Going to a job interview can be a stressful time, especially if you haven't worked for a while. If this is your first interview, it can be very intimidating because you don't know what to expect. The good news is that most interviewers want to get the right person for the job. Asking standard questions helps them find that person.
That is good news because it allows you to prepare for those questions and answer them in the best way you can. You can stand out from the crowd by having informed answers, by answering them confidently and by sounding interesting.
The 10 most popular interview questions
In this context "popular" means most commonly asked, and not the most liked questions.
- Tell me something about yourself?
- What strengths do you have?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Why should we consider taking you on?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why have you applied to work for us?
- What is your expected salary?
- What motivates you?
- Are you a good team player?
- What would you like to ask?
Of course, you won't be ask every single one of these questions at your next job interview. Some interviewers like to throw in other, almost bizarre questions, like
How would you find the words that became obsolete in English language between 16th and 17th century? You may use a search engine.
Those kinds of questions are normally designed to gauge how effective you are at coping with things out of the ordinary. Nobody can really
Those type of questions are asked to gauge how effective you are at coping with things out of the ordinary. Nobody can fully prepare for seemingly random questions like that. The interviewer wants to know if you panic, or if you are able to think on your feet. If you don't panic and can say something that sounds logical or sensible then you've answered it well.
Luckily, we can prepare for the standard interview questions.
Tell me something about yourself?
This is a chance for you to give your future employer a positive insight about how you will fit into their company. The key part is to remember that they already have your work history from your CV. They want to know about something other than that.
Talk about your ambitions or your personality. You shouldn't mention how you like to go out on a Friday night after work and normally don't make it home until late on a Sunday afternoon, though. Employers like to hear that you are committed to something, passionate about a hobby, or have goals that you want to achieve.
What are your strengths?
Do you know how many times the average interviewer has heard the answer, "I am a hard worker who can work as part of a team, or by myself"? It's probably more times than they've had hot dinners. So, say something different. Picture three or four things that you are good at, and give examples of them.
Are you good at organising? Talk about a project or new system that you set up at your last job.
If you are able to quickly learn, and take on, new tasks, talk about that. You could talk about how, in your previous job, you started with one role, and extra responsibilities were added. Talk about how you liaised with your line manager and what the benefits there were to your last employer.
Try to be specific, without giving away company secrets from your last employers. The interviewer wants to know that you're not bluffing. Use concrete, specific examples. But don't go into so much detail about your previous job that any new employers worry that you can't be trusted.
What are your weaknesses?
If you have not thought about this question beforehand, it can be very difficult to answer. Do you tell them that you can't actually use Microsoft Excel and that you need to Google 'excel formulas' every single time? Do you say that you struggle with time-keeping? Do you say that you don't have any weaknesses?
The most important part of this answer is to realise that everyone has a weakness. If you say that you don't have any, then the interviewer will write down, "Arrogant. Didn't prepare. Unimaginative". These are not adjectives that you want to be described as.
On the other hand, don't use it as a way to give yourself a back-handed compliment. "I work too hard", or "I am a perfectionist", are examples of answers that don't say anything, except that you're a bit big-headed.
Being able to identify weaknesses in something is a strength. A weakness is another name for an opportunity. If you can spot those weaknesses and describe the associated opportunities in yourself, it shows that you can solve problems. This is definitely something that an employer wants. Focus on a part of your professional life that can be improved.
This question needs thorough preparation, and the same answer can't be used in different interviews. More on this later.
Make a list
Start by making a list of the following
- What are the skills or tasks that you use in work, that you don't like to do, or don't do as well as others?
- Can you remember a time when you failed in work? It could be a task that you didn't accomplish or a sale that didn't go through.
- How about a time when you initially failed at a task in work, but then fixed it?
- Have you had feedback from previous line managers about any part of your job that you needed to improve on?
- Do work colleagues ever criticise you for the way that you work? Think about this carefully. Sometimes they'll joke about how messy your desk will be. Are they trying to tell you that you need to improve your organisational skills?
Remember that we're looking for a weakness, and the corresponding opportunity. We don't want to leave a negative view in the interviewers mind. We're going to talk about what we are doing to improve ourselves.
Look at the job description. What skills has the employer said is important for this job. If they are looking for someone who has a "great attention to detail", don't say that your weakness is that "you gloss over the finer points of a task".
Answering this question is the only time that you don't want to talk about the skills listed in the job description. Choose a weakness that is not a skill essential for this role..
Example of a "biggest weakness" answer
Imagine that you're the sort of person who doesn't have a long attention span. You don't want to tell an employer that you get distracted easily. How can you describe it and make it clear that you're working on improving yourself?
"I would say that my biggest weakness is that I find it hard to sit still. I can't really focus for long periods of time. I was never a big reader of books. I was always more into sports and doing things rather than reading about them.
What I do now is I set myself little goals. I'll break a task down into sections that don't take a lot of time. When I was in University these would be study goals. If I could sit and focus on the test materials for 30 minutes, I would earn myself a break, and do something that I really enjoyed.
By doing this I was able to graduate with honours. I know that some people can just focus on a task and work on it solidly for a week. I still break it down into pieces, and get through each one. I am working on how to maintain my focus for longer. But even during this process, I find that by breaking tasks up into smaller chunks, I can still deliver excellent results."
Why should we consider taking you on?
Something that a lot of applicants forget is that the point of an interview is that both people gain. A new job is not simply a way for you to gain experience before you move on to a bigger and better job. An interviewer wants to know what you will bring to the company. If they take you on, rather than the previous person, will that be better for the company?
Listing your qualifications doesn't help in this process. Other candidates might have better qualifications. Some candidates might not be as qualified as you, but they can describe how those qualifications are useful in their day-to-day job. You need to show how you benefit this new company. Look at your soft-skills. Do you get on with a lot of people? Do your friends ask you for advice? This can translate to being able to integrate easily with existing members of the team.
Often interviewers are looking for a certain type of person. They know that people can learn certain skills. But if they can find someone with a work ethic or drive, and the ability to learn quickly? That can be like finding a pearl in an oyster.
This is your moment to sell yourself. It doesn't matter if you don't exactly have the experience or the qualifications for the job. Show them that you have drive. Show that you have energy and a willingness to learn. Tell them, with examples, how you picked up new skills quickly in your previous job.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
This is where you speak about what you want to be doing in the future – your ambitions. But try to make your ambitions fit into the company that you're applying for. For example, don't say, "In 5 years I'd like to be working for a competitor in a role that's much better than this one."
Don't be afraid of saying that you'd like to be in a different role, but keep it in their company. "I'd like to have learnt enough that I would progress within the company and would be managing a team of my own. I'd relish the opportunity to show that I can deliver results, and to motivate others to achieve with me"
Why do you want to work for us?
Research. Research. Research. Read up about the company that you are applying for. What are their values? What do other people say about that company. Do customers leave feedback?
It is very important though to remain positive about your current employer. If you come across as being desperate to get out of your current job, the interviewer may question your desire to be in this role, as opposed to any role. Don't make it sound like your motivation is to get away from your current employer.
Use the information that you found during your research. Speak about how the company operates. Talk about how it provides a good career path, so that you can commit to the same company for years. Mention that it has a good reputation online. But don't bluff, do your research and talk about specifics.
What is your salary expectation?
This question can be the hardest to answer. You don't want to undersell yourself and say, "anything". You also don't want to price yourself out of the job before you have the chance to show what you're capable of.
Even if the job description has a salary range listed, you should still do some research on comparable jobs in other organisations. What are their wage bands? It is absolutely fine to talk about ranges when you are speaking about your expected salary. If you have previous experience and would deliver better results than a typical employee then don't be afraid to highlight that. You can ask for the higher rates.
There are other benefits that you can, and should, ask about — pensions, holidays, performance related bonuses. Asking about 'performance related bonuses' show that you're not one for sitting back and coasting. You want to be set targets and you want to benefit when those targets are met. Employers love that.
What motivates you?
This is a pretty personal question, so there's not any wrong answers – except "nothing" or worse, "money". Some people are motivated by a need to succeed or to build a career. It could be that your family, and providing for them, motivates you. Think about this before you go to the interview so that you can speak well about your motivations. What is it that makes you get up in the morning?
If your answer is "money" then you will need to work on your answer. A new employer doesn't want to be wondering when you will be tempted by more money elsewhere. Look at how your motivations can be fulfilled in this new role. If money makes you get out of bed in the morning, ask yourself how you can pitch that as a benefit to the company. You can say that success motivates you. Achieving great results motivates you. Sharing in the success of the company motivates you.
What makes a good team player?
Earlier, I said that a lot of people have the phrase "I am a hard worker who can work as part of a team, or by myself" on their C.V. . Fewer people have any examples of what this actually means. Look at examples from previous jobs, where you have shown that you have worked well in a team. Even if it's outside your professional life — a club or sports team that you belong to. You want to show that you get on with people.
It is important for people who want to manage a team of people to be able to answer this question well.
What would you like to ask?
You should always have prepared one question in advance to use. This could be related to your research into the company. It could be a question about content on their website. That’s your back-up question.
The best way to answer this question is to speak about something that the interviewer brought up earlier in the interview. Ask them to expand on it, and don’t be afraid to ask a follow-up question.
This shows that you have been listening to what they have said. It’s vital for an interviewer to see that you are genuinely interested in the position or company. This will leave them with a good impression of you after the interview.
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These questions are definitely not the only ones that will be asked at your interview. But you can be sure that you will hear some of them. Preparing answers for these questions will help you with other questions too. The research that you need to put in will be vital before any job interview.
Try to relax at the interview. There's no need to remember your answers word for word. Instead, try to remember the basics and let the words flow out naturally.