web sites, and other literature are usually available online.

Set Up an Informational Interview

Another source - and probably the best way to learn about a specific position and organization - is to do an informational interview. This involves getting an interview (in person or by phone - check the Government Electronic Directory Services) with one or more person(s) who know(s) the position well enough to provide you with specific information. This could be the supervisor of the vacant position, the hiring manager, the employee who is leaving, someone performing functions similar to the vacant position, or people in another division, branch or department who are performing similar duties. Most people are willing to share information about their field of work and like to be asked for advice. The informational interview helps you find out what qualifications (i.e., knowledge, abilities and personal suitability) are required for the job and to ask for more specific information. This is not a job interview. The informational interview provides insights to help you shine during your job interview and to determine if the organization's culture suits you.

Typical Interview Questions


  • Briefly summarize your work experience to date.
  • Relate your past experience to this position.
  • Explain more fully your responsibilities at the ABC Branch.
  • What have been your major accomplishments?
  • What are you the most proud of? (May be a professional or personal accomplishment)
  • What is important to you in your work?
  • What have you enjoyed most, or least?
  • Describe a problem situation in your past work experience and explain how you resolved it.
  • What type of references would your (past) employer(s) give you? Provide details.

Skill Assessment

  • What are your main strengths?
  • What are the areas where you need to improve?
  • Why do you feel qualified for this position?
  • Explain how you meet the essential and asset qualifications.


  • Describe your management style.
  • As a manager, what would you look for when hiring people?
  • What do you see as the most difficult task in being a manager?
  • Why do you feel you have good potential to be a manager?

Self-evaluation and Motivation

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Describe your relationship to your superiors, peers and subordinates.
  • What is it about our organization that attracts you?
  • Why do you think we should hire you?
  • Why are you seeking a change at this time?
  • Explain how you are a right fit for this job.


  • How do you deal with frustration? With pressure?
  • Where do you see yourself in 3 to 5 years? In 10 years?
  • What does job satisfaction mean to you?
  • If you had complete freedom of choice, what would you choose to do?

Other Types of Questions

Various other types of questions may be asked in an oral interview. The types of questions asked will depend on the nature of the qualifications assessed or the information sought. Generally, situational, behavioural-based, specific knowledge and ability questions and role play form most of the interview. An interview can contain any of the following types of questions:

Job Knowledge Questions

These questions assess knowledge that is essential to job performance and must be known prior to entering the job. These questions often deal with the technical aspects of the job or basic knowledge that is essential to learn the job. Depending on the level and requirements of the job, these questions may assess basic professional competencies or very complex managerial skills.

Example: "What are the steps involved in developing a project management plan?"

Situational Questions

Usually these questions provide you with a hypothetical job situation. You must respond by describing what you would do in a given situation.

Example: "If you were appointed manager, what would you do to build more cohesive work teams?"

Behaviourally-based Questions

Behaviourally-based interview questions rest on the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. They are a valuable means of finding out whether candidates have demonstrated their qualifications in real situations.

Example: "Can you tell me about a situation in which you were responsible for planning and organizing all the staff, equipment and financial resources necessary to get a job done?"

Worker Requirements Questions

These usually take the form of "willingness" questions. Examples often include questions on your willingness to work in various environmental conditions, willingness to do repetitive physical work, and willingness to travel or relocate. These questions are frequently placed at the beginning of the oral section of the interview, since they act as good "warm-up" questions.

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