Receiving a call back from your potential future employer is exciting indeed. But, now that you have one foot through the front door, the next step is where the real work begins.
After all, a job interview is the first time you will face your potential employer, and that is the perfect, if not, only, opportunity to set an excellent first impression on your potential manager. Your interview answers, too, reflect who you are and give important insights into how you can contribute to the role, fit in with the team and the company’s values as a whole.
As such, you want to be as prepared as you can. The good news is that you already know to a reasonable extent what your interviewer will ask you. Therefore, the next step is to prepare succinct, relevant responses to some of the typical interview questions an interviewer will ask you during your conversation and practise them with a friend or a mirror.
Here's a quick video interview tip: Plan your answers ahead of your interviews. Get your answers out on a notepad for questions that you are not confident of saying at the interview. Practise the delivery of your answers, while making sure you sound as natural as possible. Throw in hand gestures, so you don't look like you are reading off a list.
Our list of common interview questions and answers
1. Tell me about yourself
After the initial pleasantries, a self-introduction is in order. While you may think this is your opportunity to tell your life story or share about your favourite travel destinations, it is not. Nobody wants to know which school you attended or details of your first job, because the interviewer already has your resume and knows your career and education background.
It is the time for you to highlight specific achievements while you do a quick summary of your career and passion and how they has led you to apply for this particular role in this specific industry. Craft a brief, punchy response to this question. Tailor it to the role you are applying for and having a personal brand in place will leave the interviewer interested and wanting to know more.
If you don’t quite know how to summarise your CV, here’s a tip: talk about the industry and showcase your familiarity with related jargons. You can even move on to talk about specific news related to the industry. Finally, share your opinions on said news stories, which will show that you are proactive and interested in the particular role you are interviewing for.
The point of this question is to evaluate your presentation skills. You are still being assessed in between the lines to see how well you fit into the company’s culture (or not). (Read this dedicated article for an in-depth explanation.)
2. Why do you want to work here?
Most interviewers ask this question because they want to know how enthusiastic and knowledgeable you are about the company and the role you applied for.
What you should do in response to this interview question is to give specific examples of things that piqued your interest in the company and the job description in the first place. Next, elaborate on your strengths, achievements and skills, then link them back to the job you are applying for.
If the company has an expansive presence online, one easy way to learn more is to go through past news releases to find out the various projects and initiatives that the company is involved with. These nuggets of information are ammunition that you can use to ace this question.
3. What are your strengths?
What the interviewer is asking is what tasks you are particularly good at and how you, as a new hire, will fit into the role. What you can do is to pick a few key strengths that are relevant to the role, then give past examples to support those examples.
These strengths could include everything from leadership and teamwork to your ability to work on tight deadlines or multitasking. Go easy with your answer, though, because going off on a question like that risks coming across as too boastful — not a quality that interviewers necessarily gravitate to.
When talking about your strengths, one easy way to avoid coming across as being too boastful is to give a past example of how you were faced with a difficult situation and the skills you engaged in handling the problem. Stick to the facts, and you will naturally display your strengths without being overly confident about them.
4. What are your weaknesses?
And with strengths come weaknesses. What the interviewer wants to know with this question is just how self-aware you are at the workplace. Instead of using the word ‘weakness’, try using ‘areas for improvement’ instead.
For example, if there is a particular skill set that you lack, you can mention it and outline the steps you are taking to overcome the said shortcoming. The idea here is to be honest about where you fall short and show that you are proactively trying to fill those skill gaps. Lastly, never say that you don’t have any weaknesses. It comes across as arrogant and that you have a lack of self-awareness.
5. What have been your achievements?
You know this question is bound to come up, so keep two or three key achievements in your back pocket, complete with a number of facts and figures to back them up.
On top of that, give a summary of what the situation or problem was, the actions you took under those circumstances, as well as the skills you utilised to achieve the positive outcome. Another tip is to have a shortlist of these accomplishments at hand at all times, so you can rotate them based on who you are talking to or the job you are applying for.
6. What did you like or dislike about your last job?
Asking you this question is the interviewer’s attempt to find out your key interests and whether the job on offer has tasks or responsibilities that you will like or dislike. For the positive aspects of your last position, things are pretty straightforward.
Focus on the parts that you enjoyed the most, explain what you learnt from them, then go on to talk about how they made you develop as an individual.
On the flip side, you left your last job for a reason — sometimes a variety of reasons — but the key is not to take this opportunity to air your grievances. Be mindful about criticising your employer. Unless your former boss was truly a toxic individual, complaining about him or her can come across sometimes as you pushing the blame on others.
Choose examples that do not reflect on your skills, such as the size of the company or the team you were working with, or which reveals a positive trait (such as your distaste for a long decision-making process and bureaucratic tapes). The trick, at the end of the day, is to turn even the negatives, such as a toxic boss, into a positive.
7. What are your future goals?
Variations of this question could include “Where do you see yourself in the next five years?” or “How do you see yourself developing in this company?” No matter the delivery of the question, the purpose is the same: to probe your ambition and the extent of your career planning.
In response, describe how your goal is to continue to grow, learn, add value and take on new responsibilities in the future that build on the role for which you are applying. Avoid replies like “I see myself being part of the company” because that’s the whole reason why you are having a job interview in the first place.
Of course, that is not to say that interviewers will only ask you a standard set of questions. In fact, there is a whole host of unusual interview questions or behavioural questions that they can ask. However, once you have your bases covered in terms of common interview questions, your foundation is set for tougher, more complex interview challenges ahead.
8. What do you think we should do differently?
A variation of this common interview question could be “What would you first, 30, 60 or 90 days look like in this role”? Essentially, what the interviewer wants to find out with these interview questions is your first priorities when you begin your work with the company.
This is also a common interview question for start-ups, as hiring managers typically want to know that you not only have some knowledge of how the company operates but that you’re able to think critically and bring fresh new ideas to the table.
It could be an improvement of the company’s social media presence, a technology-first approach to customer service, or even a policy you want to implement within your team. The point is to share your opinions and show interest.
9. Do you have any questions for me?
Being asked if you have any questions for the interviewer does not mean that the interview is over. In fact, this seemingly harmless rhetorical question is actually one of the most common interview questions out there — and saying ‘No’ is actually one of the worst answers you can give.
Think about it this way: a job interview is like a two-way street. Instead of the interviewer asking your typical interview questions, this is your opportunity to learn more about the company, the role that you are applying for, as well as how you fit into the grander scheme of things. After all, asking the right questions is what separates exceptional job seekers from the average.
Related: 5 steps to creating your career plan
10. How do you think the interview went?
Not every question from the interviewer is supposed to be an interview question. However, since it is better to be safe than sorry, it is better to assume that the interview doesn’t end until you are out of the office.
An interview question like this is to gauge your overall self-awareness; to see if you know that you’ve done a good job (or not). If the interview went as well as can be expected, then you have nothing to worry about. Let the interviewer know what you enjoyed about the conversation, and perhaps ask about the next steps to be taken.
After a job interview
If the interview didn’t go as well as planned, be honest about it and let the interviewer know also. For example, maybe he asked for a specific case study or example that you couldn’t quite remember the details of or a past project with a client that isn’t part of your standard portfolio.
Just remember: A less-than-perfect interview is not the end of your assessment. Take this final opportunity to show your sincerity, and fill in the blanks as much as possible with follow-ups.
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