Job interview questions

Prepare yourself for your next job interview

Imagine how much easier a job interview would be if you knew what questions they were going to ask. You could plan out your answers in advance and save yourself from any embarrassing silences whilst you try and rack your brains for an answer.

The good news is that there are some common questions that are almost guaranteed to pop up during the interview, and if you’ve already taken the time to prepare an answer in advance, then they are going to be very impressed!

Job interviewTell us a little about yourself…

Interviewers understand how nervous you may be when you first walk in, so the most common question they ask right at the start is – “Tell me about yourself…”

This type of question allows you to feel more at ease and to hopefully shrug off any nerves you may have. Talking about ourselves is always a lot easier than discussing situations, or answering random questions thought up by the interviewers.

But no matter how easy this question is to answer, it’s important you recognise that it’s one of the most important, as you need to make a great first impression within the first few minutes of the interview.

Keep your answers fairly short and concise, as there will be lots more questions to come and you don’t want them to get impatient. But you must also make sure you don’t rush, as they want to see that you enjoy talking about yourself and you’re passionate about your previous school or work history, as well as any hobbies you may have.

If they ask you to only discuss your previous school and/or work history, then make sure you pick out the very best from your CV. Highlight your most successful achievements, and pick on any previous work placements that relate to the job you’re going for. If you are fortunate enough to have previous experience in a similar role, then you must make this your topic of conversation.

The same goes for any qualifications you have in the same or similar field. Even though they’ve already seen your CV, it’s important to highlight the most relevant points and talk passionately about them.

Most interviewers will allow you to also speak about your hobbies and interests. Again, this is a great opportunity to talk passionately and come across enthusiastic and outgoing. It’s important however to skip over the usual ‘socialising with friends’, as this is the most common hobby and isn’t a very exciting subject to talk about.

Try and discuss your actual hobbies like fishing, golf, dancing, guitar lessons etc. Even if you don’t take part in any sports, then talk about your favourite band and how often you’ve been to see them.

When you talk passionately about a hobby or interest, more often than not you’ll find that one of the interviewers share a similar passion, and once you’ve got them talking about it as well, then you’ve already won them over!

Tell us about your strengths…

This is usually a relatively straight forward subject, but it’s important you have at least three answers pre planned in order to make it go smoothly. Again, it’s important you come across positive and passionate about yourself, as you want them to believe in you and to agree that these are your strengths.

A lot of people fail on this topic, not because they don’t answer it well, but because they don’t make it believable. You could be the sixth person they’ve seen that day, and all the previous answers were most likely very similar. So make yours stand out, and come up with three great answers that are factual, honest and believable.

Your strengths need to be specific and accurate. If you fluff these answers and say things like, “I’m good at accounts”, then you’re not going to get the job. If possible, try to also explain a previous situation this strength came in handy. It could have been in an emergency, or it could be just a day to day occurrence. Again, you need to make your strengths believable!

Finally, make sure your answers are linked to the job you are going for. Employers will naturally try to paint a picture in their own mind of how you’d look in this role, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them and focus your strengths to the role. Try not to be too obvious though, otherwise it might have the opposite effect.

Tell us about your weaknesses…

Job interviewThis is probably the most difficult question to answer, and most people go about this in the wrong way. The most common way people get around answering this is by actually avoiding it, and assume they’re being really clever by saying things like, “I sometimes work too hard, and never leave work on time”.

This will just annoy the interviewers, and won’t win you any points. Employers are genuinely looking for honest people who give honest answers. So if you think you’re being smart by sidestepping the question, then think again!

The best way to answer this question is to provide genuine weaknesses, but more importantly, what you’ve either done or are currently doing to improve on those weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses, and it’s important to be honest and open about them, and to show how you are attempting to fix them.

If for example your IT skills are slightly behind, then you could highlight this as a weakness but then go on to explain about the courses you are taking. This would be a perfect example of how you’re taking the initiative.

However, try not to be too honest and completely destroy yourself with negative comments. Employers are looking for honest answers, but also want to see how passionate you are about improving in these areas.

It’s advisable to also avoid highlighting any weaknesses which are important to the role – so you need to do the opposite as before and pick on weaknesses that don’t relate to the job you’re going for. For example, telling someone that you’re not a very good salesman is a bad idea if you’re going for a sales job.

Why should we employ you?

This is also a very difficult question to answer, and if you don’t have a pre planned response then you’re in big trouble! This type of question can sometimes be accompanied with, “What can you bring to this company that other employers can’t?”

Fortunately you should have already covered this a little when discussing your strengths. Again, tailor your answers to the job and the skills typically required. If for example you have high qualifications that match the job description, then highlight this is an important point to consider.

But you can’t just stop at qualifications, as there may be another 50 people out there that applied with the same. So you now need to focus your other answers on something unique that will surprise them. For example, if you are applying for a job as a car salesman, then you might want to mention your amazing sales figures for the past year. Who could refuse that?

Other ways of winning them over is to discuss how you would make the company more successful. In order to do this you would need to study the company in depth beforehand, and then offer suggestions during the job interview. If they can see that you’ve spent the time looking into their business and have already formulated some ideas, you are one step closer to landing the job. It doesn’t matter if they’ve already come up with these ideas, as long as you keep them sensible and to the point.

This shows them that you’re creative and willing to help and assist the business if needed. If they are a forward thinking company and looking for employers to help improve the business, then you’re clearly the right person for the job!

Overall you are looking to provide a unique answer that you can take into the job interview and impress. Remember, there could be 50 other people applying for the job, and the only way you’ll get it is if your answers stand out.

Why do you want to work here?

Job interviewWe’ve already mentioned how important it is to be passionate in a job interview, and here is your perfect opportunity. No one is going to employ someone that doesn’t have an enthusiastic response to this question, so it’s vital to prepare an answer in case it gets asked.

In order to give a great response you must study the company and do your research beforehand. Pretty much every company has a website these days, so you must read up and find out as much about them from the internet as you can.

Also, if you have the opportunity to talk to someone from the company before the job interview, then try and ask as many questions as you can. You may even be lucky enough to have a friend that works for the company in a similar role, so take advantage of your good fortunate and speak with them about the role. They should be able to provide you with some inside tips and knowledge on the company, and what they’re looking for.

Provide three positive things your previous boss would say about you?

This is similar to discussing your strengths, but it’s important to understand the difference and provide unique answers. Try to also provide believable answers rather than saying things like, “My boss always says I’m amazing, and the best employer she’s ever had!”

Your answers need to be specific and honest. A good example of a great answer to this is, “My boss would say that she can always rely on me to help, as she regularly comes to me in times of crisis and asks me to take charge and find a solution”. You then might go on to give an actual example of when this happened to leave them in no doubt that this is accurate and true.

What salary are you looking for?

You won’t come across this question often, but if you do then you need to know what to say. Most job adverts provide the salary, but now and again they won’t and then you need to be prepared to provide a good response.

If you confidently demand a salary that’s way above the industry standard for the role, then you will of course end up with a rejection letter. They won’t be able to afford you and will have found someone else that’s just as good who’ll take the job for much less.

At the same time you need to be careful not to undercut yourself, and for two reasons. Firstly, they may decide to take you on and you’ve now shot yourself in the foot, because you’re getting paid less on average than anyone else in the region that does the same role. Secondly, because you’re undervaluing the role it may mean your undervaluing yourself. It could show a lack of confidence, and they may decide not to hire you on that basis.

So if you are going to confidently provide a ballpark figure, you need to be accurate and fair. Do your research first and make sure you know what the average salary is for the role in that particular region. If you believe that you’re experience and qualifications justify a slightly higher salary than the average, then you may decide to take the chance and boldly state it. Just be careful not to come across as arrogant and that you’re making demands. Your fate is in their hands, so don’t push it!

Alternatively it may be better to decline on giving a figure, and ask them if it’s ok to discuss this if you’re offered the job. Most employees should be fine with this, and won’t push you any further. This then puts you in a much better position if you are offered the job, as you can negotiate a salary that you deem fair.

Choose a theme song that sums you up/what animal would you be and why?

Some employers like to ask these types of physiological questions to gage how quickly you can answer, and to also see how imaginative you are. If the role is very creative, then your answer might be looked at more closely.

There isn’t always a right or wrong answer to this kind of question, but you should still consider something beforehand to make things easier for yourself. The quicker you can answer a question then the smarter you come across, which always gives you an edge.

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About Jen Wiss-Carline

Jen Wiss-Carline has been a Senior Manager and Consultant for several sizeable companies which included dealing with all aspects of staff management and recruitment. She is also a Chartered Legal Executive, and was admitted as a Fellow in February 2006.

Jen's qualifications include:
LL.B (Hons) (1st)
Chartered Legal Executive (FCILEx)
PG Cert Bus Admin
PgDip Law (LPC)
LL.M (Master of Laws) (Distinction)

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