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Andrew Arkley|May 11, 2017

Common Interview Questions And How To Answer Them: Our Top 10

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Job interviews can be daunting due to their unpredictability, but luckily pre-preparing great answers for common interview questions is an easy way to score essential brownie points with your interviewers.

Perfect answers which cast you in a golden light and convince the employer you’re the right person for the job are hard to come up with on the spot.

In a study, 89% of employers surveyed said a candidate’s lack of preparation negatively influenced their likelihood of being hired. 

This includes struggling to answer standard interview questions which are almost guaranteed to come up.

Here we’ll run through the top ten most common interview questions and give tips on how best to answer them:

1. Tell me about yourself

This is a common interview question used to formally begin the interview after pleasantries. 

It is designed to get the employer up to speed on you as a person and employee.

Consider it an elevator pitch – it needs to be tight and relevant to the job you are interviewing for, so you don’t want to give a rambling history of your life.

However, you can mention personal hobbies and interests if they are relevant to the role you are applying for.

To keep it concise, stick to the format past- present- future:

– Give a highlight reel of your experience relevant to this role. 
– Explain what you are looking for now in terms of career steps.
– Align this job with where you want to go in the future.

This is a hard one to prepare on the fly without rambling or missing information, so practice your answer – but in the interview make sure it sounds natural and unrehearsed.

2. What do you know about the company?

This common interview question is aimed at checking you’ve taken the time to do your research and have taken an interest in the company. 

Make sure you know everything about the company, including its main competitors, history, goals and motivations.

Go beyond their ‘about’ page as anyone can repeat information off of here – show you’re thorough by reading their articles, press releases, social media, and any other material possible.

Then practice summarising the company succinctly, making sure you hit all the important points and draw in key points of the wider research you have done. 

3. What made you apply for this role?

Although the true answer may be that the money or the company perks were the main reason you applied, this question is designed for the interviewer to see what about the job role appeals to you and matches your skillset.

They want to know you have read the job description carefully and can align this with your interests and strengths.

They also want to see you have a genuine interest in carrying out the responsibilities of the job.

Pick a few responsibilities from the job description and explain why these in particular motivated you to apply – such as because the tasks match your hobbies and interests, or they are tasks you’ve done well in previous roles.

4. Why do you want to work for us?

You need to show the interviewer you are truly enthusiastic about this company over other similar businesses, and know the advantages of working for this company in particular.

Read up on the company, pick out interesting perks, then articulate reasons why these appeal to you as a person and an employee.  

Again, however, avoid mentioning money. 

Typical reasons for wanting to work somewhere include:The company has a good reputation – they are renowned for consistently high standards, they are a household name, etc.

– The company offers a structured career path or good training opportunities.
– You personally use and are passionate about the company’s services or product.
– There is a great company culture – the company looks after its employees or they are a tight-knit team.
– Make sure you don’t choose a generic response, but tailor it to the company in question.

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5.  What are your strengths?

This is a common interview question aimed at identifying not only what you can bring to the role, but also how you can present yourself.

Where possible, choose a strength which relates back to the job description. For example, having strong leadership skills may be great, but if you are not applying for a leadership position it’s irrelevant and a missed opportunity to convince the interviewers of your suitability to this role.

As well as technical skills, you can choose soft skills as strengths.

Research by ICIMS showed that the top three soft skills recruiting professionals look for were problem-solving, adaptability and time management. 

The top three personality traits were professionalism, drive, and enthusiasm. 

To answer the question effectively, stick to the principle of ‘show, don’t tell’ by first introducing the strength and then giving an example from your previous professional experience which illustrates the strength in action.

6. What are your weaknesses? 

This is one of the more tricky common interview questions to navigate, as being negative about yourself is counterproductive to your whole mission of convincing the employer you are the ideal candidate. 

Many try to avoid this completely by giving a strength disguised as a weakness such as ‘I work too hard’ or ‘I’m a perfectionist’, but this actually comes across as insincere and ducking the question. 

Similarly, when choosing your weakness, avoid red flags like ‘I struggle keeping time’, as some traits like this can be dealbreakers for employers. 

Instead choose something where you can demonstrate that you actively try and overcome such weaknesses, ending on a positive note. 

7. Where do you see yourself five years from now?

The hiring managers are looking to get an idea of whether you’re going to use them as a springboard to get somewhere else, demonstrating a lack of interest in the role and company.

They also want to know whether this particular role is a good fit for your goals – or if you’ll leave quickly after not being offered the progression you seek.

It’s okay to say you would like to progress past the role you’re applying for as this shows your ambition and commitment to develop.

However, keep your answer focused on this particular job and explain how it fits in with your long-term goals. 

Make these goals realistic and ensure you’re not being either over-ambitious or apathetic about your future career prospects.

If the role doesn’t quite fit in with your ideal career trajectory, focus on what you’d enjoy about the role and how you’d like to explore where it could take you.

8. Give an example of when you worked well in a team

This is a popular question amongst interviewers, and is an example of a competency-based interview question – where the interviewers want to get an idea of how you think and behave in situations.

The ability to work well with others is a key skill, and this question offers you a chance to showcase how you will be a collaborative employee. 

Be careful not to come across as uncooperative – a response explaining how you had to do a group project and you took over completely can paint you as controlling.

Similarly, putting down past teammates can have an adverse effect on an employer’s perceptions of you as someone who is uncooperative and not a team player. 

Choose an example of when you worked with others and you achieved good results, then use the STAR – situation, task, action, response – method to illustrate this. 

In the ‘Action’ part, explain for example how everyone came together, divided tasks, helped each other and communicated effectively.

This will show that you recognise the necessary components for great teamwork.

We’ve written a dedicated blog on competency-based interview questions if you want more guidance on how to nail these tricky questions.

9. Are you currently interviewing with other companies?

This is another of the more difficult common interview questions to navigate.

Mentioning you’re in seven different interview processes suggests this interview is another amongst many and you are not dedicated to this company and role.

Conversely, you might not want to let the employer know if you have a shortage of options.

However, honesty is the best policy.

If you are currently interviewing with others, it’s best to admit you have interviews lined up with a few other companies, but emphasise that you are most interested in this job above others.

If you are not currently interviewing with others, tell the employer that you are still in the process of sending out applications but do not have any upcoming interviews.

10. Do you have any questions for us?

Classically used to wrap up an interview, it’s important to end on a high note by giving a great answer to this question showcasing your interest in the company and role.

Have multiple questions prepared in case your original one gets answered during the interview.

Topics can include asking about the team you’d be working with, questions about something interesting you saw on their website, and what people enjoy about working at the company.

For more examples, check out Purple CV’s dedicated page for questions to ask at an interview.

Common interview questions: Conclusion

Interview preparation is key to confidence and giving the best possible performance – and by practicing these common interview questions, you’ll save yourself the difficulty of trying to come up with an answer on the spot.

These are trickier to navigate than meets the eye, as your answers reveal plenty about yourself as a person and as an employee. 

Make sure you’re prepared for these questions and you can save the heavy thinking for any curveballs the interviewer may throw at you.

Afterwards you can reflect using our article on the signs your interview went well.

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