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Common interview questions

Answering Common Interview Questions

We’ve picked out eight of the most commonly asked interview questions and provided our top tips for how to tackle them.

Why have you applied for this job? / why do you want this job?

  • Refer to the job description (if you have one), and explain what it is about this job that appeals to you - the tasks involved, the skills being used. Talk about how this relates to tasks and skills you've used in previous work or at University.
  • Briefly discuss your career goals and how this job would help you meet them.
  • Don't forget to mention the company and what it is about them that appeals to you - as this is likely part of your reason for wanting the job.
Tell me about yourself

  • Provide a brief overview of the skills and experiences you have that relate to this job. There are different ways to structure this answer e.g. some find it useful to start with a brief discussion of their degree and then move into work experiences and extra-curricular activities; others find it useful to start with their motivation for pursuing a particular career path and then introduce their degree, experiences and extra-curricular activities as steps which are helping them to pursue that career. It can be helpful to finish by summarising the skills and knowledge you've gained that would be useful for this job.
  • Try to keep your answer to under 4 or 5 minutes.
What do you know about us?

  • Briefly discuss a few things (4 or 5) that you've found out about them through your research. Pick things that interest you so you can relate how that has made you want to work for them.

Things that can be useful to discuss include: (this is not a comprehensive list)

  • Their values, mission and culture
  • Their history and the work they do - how they got to where they are - it can be helpful to know the names of the CEO and other key staff
  • If you've spoken with anyone who works for them e.g. at a fair - and what that person said about them as an employer
  • Their clients / customers and recent work they've done  - this can usually be found through News items on their website
  • If they've been mentioned in the press lately - be sure to know details of the issue and remember to relate to how this makes you want to work for them
  • If they've been mentioned in top graduate employer listings or have received awards for their work with students and graduates - be sure to know details of this
What are your main strengths?

  • Pick at least 3 strengths that will be relevant to the job. It can be useful to pick from the Essential Criteria listed in the job description / job advert.
  • Provide brief evidence to back-up each point.
What are your weaknesses / development needs?

  • Pick a skill or that's relevant to this job and discuss what steps you've been taking to address it -  this will demonstrates your self-awareness and drive for improvement. 
  • Avoid saying that you're a perfectionist or that you don't have weaknesses.
What has been your greatest achievement?

  • Pick an achievement that you're proud of and that demonstrates your key strengths. 
  • It doesn't have to be exotic, but you're unlikely to impress if you use the example of graduating from your degree or passing your driving test - unless you overcame significant issues to do so.
Why should we hire you?

  • Summarise your key selling points for the job which could include your skills and strengths,  your relevant knowledge (don't forget your degree!), your experience and your motivation/enthusiasm.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to other candidates - it can seem arrogant to say that you have better skills and experience than them, plus you're unlikely to know what they have to offer.
  • This isn't about saying that you're great - which some people find uncomfortable - instead focus on facts about your achievements and demonstrate enthusiasm. 
Do you have any questions?

The most commonly asked question at the end of any interview is “Do you have any questions to ask us?”  This is a useful opportunity to leave a good final impression, to demonstrate you’ve thoroughly prepared and to genuinely find out whether you want this job.

Some questions directly related to the role or organisation may occur to you naturally, but here are a few that you can keep ready for any interview.

What are the immediate priorities of this job? If this hasn’t already been answered in the interview pre-amble, or the job description, the question can demonstrate that you are keen to get started in the job and meet key priorities as soon as possible. The answer should give you an indication on how well the job role has been thought-through and how effective the hiring manager is at planning.

How would you describe the work culture here? This demonstrates your awareness of the importance of work culture in job satisfaction and productivity, suggesting that you want to be as effective as possible. The answer should give you a good insight into expectations and enable you to assess if it’s the right fit for you.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in the first few months of this role? This demonstrates that you are a proactive problem solver. In addition to giving you a heads-up as to issues you can expect, it gives you the opportunity to reveal experience you may have had in dealing with challenges like this in the past.

What are the opportunities for training and career development?
While this question isn’t useful when interviewing for a short-term internship, for a graduate/permanent job it can demonstrate that you are keen to learn, to advance and to stay with this organisation.  The answer should give you an insight into how committed the organisation is to staff development.