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Common interview questions

When faced with interview questions remember to be factual and concise. If faced with difficult interview questions, stay calm and consider your response for a moment before you answer. The key is to remain positive and rely on the preparation you have done

If you really don't know the answer, just say so. It's much more impressive to be frank than stumble through an ill-considered answer.

Interview questions and answers

Here are some common interview questions and answers. Beneath each question you'll find some insight as to what information is really being sought, as well as some pointers on how to answer.

Remember, these interview questions and answers are only suggestions. Do not use them if you feel uncomfortable about them, and try to personalise your answers to your situation.
 

Q: Tell me about yourself.

The interviewer is really saying: "I want to hear you talk."

A: This is a loosener, but is a common question so your response can stay the same. Write a script and rehearse it so it sounds impromptu. Spend a maximum of four minutes to describe your qualifications, career history and range of skills, emphasising those relevant to the job on offer.
 

Things to consider in every answer

Every employer looks for:

  • Efficiency
  • An eye for economy
  • Adherence to procedure
  • Profit-orientation
  • Suitability
  • Willingness
  • Manageability
  • Ability to teamwork
  • Professionalism
  • Problem solving
  • Pride
  • Energy
Q: What have your achievements been to date?

The interviewer is really saying: "Are you an achiever?"

A: Select an achievement that is work-related and fairly recent. Identify the skills you used, the achievement and quantify the benefit.
 

Q: Are you happy with your career to date?

The interviewer is really asking about your self-esteem and self-confidence. They are interested in your career aspirations and whether you are a happy, positive person.

A: The answer must be yes. But if you have hit a career plateau or you feel you are moving too slowly, then you must qualify the answer.
 

Q: What is the most difficult situation you have had to face, and how did you tackle it?

The interviewer is really trying to find out what your definition of difficult is and whether you can show a logical approach to problem solving using your initiative.

A: This can be a trap! To avoid it, select a difficult work situation which was not caused by you and which can be quickly explained in a few sentences. Explain how you defined the problem, what the options were, why you selected the one you did and what the outcome was. Always end on a positive note.
 

Q: What do you like about your present job?

The interviewer is really trying to find out whether you will enjoy the things you will experience in the job on offer.

A: This is a straightforward question. All you have to make sure is that your likes correspond to the skills and duties required in the job on offer. Be positive. Describe your job as interesting and diverse, but don't overdo it. You are leaving after all.
 

Q: What do you dislike about your present job?

The interviewer is trying to find out whether the job on offer has responsibilities you will dislike or which will make you unsuitable.

A: Be careful with this one. Don't be too specific, as you may draw attention to weaknesses. One approach is to choose a characteristic of your present company, such as its size or its slow decision-making. Give your answer with the air of someone who takes problems and frustrations in your stride as part of the job.
 

Q: What are your strengths?

The interviewer wants a straightforward answer as to what you are good at and how it is going to add value.

A: This is one question that you know you are going to get so there is no excuse for being unprepared. Concentrate on discussing your main strengths and give examples as proof (you may even be asked to do so).

Your abilities need to be suitable for the job so after you have given your strength(s) you will need to give three or four explanations of how they could benefit the employer. Strengths to consider include:

  • Technical/professional AND industry skills
  • Problem solving
  • Ability to learn quickly
  • Determination to succeed/positive attitude
  • Ability to relate to people and achieve a common goal
      

Q: What is your greatest weakness?

The interviewer is really asking about your self-perception and level of self-awareness.

A: This is another standard question for which you can be well prepared. You have two options.

  1. Use a professed weakness such as a lack of experience (not ability) in an area that is not vital for the job.
  2. Describe a personal or professional weakness that could also be considered a strength, and the steps you have taken to combat it.

An example of the latter would be "I know my team think I am too demanding at times. I tend to drive them pretty hard but I'm getting much better at using the carrot and not the stick."

Do not select a personal weakness such as "I'm not a morning person".
 

Q: What kind of decision do you find most difficult?

The interviewer is really saying: "I need someone who is strong and decisive but who has a human side."

A: Your answer must not display weakness. Try to focus on decisions that have to be made without sufficient information. This will show your positive side. For example "I like to make decisions based on sufficient information and having alternatives. When you have to make quick decisions you have to rely on 'gut feeling' and experience".
 

Q: Why do you want to leave your current employer?

The interviewer is trying to understand and evaluate your motives for moving.

A: This should be straightforward. State how you are looking for more challenge, responsibility, experience and a change of environment. Never be negative in your reasons for leaving, and rarely will it be appropriate to cite salary as the primary motivator.
 

Q: Why do you want to work for the company you are going for an interview with?

They are asking you why you want to work for them as opposed to any other company.

A: The reasons need to be specific to this company. For example, the culture or people development. General points like the fact they have a good name are not what they are after. Here you need to demonstrate that you have done some research.

 

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