Job Search Series: 10 common interview questions and how to answer them

If you’ve got a job interview coming up, there are some questions you’re bound to be asked— regardless of the position or industry — as these questions are used to learn more about you, both as a person and a potential employee.

The eighth in our Job Search Series lists 10 common interview questions along with the best way to answer them.

Preparing your answers these questions in advance and practicing your answers will help you feel confident and comfortable during your real interview.

1. Tell me about yourself

This question is directed at finding out about you as a person, as well as about your job skills, qualifications and experience. The employer needs to know that you can do the job and also that you will be able to get along with other people working for the company.
Check with your resume when preparing for this question. Try to include a balance of information, about your experience and skills as well as information which provides a picture of you as an individual.

Remember to relate any personal information back to the job you are applying for.

You could mention information such as the following:

  • Your interests and experiences related to the job.
  • Membership of clubs and organisations. Mentioning these shows you get along well with people and that you are an interesting and informed person.
  • Contact with or knowledge about the employer.
  • If you have seen or met the interviewer before or have read or heard favourable comments about them, say so. If you know someone in common or know someone working for the company, you can also mention that here.
  • Your past work experience, training and/or education and how it relates to the role you are interviewing for.
  • Your strong interest in working for the company and working in the type of occupation you are applying for.

2. What are your strengths?

Mention your skills, reliability, experience, enthusiasm, efficiency, ability to get along with others, etc. If asked “What is your single greatest strength?” mention your personal reliability but also add that you have several major strengths and go on to mention them.

This is a great opportunity to sell yourself, but you need to give examples to back yourself up.

3. What are your weaknesses?

Respond by telling them that you have no weaknesses that will prevent you from being an excellent employee. You might also state once again briefly your strongest points at this time.

An alternative response is to offer a ‘positive’ or a strength as a ‘negative’ or weakness. This response could be, “If I thought I had any weaknesses that would affect the position, I certainly would not have applied but I suppose if I had any, it would be that I tend not to tolerate inefficiency”.

If the employer is pushing for a weakness, find a mild one and say what steps you have taken (or are taking) to remedy the situation.

4. Why do you want to work here?

In other words, “Will you be satisfied with your job? Will you want to stay?” Reassure the interviewer with positive comments about the company such as:

  • The good reputation the company has.
  • Its fairness to its employees.
  • The company has the kind of job you are looking for.
  • You like this kind of work and feel you can do a good job.

This is also your opportunity to show you have done your ‘homework’ and that you know something about the company.

5. Why should we hire you?

Quickly list the skills and attributes you have that will make you a valuable employee. You may have mentioned some of them before but this is like a summary for the interviewer who doesn’t want to think for themselves, eg. “I’m efficient”, “I don’t have to be supervised”, “I’m not a clock watcher”, “I’m dependable and don’t take time off”, “I’m fast and accurate”.

You should think about your resume and what you have in it that reflects the employer’s requirements.

6. What has been your biggest obstacle or problem at work and how have you overcome it?

This can include any time you faced a problem at work and found a solution. The aim is to highlight your problem-solving skills.

For those who have little to no work experience, talk about challenges you faced in school, or sports where you demonstrated skills you can relate to the workplace. Try to stick with examples that involve professional situations rather than personal ones.

Either way, try to draw attention to particular skills or traits that relate to the job you are interviewing for.

7. Where do you see yourself in five years?

The employer is really asking “Are you going to be satisfied working with this company?” or “Do you just see this job as a temporary stopover?”. So you should try to assure the interviewer of your intention to stay with the company, which, of course, you will if the job proves to be satisfactory to you.

Stress that you like the company and that you hope to become a valuable employee. You have no plans to leave the area or the type of work you’ll be doing.

Your response could be something like “I’d like to think I would become a valuable member of your work force and grow with the company”.

8. Why do you want to leave your current job / Why did you leave your last job?

Regardless of the actual reason you left, NEVER badmouth your last employer. Think of a way to be diplomatic about why you left, eg, “My company was cutting back and my position changed in a way that didn’t match my goals” or “I’m looking for a new challenge and to grow my career”.

Emphasise the positive aspects of your last job, as this will make you sound like a loyal and appreciative employee.

If the employer asks “Why have you been unemployed for so long?” or “Why have you been unemployed since …………?”, it is important to answer in a positive way.

Briefly explain your circumstances and then go on to talk about your strengths and the reasons why you want the job. The idea is not to dwell on information that the interviewer may find negative, but to move the discussion on to your positive points and why you are well suited to the job.

9. What are your salary expectations?

The best thing to do here is to avoid mentioning any specific figures until you have been offered the job. You may give the employer the idea that you will work for less than they were willing to pay or you may end the interview right there if your figure is too high or too low.

Tell the interviewer that you would work for whatever the company thought was a fair salary, that their usual set rates would be suitable or the award rate would be suitable (if an award applies).

10. Do you have any questions?

Do not attempt to obtain complete information about the job at this point, since you may unintentionally give the impression that you are not sure you really want the job. Wait until you have definitely been offered the job before asking questions about chances of advancement, salary and so on. This information may be critical for you in making your decision but wait until you have been offered the job to ask about them.

Questions you can ask at the interview:

  • Could you tell me more about the company?
  • Would I be working with other people or by myself?
  • Why is the position vacant?
  • What are the dress requirements?
  • How soon can I start?

Still need help?

We are only a phone call or email away. Our staff are more than happy to help you formulate your answers to these common interview questions.