April 15

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Common interview questions: ace them with this guide

There are few things in life we can rely on, but these common questions will very likely come up at your next interview. Find out what they are and how to prepare for them now.


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Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest reasons people don’t like interviews.

That feeling of not being in control combined with being in a position of vulnerability makes us feel uncomfortable.

Often, we play out scenarios in our mind of all the things that can go wrong before the big day.

This is obviously not helpful - but it is also very normal.

The good news is that if you put in some work now, you will be so well prepared for whatever comes up at your next interview that you’ll be able to reverse those feelings of not being in control.

A great way to start your interview prep is to work on a bank of the most common interview questions that you are likely to face.

 1  Tell me about yourself

Whether you are being interviewed face to face, over Skype, on the phone, via video, informally or formally, the chance of this question, or a variation of it, coming up is extremely high.

It is the classic opener, a chance for HR or the recruiter to take a quick snapshot of the candidate in front of them.

Being the first question, it is crucial that you prepare in advance for this one to set the right tone for the rest of your interview.

In fact, if you don’t prepare, you may very well ramble on, bore them with irrelevant information and reveal things about yourself that really you wish you hadn’t.


If you don’t prepare, you may very well ramble on, bore them with irrelevant information and reveal things about yourself that really you wish you hadn’t.


Or, alternatively, you might go the other way and totally clam up, unable to think of anything to say, leaving a heavy silence which feels awful and knocks you off balance for the next question.

Don’t worry though because the solution is easy – an elevator pitch.

What is an elevator pitch?

Also known as an elevator speech, there is a bit of a debate about its origin.

Some say it dates back to Hollywood, when screenwriters were desperately trying to pitch their scripts to producers.

They would chase them down the streets and often had to sell their idea in an elevator, only having the time till the doors opened to wow them with their idea.

Another theory is that it goes back to Elisha Otis who made an emergency brake system to enable people to safely travel in elevators.

People were sceptical initially so, in 1852 he constructed an elevator in the middle of a conference hall, hoisted himself up and cut the cable.

Because he had installed his brakes, he was unharmed, proving his point.

Whatever its origin, mastering this simple concept is going to transform your interviews and job search as a whole.

At interviews, you will sail through this first question with confidence.

And when people ask you what you do outside of interviews in a social setting, you will give such a great answer that they won't hesitate to recommend you to others.

Now, if you are feeling a bit confused about how to create your own elevator pitch, don’t worry.

Because this is so important to get right, I have created a separate post for you on this subject.

Tell me about yourself

Here’s how to nail this question - and even look forward to it...

 2  Why do you want to work for us?

The key to answering this common interview question is to let them know, in no uncertain terms, that you don’t just want a job – you want their job at their company.

So how do you do that? This is where some good solid research comes in to play.

Find out more about the company via LinkedIn and their website. Make notes on their culture, their goals, their products, their challenges and their main achievements.

Then formulate an answer expressing how impressed you are with (choose a specific thing) and then say that you feel it would be a good match because you can bring your skills of (whatever) to aid projects like these in the future.

Here’s an example to help you that centres on an employer’s reputation.

“That’s simple. It all comes down to the fact that your company has a strong reputation as a great place to work. It’s obvious that you encourage your employees to learn, grow and innovate which is really inspiring. I also read a post on LinkedIn about the new project (name) that you have just won which would be great to be part of given my background in (name skill) where I have delivered (name achievement) for my current employer.”

 3  Why are you looking for a new opportunity?

This is a probing question designed to discover any past conflicts, performance or attitude problems so beware.

If you are currently employed, stick to the positive reasons for wanting to move such as career growth, a new challenge or a fresh environment.

Take care though to let them know that you have thoroughly considered your move otherwise they may question your loyalty or see you as someone that might move on from their company quickly.

Explaining redundancy

If you have been made redundant, don’t worry, there really is no stigma attached to it this these days.

Put your redundancy into perspective by explaining why this happened, such as a loss of a major contract, downsizing or a company relocating.

If you are currently not working, think of positive, proactive things you have or are doing since your last role such as training, volunteering, consultancy and / or personal development.

The one thing that you should never do under any circumstances is to voice bitterness or anger towards your previous employer.

You may have valid reasons to feel the way you do but bad-mouthing a past employer will always set alarm bells off in your interviewer’s head and make you look unprofessional.

 4  What is your greatest strength / weakness?

Remember I said that few things can be relied upon these days?

Well here’s the exception as it is virtually guaranteed that these questions will come up, in various formats, at all interviews.

What you choose to highlight, and the way you express it, reveals a lot of information about you to the interviewer.

That’s precisely why they do it so let’s make sure you get this right.

How to answer what is your greatest strength

Whilst there are some people that love to brag, most of us find it a bit difficult to answer this question.

Whatever you choose, just make sure that they are not generic traits such as “I am very hard working” or “I am a great team player.”

Sure, you can mention these things but only in context.

For example, talk about project highlights that involved extra work that you personally put in or a very successful team you were involved with and what you all achieved together.

Again, due to how important this common interview question is, we have prepared a separate post walking you through how to prepare your answers and how to avoid the common mistakes most people make.

How to answer what is your greatest strength

Discover how to avoid the top 7 mistakes most people make and how to prepare the best answers...

How to answer what is your greatest weakness

This one is so easy to get wrong  but also so easy to get right - if you prepare before your interview.

Start by being honest with yourself and think of three things that are not your strengths.

Then, re read the job description and check how each would impact on the job.

Choose the one that will have least impact on the role then think about how to word it.

The ideal framework for answering this common interview question is to name something, then say how you are already working towards improving this skill.

For example, you could say that you have a naturally strong attention to detail but that used to occasionally impact on your time to complete a task. However, you have been working on this over the last few months through internal training and feedback from colleagues and this is not an issue now, but you will always be mindful of it.

Whatever example you give, never say things such as “I am a perfectionist” or “I am a workaholic” or make funny comments such as “chocolate” or “fast cars”… because these answers are not honest or professional.

Here’s a full post I have written for you on how to handle this tricky question and how to prepare perfect answers.

How to answer what is your greatest weakness

When you understand what recruiters are really looking for, this question becomes easy...

 5  Describe your current or most recent role

So, what is the interviewer after here?

They most probably want to see what you feel the most important aspects of your job are, because these will tell them if you understand what is vital to the job you are applying for.

However, they may also ask this if they have not had time to fully acquaint themselves with your background if another person selected you for interview.

Whatever the reason, just make sure that you don’t tell them about every single duty on your current job description.

Make sure that you don’t tell them about every single duty on your current job description

Instead, opt for a concise overview of your main duties and then move on to your key achievements to date.

If you simply list your duties, you are just saying what you are or were paid to do. By giving them examples of your key achievements, this tells them what you are or were really bringing to the role that is unique to you.

You want them to think “wouldn’t it be great if they could do that in my role/company.”

Wherever possible, try to choose duties and achievements that align perfectly with the role you are applying for, proving you are a great fit for the role.

 6  Why are you the best candidate for the job?

This is where you really need to know the company and job description – and your own skills - inside out.

1.

Research the company


Find their company page on LinkedIn and their own website. Take note of products and services, their culture and any announcements regarding projects or mergers.

2.

Study the job description


Now take a close look at the job description and / or job advertisement for the position you are being interviewed for. Make a list of all the essential and desirable skills mentioned.

3.

Revisit your resume


Now its over to you. Go through your resume and make a list of your unique mix of skills and experience. 

4.

Preparing a matching statement


Finally, compare the lists and find areas that match so that you can prepare something like the following.


 “To be honest with you, I couldn’t believe it when I saw this opportunity because it feels like such a good fit.


I have (… then highlight essential skill one).


I also can/have (… then highlight essential skill two), and I also can/have (….. highlight essential skill three).


My experience of (…. name a project/skill/knowledge/qualification or two here) means that I can hit the ground running from day one.


Finally, I have always admired (company name) because … (then give a reason).”

The last part of your answer is very important.


To truly answer this question perfectly, you need to prove that you not only have all the skills, knowledge and experience, but you also want to work for them specifically.


By telling them about something you admire about their company you are also telling them that you are serious about their opportunity.


And the fact that most applicants won’t be prepared to do this, will really give you a competitive edge.

 7  Tell me about a time when...

There are a range of other questions that you need to prepare for that are intentionally worded in a way to bring out more information.

To get to the ‘real you’ and perhaps catch you off guard.

These are called behavioural based questions and the clue is literally in their name – behaviour.

What are behavioural interview questions?

Behaviour-based interviewing is an approach that looks at past behaviour as the best predictor of future behaviour.

So, when an interviewer asks you one of these types of questions, they are basically looking for evidence of what you have done in the past and how this may influence your future behaviour if they were to hire you for their organisation.

They are typically sprinkled in with other common interview questions but they are easy to spot because they normally start with ‘tell me about a time when…’, or ‘give me an example when…’ or when have you had to..’ or sometimes ‘describe a situation in which…”

As they come in many forms and are rather random you may be thinking that there is no possible way to prepare for them, right? Wrong.

Here's a step by step guide I prepared for you.

Behavioural Interview Questions

How to answer them - plus examples - so you don't get caught out...

 8  Have you got any question for us?

Make sure you don’t fall at this last, very important hurdle.

One of the most popular ways recruiters and hiring managers bring an interview to a close is to invite you to ask any questions you may have.

Yet despite this being such a common interview question, so many people simply don’t prepare for it properly.  

Despite this being such a common interview question, so many people simply don’t prepare for it properly

They decide to either ‘wing it’ on the day and just see what happens or come out with some weak generic question just to have something to say.

Or, even worse – ask about salary.

It’s undeniable that first impressions at an interview are very powerful but remember too that last impressions will linger in the minds of your interviewers.

Don’t ruin an otherwise great interview by not preparing properly for this last common interview question.

That’s why I have prepared another post for you that is dedicated to the best questions to ask at an interview and the three that you most definitely shouldn’t - (spoiler - salary is one of them!)

Best Questions to Ask at a Job Interview

All you need to know on how to leave a strong last impression...

Key Takeaways

Whichever questions may be thrown at you, preparation is the key to be being able to handle them but please keep in mind 2 things.

First, don't recite answers word for word like a robot at your interviews. This will only look fake and work against you. The preparation you put in should provide a base to answer confidently so you are not thrown off track on the day.

Secondly, if a question does catch you off guard and you feel you have said the wrong thing, take a deep breath and try not to obsess about it. You may well be wrong because we are all our own worst critics.




Amanda Datchens

About the Author

A career coach, headhunter, and entrepreneur, Amanda has founded and been involved in developing multiple companies known for innovative HR and recruitment solutions. Originally from London but now in Queensland, Australia, she is the co-founder of Real Life Career Advice and the Hi Vis Hub.

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