For even the most competent job hunter, interviews are tough. While research shows it’s important to come across as professional, high-energy and confident what you say will also have a big effect on whether or not you get the job.
Some interview questions come up time and time again so what’s the best way to answer them? Take a look at our list of the 10 most common interview questions and what our experts advise.
1. Tell me about yourself
Interviewers love this question as they think it’s an easy ice-breaker, but for the interviewee it can be a nightmare, says Sarah Archer, founder of CareerTree. “Remember they are not looking for your life story – you need to choose four or five key things about yourself that are relevant to the role. This could include specific skills, qualifications, years of experience, or passion for your area of expertise. Practice answering succinctly to create a fantastic opening answer.”
It’s also important to keep your answer under two minutes, advises Katherine Burik, founder of The Interview Doctor. It can be good to pick something you are particularly proud of to demonstrate your expertise in the job for which you are interviewing. But just give an overview – they will ask if they want more details. “Practice out loud until the words flow off your tongue and you’ll make a great presentation.”
2. Why are you interested in working for [company name]?
Resist the temptation to say “I want a job” – even if it’s true, says Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management. “The employer is gauging whether you will take this job if offered and, if so, whether you are likely to stay for any length of time. If you appear ambivalent, they will be reticent about hiring you.”
Empty assurances such as “this seems a nice place to work” are unlikely to be enough to reassure them, says Mills. “So do your homework beforehand. Find out things about their products, services, expansion plans, and working culture that appeal to you and which also show you in a good light for the role. For example: ‘You’ve run some great innovative campaigns and I would love to be part of that creative thinking’. Deliver this confidently with good eye contact and energy.”
3. Why should we hire you?
Always be ready to answer this question in three parts, advises interview coach Jon Gregory. “First, make it clear that you believe you meet all of the role requirements. Second, back each of these skills up by identifying one or more relevant examples of how you’ve demonstrated that skill.”
Finally, says Gregory, demonstrate you’re someone who is proactive and has identified problems or opportunities in the past and then personally took the decisions and actions which led to a successful result.
“By showing you made things happen, you’re portraying yourself as a self-starter with a high level of initiative. Few candidates do that well, so you can make the job yours with a great answer.”
4. What are your strengths?
In this question you are expected to let the interviewer know why you are better than other candidates for the job, says careers expert Margaret Bui. “Your answer should focus on what you specifically can bring to the job and offer the company. Anyone can say they have good experience or are a good communicator but that won’t make you stand out. Quantify your experience (with numbers if possible) and back up every answer with a relevant example from your previous roles.”
A good example for answering this question is to match your strengths to the job role. Companies hire people to solve problems, so let the interviewer know what problems you’ve solved and how your employers benefited as a result, advises Bui.
5. What are your weaknesses?
This is one question that most candidates hate, says Jonathan Burston, founder of Interview Expert Academy. “But it’s not a question to worry about. We all have something we’re not good at or don’t enjoy doing. We just have to know what they are.”
To answer this question, first make a list of three weaknesses or areas that you think you need to develop. You can source these examples from your work history or education, says careers adviser Dasha Amrom. “Second, list three reasons why you think each of those is a weakness or an area to develop. Third, rehearse three examples of what you’re doing to overcome that weakness.” By being truthful about your weaknesses, along with showing examples of how you have overcome them, you show the interviewer you are honest and can solve problems.
6. Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years’ time?
In this question interviewers are looking to assess your long-term planning, says Bui. The perfect answer depends on your personal aspirations and the job role. Bui says: “A good answer to this question will illustrate a growth in your skills, experience and responsibilities during this period.”
To prepare for this question research what a reasonable career path in your role would look like in five years’ time. Don’t be overambitious as it will look like you are rushing past the first role. Instead, emphasise your enthusiasm for the current position and look to the next steps for building your career.
7. Tell me about an accomplishment you are proud of
Competency questions like this can be difficult as they rely on your ability to tell a story. “For example, ‘Oh, I saved £125,000 of costs in my last role’ is of no value as there’s no context,” says Gregory. “As with any story, you need a beginning, a middle and an end.”
The Star technique (situation, task, action, result) is a good way to structure your answer if you’re having trouble making your answer flow.
As a general rule, start by describing the scale of the challenge you faced. “This is your opportunity to grab their attention. The middle of the story needs to focus on what you had to endure in order to make progress. The greater your struggle and the barriers you had to overcome, the more impressive your story will seem. “The end may be short – ‘I achieved X, Y and Z’ – but extend it to include what you learned that will help you in the future.”
8. Describe a situation in which you solved a problem
For this question it’s a good idea to think of a fairly recent example and pick a problem that is similar to the challenges you’d face in the job you’re interviewing for, says Bui.
Using the Star technique, start by explaining the task in no more than a few sentences while giving sufficient detail so the interviewer can understand the challenge involved. “Next describe the action you took, the process you followed and the steps you completed, remembering to be clear about the part you played in the result.
“The result is the most important part of your answer as a successful outcome proves that your actions were effective. If possible, detail statistics or figures which highlight the magnitude of your success, mention positive feedback you received and talk about what you learned and how this learning will help you in the job.”
9. Describe a situation in which you led/worked in a team
The Star technique is again a good method for answering this question. “A good team leader has to avoid being too bossy. Rather, they need to be great listeners, top-down strategic and knowledgeable about their area,” says CV writer and interview coach Victoria McClean. It’s therefore important you show these skills in your answer. “You also need to understand your team members’ differences and strengths – delegating accordingly – and have ways of communicating their vision. It’s about coaxing and mobilising others,” she adds.
10. Do you have any questions?
Often the final interview question, it offers you the chance to build your relationship with the interviewer. There are a variety of good questions you could ask, and it’s worth preparing a few in advance. “This is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your genuine interest and enthusiasm for the role,” says Lisa LaRue, career coach at CareerWorx.
Here are some example questions she recommends you ask: “What are the biggest challenges facing the company right now? Where do you see the company heading in the future? What can you tell me about the team I’ll be a part of?” Questions like these will show that you are keen to learn as much as possible about your new company and team. She explains: “Make sure your questions don’t sound rehearsed. It’s vital that you ask them in a natural, authentic way. An interviewer will be able to tell if you are asking questions for questions’ sake.”
However, be warned. Jon Gregory’s advice is make sure you stay well away from questions that show you weren’t listening earlier in the interview, or that you really haven’t done sufficient research.