Regardless of the type of job you apply for, you will likely have to face an interview at some point in the process. Interview formats vary and it's good practice to ask your interviewer if there's anything they'd like you to prepare in advance. While you cannot predict every question that might come your way during an interview, there are common interview questions that pop up time and time again. We've put together ten commonly asked interview questions below and how to handle each one.
1. Tell me about yourself
Interviewers will often open with this rather general question. Many people are thrown because the question is not specific – and it’s hard to know where to start and end. "Tell me about yourself" could cover quite a broad range of topics so it’s vital that you keep it concise, relevant and do not launch into a monologue about the minutiae of your life.
The interviewer probably isn’t that interested in where you were born and how many brothers and sisters you have. Focus on your most recent activities and why you are now applying for this particular role.
Being authentic and accurate in your answers is key, as is giving some key examples to support the points you make. Just as too much detail can be a bad thing, so can being vague. Finding the balance can be tricky, but with practice, you will get there.
2. Why do you want this job?
Almost every applicant will face this question at some point. It's a standard question but it's amazing how many answers are poorly structured to such a predictable question.
To give your answer that all-important structure, employ the art of listing. For example, "I want this job because of three reasons," and then proceed to give all three. Three here is plenty.
Ensure your reasons are ones that will appeal to the potential employer - you're trying to sell yourself as the best person for them. They want someone committed and excited about the opportunity as well as someone who will thrive in the role. Tailor your answers to suit the role and organisation. You can always say that there are several reasons why you want it, but that for clarity you’ve whittled it down to three key ones.
3. Why do you want to work for us?
Don't mistake this question for the question above. Here the interviewer is testing what you know about their brand, culture, and professional opportunities. Try to research something more than what you can find on their website.
Read up on what’s going on in their industry and why this is an exciting time to join the organisation. Try to find something that really matters to you – keeping your answer personal and relevant will make you stand out.
What are their competitors up to and why have you chosen to apply to this company over them? Have more than one reason and deploying the listing technique here as well.
Showing you have prepared and thought through your answer to this common interview question is great, just don’t be too robotic in your delivery.
4. What do you know about our company?
Don't be caught out here - do your research. You should know the following before your interview:
- Company structure, finances, products and services and key staff
- Customers and competitors
- Market trends and challenges
Set up a Google alert for the company so that anything related to them in the news will be delivered straight to your inbox. You don't want to talk for too long with this kind of answer - after all, they know this better than you do. However, being able to succinctly sum up the basics will put you a good position to progress further through the interview process.
5. What are your three greatest strengths?
You may have already had to answer this on an application form, but it can often prove harder to articulate strengths orally than on paper. At the same time, many people find this common interview question tricky as they do not want to be seen to be boasting about their talents and merits.
However, it can be rather painful when a candidate is uncomfortable about being honest and open about what they’re good at. An interviewer has asked this question for a reason. Now is not the time to be bashful.
If you’ve been asked for three strengths, pick three. If one, stick to one. The key here is to have clear examples to back up your points. Don’t throw in a strength unless you can back it up! And if you can back it up, make sure you do it justice, with a clear example. Perhaps you've had feedback from a previous employer or hit a target.
Don’t forget to think of your strengths in relation to the job for which you are applying. For example, if the role is finance-related perhaps analysing and numbers are something in which you’re strong – as evidenced in your course/work experience/extra-curricular activities.
If you are applying for a law/marketing/communications-based role, perhaps your language skills or attention to detail are especially strong - as demonstrated in 'insert a personal example or achievement'. This is your time to shine so don’t be afraid of telling your interviewer what you have achieved.
6. What are your three greatest weaknesses?
The dreaded reverse of question five. Candidates are often scared to answer this honestly as they don’t want potential employers to know where they are not as strong. When you’re applying for a job it may seem counter-intuitive to reveal where your weak spots are. However, avoiding this answer or being unable to come up with three weaknesses will not do you any favours.
None of us are perfect. Everyone has weaknesses and mature, self-aware candidates can and will explain them during an interview. The key is to convey them in a way that recognises the weakness and demonstrates how you are tackling it. For example, 'I can struggle with time management and I have been using an online project management tool to help prioritise my workload.’
Whatever you come up with, avoid the tried and tested cliché of spinning a weakness as a strength. "I’m a perfectionist", "I work too hard", "I just care too much". The interviewer has heard them all before. You have been warned.
And another top tip would be to prepare a fourth weakness. Some interviewers will throw that in later on to see if you can cope without a pre-prepared answer.
7. What would your current boss/previous employer say about you?
This question can often tie in with questions five and six. Your interviewer is testing your self-awareness and so you want to be able to show both positives and negatives.
Our advice would be to use the sandwich technique: positive, negative, positive. For example, "I’m extremely hard-working, always ready to go that extra mile. As a result, I can be a bit too overzealous and my attention to detail can slip. However, he/she would say that I’m a leader in the team and I keep everyone energised and focused on the goal."
Remember to be honest here. This person you’re describing may be asked to provide a formal or informal reference, and so do think hard about what they would say.
8. Why did you leave your last job?
If you left your last job due to going back to university/end of a contract, that’s completely fine and all you need to do is be open and honest.
If you’re in a job, this can be tricky as many people will be leaving their job as they are not enjoying it and may slip into negativity. With that being said, there are many reasons why people choose to move – development opportunities/change of sector/nature of the role.
If you’re in the position of not liking your current role, you want to avoid falling into the trap of simply moaning about your current company and/or boss.
While honesty is key, a future employer wants to see that you have the emotional and professional maturity to make a change for the better and that your motivations for applying for the role are clear. For example, if you did leave because of negative working culture, you can say you are looking for a more collaborative work environment with more opportunities for your professional development.
If you left because you wanted a higher salary, you can say you are looking for a role with more responsibility – as you feel that you are ready to take the next step.
And again, set this question in the context of the role to which you’re applying. If you’re moving from one blue-chip to a similar sized one, and you say that you’re looking for somewhere smaller, that’s going to come across as a little inconsistent.
9. What are your salary expectations?
As per question eight, this is another tricky question and opinions differ on how to respond. This is also very different from "what is your current salary?"
When asked what you currently earn you must be honest. If the employer takes a reference from your previous company they may ask what you were on and you don’t want to be caught out.
When questioned as to your expectations, you can be optimistic but don’t get carried away. You should be able to work out the salary band for your level within your industry and it is fair to go in with something near to the top end. It’s important not to sell yourself short after all.
There is normally a negotiation process on salary so you can expect to go down from whatever you started on. And whatever you do, say it with confidence. If you mumble a figure, most potential employers are not going to take it seriously. Get your negotiation off to a good start.
10. Tell me about a time you demonstrated 'insert skill here'
When it comes to common interview questions, it is almost guaranteed that you will need to prepare numerous examples of when you have demonstrated certain core skills. These can range from the generic, for example, leadership in a team or they can be specific to the role or company culture.
Go through the job specifications and person criteria and think of examples from work, extra-curricular activities or university where you have demonstrated that particular skill.
Ensure your examples are varied, as you don’t want to be using the same example over and over again. Once you’ve got your list, practise them using the STAR technique so that you explain the scenario in a concise fashion.
Most interviews will include at least a couple of the above questions, so it's important to be prepared. Learn how to ace an interview with Bright Network Academy and Willis Towers Watson's graduates and recruitment team.