Whether you’re a current student looking for a part-time job or a recent graduate seeking permanent employment, at some point you’ll almost certainly be invited to attend a job interview. This is good news. But if it’s your first interview for a graduate job or your first one with a company you admire, then attending a job interview can seem more than a little daunting.
Thankfully, hiring managers are often not the most creative people when it comes to thinking up questions, meaning there are a number of typical interview questions in their arsenals that get reused. This makes it easier to plan your answers, rid yourself of nerves and, therefore, help you to present yourself in a calm and effective manner.
Read on for some of the most common job interview questions, with advice on how you’ll be expected to answer.
“Tell me about yourself…”
One of the most common job interview questions, “tell me about yourself” is often the interviewer’s opening gambit to quickly find out what you’re all about.
Your answer shouldn’t be a simple recitation of your CV (which the interviewer has hopefully at least scanned already). Instead use this as an opportunity to make a quick pitch to sell yourself for the role, highlighting not only your primary selling points but also your personal approach to work and why you want to work in the industry. Briefly outline any relevant work experience from your current role, but of course don’t go into as much detail as you do on your CV, as you will probably be asked to go into further detail about these roles later.
However, be careful not to sell yourself too hard. This question is designed to find out what you’re like as a person, what your ambitions and interests are and why they relate to the role. Your answer should be short and concise (ideally one minute long), with a final sentence to summarize why you applied for the position and what you’re currently looking for (e.g. “a new challenge”).
“What do you know about the company?”
If you have done your research before the interview, chances are you know quite a lot about the company. What interviewers are looking for here isn’t a half hour talk about everything the company has ever done, but to make sure you’ve looked into the company before coming to the interview.
Start with the basics; how old is the company and what do they do? Every company has some sort of output, so state what this is; whether it’s something they’re selling (e.g. clothes or food goods) or something they’re producing for consumption (e.g. news or information). It is also worth mentioning any recent projects the company has been working on, or any news the company has appeared in lately.
Keep this question short and concise, and plan what you want to say in advance.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
It would surprise me if anyone truthfully knew the answer to this, but again, this is another common interview question likely to come up. The interviewer won’t be expecting you to be too specific with this, so don’t feel like you have to mention the company you’re interviewing for in your future plans. But at the same time, don’t mention working for a competitor!
What you should answer with is where you want to be in five years – talk of your ambitions, skills you hope to have gained by then, and how the job in question would help you work towards this. Most graduate employers won’t look too kindly on people who talk of their company as a stepping stone; they want to hear about your passion to develop professionally in the position they’re hiring for, as well as your sincere desire to further the industry with your ideas, motivation and skill.
“Why do you want to work here?”
This can be one of the trickier interview questions, especially if your resounding motivation is just to be able to pay the bills. Here you should remind yourself that although bill-paying is a high priority, passion and interest in your work is even more important. Even if that passion and interest comes from high-earning potential!
To answer this question, focus on why the job advertisement appealed to you personally. For instance, let your interviewer know if you’re interested in the work the company produces, the culture it offers or the progression the role promises. If, when you were researching the company, you found that a recent project the company was part of particularly interested you, it might be worth mentioning this to show you have taken an active interest in their work.
“What can you bring to this role?”
This is key, because it’s one of a few typical interview questions that gives you a chance to really sell yourself and all your relevant skills. Regardless of whether or not you have any professional experience in a similar role, you can still talk about the skills you picked up during your degree, an internship or part-time job. Try to relate these skills to the role you are interviewing for. For example, your part time job might have taught you how to work well in a team, as well as how to build strong professional relationships with your colleagues and clients.
If you’ve already been offered an interview, the chances are that the interviewer is aware of what experience you have and sees potential in you. Provide examples of times when you’ve utilized the skills they’re looking for in a different context. If you’re a new graduate, now’s the chance to highlight all the ‘transferable skills’ you gained during your degree, such as analytical ability, written and spoken communication skills and IT mastery, to name but a few.
“What is your biggest strength?”
This question is often a stumbling block for many new graduates, simply because they haven’t yet had the chance to develop confidence in their professional skills. This often leads to answers that are too modest or vague, meaning that graduate employers will have a hard time believing you have the skills and confidence to take on the graduate job on offer.
Your answer should address a strength that is relevant to the position, but this can be anything that makes you stand out, whether you gained this quality at work, while travelling or at university. Think of the role in question and provide an example of a strength that is relevant to the position, be that multitasking, organization skills or innovative thinking.
It’s important to tread the line between humble and overconfident – too humble and your strengths won’t be evident, too confident and you risk sounding arrogant. To avoid either, focus on the facts of your strengths, including specific examples of when you’ve had to use them and how you’ve developed them.
“What is your biggest weakness?”
The scarier version of the previous question, “what is your biggest weakness?” is another of the most typical interview questions. Rather than seeing this question as an attempt to catch you out, see it as a chance to address the skills and attributes you’d most like to develop and improve in your future career. This is also the chance to address any holes in your CV, highlighting your motivation to fill in those gaps.
A good answer will outline a weakness in your skillset (e.g. technical ability) and then explain how you are working on this (e.g. by studying a MOOC in beginners’ programming or building a website). If you are honest about your weaknesses but show evidence of motivation to improve, graduate employers will see this as strength in character, proving you have integrity, self-awareness and ambition.
“What do you consider to be one of your biggest accomplishments?”
Although similar to the “biggest strength” question, graduate employers will often use this question in order to get you to provide more specific examples of your skills. The accomplishment can be anything, from a great student project to a personal feat of courage, but ensure that the skills shown in this accomplishment relate to the job role in question.
To answer this question well, you’ll talk about the accomplishment itself, what problems you had to overcome in order to succeed, what you enjoyed about the experience, and what results you achieved.
“Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced and how you dealt with it.”
This is a behavioral interview question that enables interviewers to see how you react to problems that may arise. It’s a good idea to think up an answer for this one beforehand, so it doesn’t catch you off guard in the interview.
The challenge in question can be anything from a difficult customer in a previous job, a problem in a group project at university or a particular module you struggled with.
A good way to explain this is using the STAR method; explain the situation (provide some context to the event), the task involved, the action you took to resolve this task, and what the result was.
“Have you got any questions?”
The answer to this question is never “no”; you should always have something to ask at the end of a job interview. A few intelligent questions can help to show that you are serious about getting hired, as well as demonstrating your initiative.
Although it’s helpful to jot down a few queries before the interview, it’s likely that these may be addressed during the interview itself. If you do pre-prepare your questions, make sure to listen carefully during the interview so as not to ask a question that’s already been answered. If you find that at the end of the interview all your prepared questions have been answered, just mention to the interviewer that they’ve already covered everything you wanted to ask.
Other good questions to ask the interviewers are “what do you enjoy most about working for the company?”, “what training will be provided if I were to be offered the role?” and “what would be the expected progression route in this role?”
This article was originally published in November 2014. It was updated in September 2019.
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