Job interviews: preparation, uncomfortable questions and Covid-19 talks to an interview coach to explore uncomfortable questions, how to get ready for a job interview and Covid-19’s impact.

Business situation, job interviews


At the beginning of November, we asked what the worst question people had been asked during job interviews on’s Facebook page .

Some of the answers received were funny, others disappointing but not so surprising, and some were baffling. However, it made us reflect on the different aspects of a job interview so decided to talk to  interview coach John Hoey.

Hoey works as a professional interview coach and partners with Emma Alkirwi to support The CV Guru’s clients. He shared some advice to help you thrive during a job interview.

How to handle uncomfortable and private questions

Many of the worst interview questions mentioned were sexist, often related to the interviewee’s intentions of starting a family and becoming a mother.

Other questions involved nationality, such as the one an Irish woman was asked, which linked her nationality to having a bad temper and asked how she would manage that if things would go wrong.

It is important to remember that the employer has no legal right to ask such questions.

Hoey explains: “Employment law requires organisations to run a fair and effective recruitment process, so the key word fair is in line with the Equality Act 2010. There should be no questions during the interview about the protected characteristics as detailed in the Equality Act.”

“Anything to do with age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, these are all protected characteristics,” he adds.

You have two options if you find yourself in this situation. The first is to politely decline the question, stating how that would not affect your ability to do the job in any way. The second choice is to answer if you wish, knowing that you can report it afterwards.

Four steps to prepare yourself for an interview

Passing the first recruitment step can be a relief and exciting. However, the idea of attending an interview can create anxiety, leading some to not feel quite prepared.

Fortunately, there are some practical ways to prepare yourself for job interviews. Hoey, who wrote a workbook on the subject, recommends four key approaches.

“The first is research, which is about learning about the company […] It also means getting to know a little bit more about the industry, not just the company, that you are looking to join,” he says.

Having a look at online profiles, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and their website is a great way to start learning more about the company.

“The next thing is that people tend to be self-deprecating, so when we talk about ourselves we have a tendency to say, ‘We were part of a team, and we did this meeting, and my boss asked me to do this.’ People don’t want to take all the credit or they feel embarrassed,” says Hoey.

He explains that it is not about blowing your own trumpet, but rather about thinking about your achievements and what you are proud of in your life. Being able to evidence your skills with confidence is a key aspect of a successful interview.

The third step is having some structure to your answers. A typical model to follow is the STAR (situation, task, action and result) approach, then you have the O-STARR (opener, situation, task, action, result, reflection) as a variation, or the WHO model, which covers what the situation was, how you resolved it and its outcome.

Following a model will prevent you from going off at tangents and mean you are giving targeted answers to each component of the question.

Then, Hoey moves to the fourth step. “My biggest piece of advice is to practise out loud because when people prepare their answers for an interview they have a habit of rehearsing them in their heads,” he says.

Hoey continues: “Have you ever rehearsed an argument or conversation with your partner or your children and you know what you are going to say, but then it comes out completely differently and you wonder where that came from?”

“That’s why I tell people to rehearse out loud so that you can hear your voice saying the answer and when you are at the interview it won’t come as a surprise,” he explains.

How the pandemic changed job interviews

An increasing use of technological devices was seen across many areas of people’s lives during the pandemic and the recruitment process has been similarly affected.

Whilst the first step of sending cover letters and CVs online was already in place, the interview was often conducted in person. However, during 2020 and 2021, the majority of interviews happened over phone or video calls.

On one hand, remote interviews allowed more flexibility and meant that people did not have to travel or book too much time off. This was particularly beneficial for mothers and carers, but also for people suffering from anxiety or those who feel uncomfortable in new environments.

Indeed, being in a familiar place can help some to thrive, feel more relaxed and avoid distractions whilst being interviewed.

On the other hand, some people might struggle with technology and the fear of a bad internet connection or low signal can result in additional stressors.

Different organisations are still conducting interviews remotely, whilst others have returned to face-to-face ones. If you have a preferred way to conduct the interview it is worth asking for any possible adjustments.

Advice for interviewers

Finally, the interview is a dual process and an opportunity for the interviewee to assess whether they would like to work for that organisation. This means that interviewers also need to make a good impression as well as be able to ask the right questions to choose the best candidate.

Selecting clear, understandable and targeted questions is necessary. Also, because interviews can be a repetitive and long process, interviewers might get bored or tired. However, the way they present themselves can make a big difference. Hoey says: “Make sure that you have got the energy and the commitment to give time to the person who is coming for the interview and respect the fact that they are nervous, that they have done the research and they need to be heard.”

Another piece of advice he gives is to repeat the question. “I think it’s important so the person can have an opportunity to absorb the question as the interviewee is often in a fight or flight mode and they need to be made to feel comfortable.”

Interviewers need to be aware of their body language, ensuring that they are making eye contact and nodding and are engaging with the interviewee. According to Hoey, by doing so “you will get the best out of the interviewee because you’ll be connecting with them on a human level”.

* Prepare to ace your job interview: 8 Steps to Success with Interview Coach John Hoey byJohn Hoey £7.29 (E-book)

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