How to answer some common interview questions
Your skills and experience to do the job.
Your enthusiasm and interest for the job
Whether you will fit in
If you can answer these questions, using real-life examples to illustrate your points, then you should be able to answer most of the questions that arise including the following frequently asked questions.
Tell me about yourself?
This is a common opening question, and is designed to get you talking. The interviewer wants you to talk for approx. 2-3 minutes. You should practice this and be able to highlight key aspects of your career background relating to this job. You don’t need to go back to very early years. Start with an opening statement, describe your current job, some career highlights and details of your education. Include something about you as a person. End with asking the interviewer if they would like you to expand on anything, as it makes for a clear ending.
What are your key skills/ strengths?
Focus on what you know they are looking for, even if it has been a smaller part of what you have been doing to date. The job advert or job description will give you the information you need about their requirements. It’s useful to have 4-5 strengths available in case the interviewer asks for some further examples. For most jobs you will want to include an example of working well as part of a team.
What are your weaknesses?
Choose a weakness that:
• Doesn't matter for the job e.g. languages for a UK firm.
• Is a positive e.g. "I like to make things happen and get frustrated if too long is spent sitting around discussing it without action"
• Used to be a weakness but which you have improved upon e.g. presentations.
Why do you want to leave your current job?
The interviewer is looking for any red flags in your answer. Some people find it difficult to cope with a situation at work such as workload or colleagues, for example. Rather than address this they seek a new job, but the problem may appear again.
Your answer should make it clear that you are a strong performer in your current role and are now looking for a new opportunity. Emphasise the opportunities and challenges that this role will provide and avoid any negative comments about your company or any of the people you work with. This will only make you look unprofessional.
Give me an example of when you have taken the initiative?
This is a competency-based question and the interviewer is expecting a structured response using STAR. They want a specific example where you describe the Situation, detail the Task, demonstrate the Action you took and explain what the Result was.
Have at least one example ready of when you have taken the initiative and be ready to explain using this formula.
If you can’t provide an example from work, choose one from your non-work life. The example you share should make it clear how you took the initiative. The interviewer wants a specific example so avoid any generalisations.
Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with another individual and how you resolved it?
Companies are looking for people who can work with a range of people and can deal effectively with conflict. They will make judgements based on your reply. You need to think of a specific example that you can use. Be objective in the way you describe the situation - how did the conflict occur and how was it resolved? Discuss specifically what you did to improve things; perhaps you listened more? Interviewers like people who have learnt from a situation so a great answer here will not only include how the situation was resolved but also how the relationship then improved.
Tell me about your current job?
They want to know the specifics of your job and how it has prepared you for the job you are being interviewed for. Are you motivated to move to this job or are you moving away from a job you dislike? This could be a long answer so choose the three most important elements of your job and provide an example of each.
Make sure the examples you share are all relevant to this job you are applying for.
Possible examples could focus on problem-solving, customer service and creating action plans. You will want to ensure that all your examples are positive and end with what attracts you to this specific job.
What do you dislike about your job?
They want to make sure that you are not someone who complains too much. You need to come across as someone who remains positive when dealing with things they dislike. They will listen to see if you come across as difficult to work with.
Start by highlighting the positive and also explain how you have worked around your dislikes.
Your ‘dislike’ should relate to circumstances, such as not having enough resources, rather than to any conflict with others. Avoid any mention of problems with people and ensure you come across as someone who is upbeat and positive.
You seem over-qualified for this position, can you tell me why you are interested in this job?
The interviewer is challenging you. They want to see if you are really interested in this position. They want reassurance that you won’t get bored and leave after just a short period of time. They want to be convinced that this role will allow you room to grow. You must emphasise your interest for this job, and your answer must show how your qualifications and experience bring added value to this role.
Be clear to demonstrate your enthusiasm for this role. Play down any idea of this job being a ‘backward step’. If for example this is more hands-on than your previous managerial level job, stress how keen you are to return to grass roots work.
If this job will mean a significant drop in salary, emphasise that money is not your key driver, you are more interested in personal career satisfaction and this job will provide this.
Why did you leave your last job after just one year?
Interviewers are concerned about job hoppers - people who don't settle but move from job to job. In a recession many jobs are short-term and so this may not be a negative reflection on you. But the interviewer needs to be convinced. If you have changed jobs more frequently than average be ready to explain the reasons why and, if relevant, explain that this was due to lay-offs or because of short-term contracts. If it is a case of a job not working out, be ready to explain. Perhaps you were taken on to work in one area, such as business strategy, but the work was focused on minute details requiring different skills. It could be that you moved for a promotion but within weeks you realised the company was in difficulty, with your job at risk, hence now looking for a new job.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
The interviewer wants to know if you are likely to stay with the company or see this job as a step towards a move elsewhere. Your answer must be compatible and realistic with what the company can offer you. Include how you want to make a great contribution to this company as you develop experience and expertise. You can emphasise specific goals you would like to achieve such as to lead a major project or to be a mentor to junior staff.
Why do you want to work for us?
They are seeking assurance that you want to work for this company in this job. They want to know you are genuinely interested in the company and the opportunities this job provides. You need to demonstrate that you understand what differentiates this company from its competitors, show that you have done your research and analysis on other companies that work in this area and why you want to work for this firm. Think about what really appeals to you about this job and company and how you can stand out from the other people who are applying for this job. Make your passion and interest in this job clear.
What are your salary expectations?
Salary negotiations are best handled at the job offer stage so try to avoid this at interview if you can. If forced to name a price, give a realistic but wide salary range and say that you feel that salary won't be an issue if you decide to work together.
Would you accept this job if you received an offer?
The interviewer wants to know that you will say ‘yes’ if you are offered the job. It’s frustrating and costly to have to re-advertise a job. If this job involves a drop in salary for you they want to be sure you have considered the decision fully. The most important aspect is to avoid any sign of hesitation to show in your words, voice or body language. Stress your enthusiasm for the job. Think carefully about how you would feel about a drop in salary. If you want to be able to think about it before committing yourself you could refer to it being a great job but of course you would want to review the detail before formally accepting an offer.
What do you know about our organisation?
You need to know the following:
• Company structure, finances, products and services, key staff
• Customers and competitors
• Market trends and challenges.
These are just a small selection to help you practice for your upcoming interview. It's worth getting a family member to put you through your paces before you attend the interview to help you perfect your answers.