While no two job interviews will follow the exact same format, there are some questions that are very popular among employers when screening potential candidates.
By preparing confident answers to some of the more common interview questions, you can give yourself the edge over other potential candidates.
Here we explore some of the more common interview questions, how best to answer them and how you can prepare your responses most effectively.
What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years time?
An interviewer will be impressed if you have considered your short-term and long-term goals. Talk about the kind of job you'd eventually like to do and the various steps you will take to get there.
Show that you have the ambition and determination to make the most of every job you have held to get where you want to be.
Always relate this back to the position you're interviewing for and be realistic in terms of your aspirations. Avoid telling the interviewer that you want their job.
What are your strengths/weaknesses?
This question is often seen as challenging by many candidates, even those with significant experience. However, if approached correctly it is easily possible to avoid 'bragging' when discussing your strengths or seeming excessively negative when talking about your perceived weaknesses.
Based on the job description, choose three examples of traits the employer is looking for and give examples of how you have used these strengths in a work situation. Ideally, include a mixture of tangible skills, such as technical or linguistic abilities, and intangible skills, such as management experience.
The best approach here is to pick a trait that you have already made positive steps to address.
"Consider how you have approached your perceived weaknesses in the past and what you have done to address them," commented Janine Blacksley, associate director at Robert Walters.
"If your IT ability is not at the level it could be, state this as a weakness before telling the interviewer about training courses or time spent outside work hours you have used to improve your skills."
Why should I hire you?
Focus on your assets - what makes you different and where do your major strengths lie? Outline what you can offer in terms of experience, personality and enthusiasm.
"The job description should give you a good indication of what they are looking for," added Janine Blacksley.
"Make sure you address the particular qualities the employer has stated they are looking for and provide specific examples of what you have done so far in your career that demonstrates how you are particularly suited for the role."
Tell me about yourself / your work experience
This is usually the opening question for most interviews and can be one of the most important. First impressions are key, so keep it brief – know your CV inside out and focus on delivering a one to two minute advertisement for yourself, highlighting the key achievements in your employment history. Know what you want to say and how you are going to say it beforehand.
"Begin your answer with an overview of your highest qualification then run through the jobs you've held so far in your career," added Janine Blacksley.
"You can follow the same structure as your CV, giving examples of achievements and the skills you've picked up along the way. Don't go into too much detail - your interviewer will ask you to expand on any areas where they'd like more information."
Why do you want this job?
Do your research - this gives you the chance to discuss all you know about the job and the company and why you are a good match for them. The interviewer is listening for an answer that indicates you've given this some thought, so do your homework properly.
"You should have a good inside knowledge of the company's values, mission statement, development plans and products. Describe how your goals and ambition match the company ethos and how you would relish the opportunity to work for them," advised Janine Blacksley.
What are your salary expectations?
While you should never mention salary unless asked or prompted, it's important to understand the value of someone with your skills. Be flexible - indicate that you are willing to negotiate for the right opportunity and confirm that you value the position strongly.
"All too often, problems arise from pricing yourself out of the position or stating a figure less than the company is willing to pay. If a guideline salary has been provided with the job description, you could mention this and say it's around the amount you're looking for," Janine Blacksley continued.
What skills or experience do you offer that will help you succeed in this role?
You should use the interview as an opportunity to say something interesting about your skills and experiences that relate back to the role at hand. Remember that interviewers will be looking for you to demonstrate key skills, so prepare examples in advance that you can call on when required.
Examples of the key attributes employers look for include:
- Project management skills
- Problem solving
- Managing stakeholders
- Demonstrating sound technical knowledge, backed up by good business understanding
- Delivering on targets or goals
Do your research
Above all, it is vital that you do your research. Make sure you have a look at the company website and understand as much as you can about their business and how they operate, as well as the products or services they provide. It is also important to go prepared with questions to ask them – after all, the interview is a two-way process. Don’t be afraid to write questions down ahead and take them with you.
First impressions are key, so keep it brief – know your CV inside out and focus on delivering a one to two minute advertisement of yourself.