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A guide to values-based interviews

“Tell me about a mistake you’ve made in the past. How did you learn from it and turn it into a positive experience?”

There’s nothing like a values-based question to pull the rug out from under your feet, just as you feel you’re acing an interview. You start scrabbling around inside your mind for a good mistake anecdote that’s more exciting than misplacing the stapler but less damning than losing thousands of pounds.

When sprung unexpectedly, a values-based question is tricky to get around, but with the right preparation it’s a chance to shine – and set yourself apart from other candidates.

Values-based questions are becoming commonplace during the recruitment process, with almost a third of graduate employers using them regularly. These days an interview is as much about your personality – and whether you’d fit into the company’s culture – as it is about your experience or strengths.

What are values-based interview questions?

It’s all well and good knowing the company’s history back to front and having a CV that’s a mirror-image of the job description, but is that the best you’ve got? Chances are your personality, your approach to tasks and how you relate to other people are the things that make you you – and values-based questions allow you to put those things front and centre.  

By testing your outlook, your thought processes and your decision-making skills, these questions will let you prove that you’re someone the organisation really wants around. Remember that the skills and experience on your application are what secured you the interview, so reheating those at this point isn’t going to put you any further ahead. Your interviewers have already got a condensed version of you on one side of A4 – so values-based questions will ask you to dig a bit deeper and show who you are 24/7.

It’s not just about finding the most dramatic or memorable story possible, either – just demonstrating that you’re adaptable, you’re single-minded or you’ve got a healthy work-life balance could be the thing that gets you across that line. 

How to prepare for values-based questions

You never know. An interviewer might surprise you by sticking rigidly to the points on your CV, but equally they might spring a values-based question on you before you’ve even settled into the chair. We’re not saying your focus should shift entirely to values at the expense of everything else, but factoring them into your preparation can’t be a bad idea.

To get an idea of what your prospective employer really wants, trawl through the company’s website for a mission statement. You might find one on a dedicated page, or you may have to cobble one together yourself from the words they use elsewhere (trust, loyalty, wellbeing, creativity, collaboration and so on). Either way, once you’ve established what values you can expect to be quizzed on, think about what you’ve achieved to date both in and out of the office. What unique, interesting examples can you give of demonstrating those values in your own life?

As with just about any question, it’s good practice to use the STAR (situation, task, action, result) technique when formulating your answers. Rehearse them but don’t recite them on the day – it’ll be obvious. Instead, make sure that your answers and anecdotes are adaptable so that you can still use them for unexpected questions. 

Examples of values-based interview questions

  • “Describe the best manager you’ve ever had. What was it about them that matched your values?”
  • “What do you consider to be the most important factors when deciding on a new employer?”
  • “What are you most proud to have achieved? Give me an example from outside your working life.”
  • “Describe a situation in the workplace where you’ve been responsible for something that has gone well. In what ways did you use your initiative to make it a success?”

Using values-based questions to your advantage

The interview waiting room might be full of candidates clutching exemplary CVs like yours, but values-based questions are more than just a way to distinguish yourself – there are other ways to use them to your advantage.

Remember that the whole recruitment process is a two-way street – a chance for you to screen potential employers as well as vice versa. Understanding a company’s values in advance gives you plenty of insight into whether it’s where you want to work, but going in armed with some values-based questions of your own will get you some useful answers and leave a lasting impression.