Interviews and assessment centres

Answering values-based interview questions for graduate jobs

25 Jan 2023, 13:36

Find out how to prepare for values-based interview questions, which explore whether you are a good match for an employer's values.

Answering values-based interview questions for graduate jobs

Familiarise yourself with the employer's values in advance.

You are particularly likely to come across values-based interviewing if it is crucial for your prospective employer to maintain a relationship of trust with clients, consumers or the general public. Back in 2020, the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) reported that 36% of big graduate recruiters were values-based approaches to recruitment, including job interview questions that aim to assess whether candidates' values are a good match for the values of the employer.

Values-based questions can be mixed in with competency-based or strengths-based questions, with which they can overlap. However, the key difference is that values-based interview questions focus on how you match the values of an employer as a whole – it’s not about competencies for a specific role.

For example, you could be asked a question such as ‘Describe a situation where you have demonstrated integrity.’ Another example of a values-based question, which has been used by the NSPCC, is: ‘Tell us about a time when you have worked for an organisation that has matched your values. What are your values?’

Alternatively, your interview may be largely or entirely structured around the organisation's key values. For example, if one of these key values is 'taking responsibility or showing commitment', you could be asked several questions about this:

  • ‘Talk us through a situation where you were successful. Why do you think it was a success?’ The employer will want to know how much the success was due to your initiative.
  • ‘Tell us about a mistake you’ve made. What did you do about it and what have you learned from it?’ This is about being able to acknowledge problems and take a positive approach to making improvements and finding solutions.
  • ‘Have you ever gone the extra mile to learn something new?’ This is an excellent opportunity to talk about how you’ve pushed yourself academically.

Employers that ask values-based interview questions

Any employer could ask you one or two values-based questions, but there are some in particular who have been known to focus on values in their interviews. The list changes yearly and has included the following:

  • NHS
  • College of Policing
  • Arup
  • Danone
  • Financial Conduct Authority

Some career sectors are particularly likely to use values-based interviewing:

  • Professions in which care is all-important and mistakes, malpractice or conscious or unwitting neglect could lead to grave and immediate harm to the client or the general public, such as healthcare.
  • Global consumer goods companies, where trust in the brand is all-important.
  • Sectors that strive for a reputation for being values-based, and that may want to increase this.

Other types of employer that could use a values-based approach include charities, regulators and financial organisations.

Big organisations may employ experts in branding (HR and marketing) to help them project a positive image and attract job candidates who share their values, and ensure that their values are recognised.

Tip 1: study the organisation

A values-based interview will explore how and why you behave in certain situations, in relation to the values of the organisation. It’s essential to familiarise yourself with the employer’s values in advance.

Employers often have an ‘Our Values’ section on their website. If not, see what you can work out from the recruitment sections of their sites, their company news, their ‘About us’ page or their company annual reports.

Some examples of graduate employers’ values that we've seen before include:

  • Open to different ideas and cultures
  • Dependable
  • Integrity
  • Excellence
  • Positive impact
  • Continuous commitment
  • Honesty
  • Respect for people
  • Passion
  • Innovation.

Tip 2: match the values to your skills and approach

Some employers break down their values into behaviours needed to achieve them. For instance, one bank breaks down its value Dependable into the following:

  • Standing firm for what is right, delivering on commitments, being resilient and trustworthy.
  • Taking personal accountability, being decisive, using judgement and common sense, empowering others.

Others don’t provide this extra level of information, but you can figure it out for yourself by reflecting on the value and the kind of skills that would support it. For example, if one of the employer's values is respect, the skills you might need to deliver respect include interpersonal skills, broadmindedness, loyalty and a good level of diplomacy. You can then think about examples you could give of times when you’ve demonstrated the skills involved in developing respectful relationships.

When answering values-based interview questions you are likely to find yourself using verbs such as ‘helped’, ‘listened’. ‘heard’, ‘recognised’, ‘responded’, ‘decided’, ‘aimed’, ‘achieved’ and ‘considered’. These can be useful terms to describe the behaviours required to support the organisation’s values.

Best avoided…

Here’s what not to do when answering values-based questions:

  • Don’t question the merit of the employer’s values.
  • Don’t be vague about your values.
  • Don’t be cynical or flippant.

Other types of job interview

Values-based interviews are currently less widely used by graduate recruiters than other types of interviews such as competency interviews, strengths-based interviews and technical interviews, although you may come across values-based questions in an interview that uses a mixture of approaches. According to the ISE student recruitment survey 2020, 56% of firms felt that their recruitment process was informed by more than one of these four approaches.

Here’s what to expect from other commonly-used types of graduate interview:

  • Competency-based – aims to identify and evaluate relevant use of work-compatible skills such as communication and leadership.
  • Strengths-based – aims to identify and evaluate what a candidate is most enthusiastic about, on the basis that when they’re at their most fulfilled people like to concentrate upon and become good at what really interests them. Also, this method can be suitable when interviewing people who don’t have lots of work experience.
  • Technical interviews – these are likely to be used in areas such as IT, science and engineering, and focus upon skills and knowledge relevant to a specific role and industry, such as the ability to understand a scientific process.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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