How To Answer The 9 Most Common Interview Questions
Last Updated on 8th October 2020 by Freddie Chirgwin-Bell
All interview questions are tough. I don’t think there’s ever going to be such a thing as an easy interview question. The nerves are high, the adrenaline is coursing through you, and you’re desperately trying to remember what STAR means.
So let’s help make things easier for you by going through the toughest questions you are likely to be asked in an interview. We’re not talking about those goofy curveball questions that will get thrown at you in a high level interview, because frankly, they’re unpredictable and designed to encourage on-the-spot thinking.
I’m talking about the tough questions that have a good chance of cropping up in a normal job interview.
Tell us about yourself
This is the most commonly asked interview question ever, so this is almost guaranteed to crop up. It’s also very easy to mess it up.
This isn’t a chance to recite your CV. The interviewer has read it or it’s in their hand, they don’t need it read back to them.
However, this also isn’t the time to drone on and on about you. Sorry to be so blunt but it’s true. No rambling allowed.
Another trap is that people fall into being too personal. They start with overly detailed aspects of their life and career. This isn’t what the interviewer wants.
The purpose of this question is to help you set the tone for the interview and really sell the ideal product/package: you!
Think of this question as your chance to present your elevator pitch. If you haven’t heard the term it’s a short snappy summary of why you should buy a product. Or in this case, hire you!
Lily Zhang, Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab and a writer for The Muse, recommends a simple and effective formula for structuring your response: present, past, future.
- Present: Talk a little bit about what your current role is, the scope of it, and perhaps a big recent accomplishment.
- Past: Tell the interviewer how you got there and/or mention previous experience that’s relevant to the job and company you’re applying for.
- Future: Segue into what you’re looking to do next and why you’re interested in this gig (and a great fit for it, too).
Remember this is supposed to be short and snappy but tailored to what you’re applying for!
This isn’t the time to be modest, which a lot of us bashful British become when faced with a tricky question. This little summary has to sell you to the interviewer so leave modesty at the door, but certainly don’t let arrogance in!
This is your first impression so it really matters. If there is only one answer that you prepare in advance, it needs to be this one.
Make sure you take the time to make sure its short, snappy, succinct, tailored to the role and worded positively.
Why do you want this job?
This is another extremely common question that a lot of people can trip up on. However, this can really sell you to the interviewer, so be prepared.
What the interviewer wants to know is why you want to work for the company and what you can bring to it.
So the key features of your answer should be: enthusiasm for the role and for the company in what it does, and how your skills can contribute to it.
Thanks to all the research you did on the company you can show how enthusiastic you are to join them, their culture, be involved in projects and more. There’s a lot you can talk about with this answer so keep in mind you want to perfect the balancing act of going into detail without waffling.
A good way of thinking about this is by showing your enthusiasm about the company alongside what you can give to that company.
Pick 1-2 of your best traits that match up with the job description and incorporate this into your answer. A good example is if you are going for a computer programmer role then saying something along the lines of how you’re excited to work with the kind of software they’re developing and how you can contribute to it.
An optional extra in is showing you have thought about the future, not only with the company but also with your career path. However, this isn’t mandatory as you are likely to get the “Where do you see yourself in X years” question (see below).
What are your weaknesses?
There’s a common tactic when it comes to answering this question which is pick a positive quality and try and present it as a bit of a negative.
This means it has one of the most cliché answers we hear in the recruitment world:
“I’m a perfectionist”
If we had a penny for every time we’ve heard this we would be very, very rich.
It’s such a cliché answer that it will instantly put off any interviewer.
So when an interviewer asks “What is your greatest weakness”, what they actually want to know is:
- Whether you have a healthy level of self-awareness
- Whether you can be open, honest and take responsibility for your actions and shortcomings
- Whether you are trying to improve yourself in more than just your skills but in your overall professional life
Use this question to demonstrate how you’ve turned a weakness into a strength or are at least in the process of doing so.
Everyone has weaknesses — your interviewer doesn’t expect you to be perfect.
However, word of caution. Do not, under any circumstances, ever, state a job critical issue.
What we mean by this is if you’re applying for a role as an accountant, don’t say, “I’m not very good with numbers and spreadsheets.”
However, you must be honest and choose a real weakness. Something you genuinely struggle with or have done in the past.
This is what I call providing a “tightrope answer”. It has to be perfectly balanced between honesty and clarity but also not give the wrong impression. You don’t want to lean too far one way or the other, or you will fall down.
What works best is if you provide a weakness that you have worked on or are still working on. Show how you’ve worked to improve said weakness or learnt a new skill to combat the issue.
My own personal example that I use is:
“I struggle with organisation and while it doesn’t impact my work, it can lead me to feeling overwhelmed with a messy desk and lots of post its. However, since I started using the bullet journal method I have become a lot more organised and can much more effectively manage my time.”
By demonstrating this kind of self-awareness you are showing that you actively look to improve yourself and that is something very attractive to interviewers.
Obviously don’t be arrogant but don’t undersell yourself as it shows a lack of confidence when you answer. This is definitely a question you are going to want to prepare an answer for at home and practice to get the perfect balance right.
What are your greatest strengths?
Now this may be the opposite to above but this is another area where people fall down.
The greatest downfall? Sounding too arrogant and not giving the right answer.
The interviewer is trying to assess if your skills match the job description and role. Remember the reason they have a vacancy is they need a purpose fulfilling – you should match that purpose.
This question gives you an opportunity to talk about both your technical and/or soft skills.
Like every question we have in this needs to be tailored to the role you’re applying for.
Make sure your strength is part of the core skills or responsibilities they need performing.
There are two types of answer here the skills based strength and the character based strength.
The skills based strength is all about the skills you have and how you can apply them to the role. This is more often than not the safest answer to this question as it’s easy to think of and to apply to the role. For example, if you’re an accountant then talking about your skills with spreadsheets and accountancy programs will be advantageous to you.
Character based strengths are more for your “soft skills”. This is where you can say that your strength lies in your communication or organisation. Think of your character traits that you are genuinely strong in and tailor it to fit the day to day responsibilities of your role.
The interviewer is asking for proof you can do the job, so give it to them.
How do you respond to stress and pressure?
With every job there will be pressure, and that pressure will lead to stress.
What the interviewer wants to know is that you won’t crumble at the first sign of stress and run away screaming.
They want someone who can get the job done, despite the pressure and external factors that would make most cry. Someone who can stay calm during these times without impacting productivity.
This is another “tightrope answer”. It has to be perfectly balanced to give the right impression to the interviewer.
You answer should show how you manage stress in a productive and proactive way. The end result of this answer should be positive, with you coming to a successful resolution to the situation.
Remember, the interviewer doesn’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to show progress.
In all likelihood the interviewer is looking for someone who can identify their stressors and is motivated by healthy pressure, planning ahead of time to mitigate most of the stress and use that to produce quality, efficient work
Another thing that an interviewer will be impressed by is how you would keep communication open, honest and realistic alongside the demands of the role.
Why should we hire you?
Talk about a loaded question! Usually used as the big closer before the end of the interview, this is a hellish question for the unprepared.
It’s vague, open ended and what’s worse, this is the last chance to sell yourself so the pressure is high.
Whilst this may sound like this question is all about you, it’s not. You need to focus on the employer’s needs by either showing how you’re going to solve their problems, going to fit into the company or a mixture of the two.
Remember that “Tell Me About Yourself?” question we sorted out earlier, think of this as another elevator pitch to really seal the deal. These two questions will act as your bookends for the interview.
The greatest tip we can give you is to make sure you do a lot of in-depth research into the company for this question. You’re going to want to know how you will fit into the culture and how you can solve their problems hinted at in the job description.
This will form the short, snappy summary of why, out of everyone else, they should hire you.
You’re tying up all the loose ends and matching your skills and character to what the company needs. This answer should be about what you can offer the company, not what they can do for you.
You and your presence should add value to the company, convey this and you should be set.
As a result this is another question we recommend you plan and prepare for in advance. Don’t memorise it and just repeat it like a robot. You’re going to want to be adaptable to what has come up in the interview and adjust your response as appropriate.
Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.
There are lots of variations to how this question is asked but it all comes down to this basic concept: tell me about when something didn’t go to plan, how did you handle it and what was the outcome?
This is one of the most common questions you will come across and luckily for you it’s the easiest of this bunch to answer!
STAR is an acronym for four ways of approaching, thinking and thereby structuring your answer. It stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. Each letter is a step you can use to answer almost any interview question.
It’s most useful when your interviewer asks you this type of question (called behavioural or competency questions).
Use the STAR system to accurately and succinctly answer the question and avoid waffling on.
Why are you leaving your current job?
Another heavily loaded question and one that is so easy to mess up. You’re going to want to give the most honest yet diplomatic answer you can.
Interviewers are people and like you, they know you will have lots of reasons for leaving a role. However, if you just moan about how your boss was a tyrant and had it in for you, then you’re not getting the job (no matter how true that may be)!
So write out the reasons you want to leave your role and then rewrite them in a way that comes across as thoughtful and diplomatic. You need to really consider how the interviewer will interpret your answer.
So the big tips with creating your answer here are:
- Keep it short but diplomatic
- Don’t dive into details or get too personal about it
- Be honest
- Frame it in a positive way.
For more information check out Indeed’s amazing post with examples on how to best answer why you’re leaving your job.
Where do you see yourself in 3/5/10 years?
This question is one of the few questions that is a bit more about you. The interviewer asks this because they want to know about your career goals. They want to hire someone who is motivated, proactive, and likely to stick around.
Don’t get us wrong, they know you’re not going to be in that company forever, but they would like to know that you will stick around for a little while and provide a lot of value that will only grow as time goes on.
This can feel like a bit of a trick question, because sometimes the answer is, “not in this job,” or, “in your job,” or something like, “at a bigger better opportunity elsewhere.” But none of those are things you actually want to say to a hiring manager.
The good news is you can be honest while still telling them what they really want to know. Do you have realistic expectations for your career? Are you ambitious? And does this particular position align with your growth and goals overall?
For example, one way I like to think about it is: Think about where this position could realistically take you, and think about how that aligns with some of your broader professional goals.
That’s all folks!
There we are! These are some of the most commonly asked questions in interviews, and they are some of the toughest to answer. However, with a little prep work and thought you can sail through almost every interview imaginable.
These questions are used from entry level positions all the way up to senior, temporary and permanent roles. So get comfortable with them and you will be better prepared than all your competition.