Common interview questions and how to answer them

We know that an interview can be stressful; you have your heart set on a job so the pressure is on to knock the socks off your prospective employers.

But do you really know why employers ask the questions they do?

Of course some questions will be specific to the role and company, but there are questions that you can prepare for.

An important part of the interview is really understanding what is being asked. Employers don’t just ask these questions because everyone else does; there’s a particular way in which you respond to these questions that will demonstrate elements of your personality to the employer, and ultimately determine whether you’ll be a good fit for the role and company.

Here are 5 common interview questions, the reasons why we ask them, what not to say, and how to answer them well.

Why did you apply for this role?

Why they ask this: During your interview, employers will want to know what stood out to you above other roles you’ve applied for, why you think you would be a good fit for the role, and how much you know about the company.

Don’t say: “I think it’s something I’d be good at” or “I’m looking for a company that can progress my career.” These answers are too broad and could be used for any role at any company.

Do: Demonstrate how your experience and skills match the role you’ve applied for and demonstrate that you’ve researched the company by expressing what stands out for you.

What motivates you?

Why they ask this: This question gives employers a really good insight into what you value in a role, what drives you to succeed, and what makes you tick.

Don’t say: “Job satisfaction” or “being part of a supportive team”. Again these are far too broad and don’t demonstrate your ability or suitability for the role.

Do: Read the job description and pick out elements of the role that you would enjoy and back these up by providing examples from previous roles. For example, sales staff may enjoy hitting targets and building relationships, whereas software developers may enjoy problem solving.

What are your weaknesses?

Why they ask this: This question is always popular among interviewers but unsurprisingly the least favourite among candidates. During interviews, the focus will primarily be on your skills, strengths, and positive experience. But this question also gives the employers an insight into what you’re really like to work with.

Don’t say: “I’m too much of a perfectionist”, “I don’t have any weaknesses”, or “I have too much of a temper”. The first is the most over-used trick in the book, the second demonstrates a lack of self-awareness by thinking you’re perfect, and the third is way too honest.

Do: Pick a “good” but minor weakness that’s relative to the role and one where you can demonstrate that you’re taking steps to improve yourself. A couple of great examples for this question could be the ability to deal with conflict, taking things too personally, or delegation.

What’s your biggest achievement?

Why they ask this? Similar to asking about motivators, employers want to know what you’re proud of, what you value as an achievement, and an insight into your character.

Don’t say: “My kids” or “I graduated with a 2:1”. Whilst you may be proud of both these statements, there are hundreds of candidates who have kids and a degree, and these responses don’t make you stand out from the crowd.

Do: Choose a specific achievement that demonstrates determination, focus, and the ability to overcome challenges in order to succeed. It doesn’t have to be climbing Mount Everest or running a marathon, but do emphasise your qualities of being self-motivated and driven to accomplish a personal goal.

What makes you stand out?

Why they ask this: More often than not, recruiters will have spoken to many candidates about this role. The response to this question will demonstrate what you value about yourself, and what you believe makes you stand out from other applicants whom you may be up against.

Don’t say: “I’ve got a really bubbly personality” or “I’m adaptable to any challenge”. There are millions of people in the world who class themselves as “bubbly”, and being adaptable to any challenge is something that should be a given when taking on a new role.

Do: Use this question as a final opportunity to reiterate why they should pick you for the role. For example, your prior experience or knowledge of a certain field which is directly applicable to the role will make you stand out from those that don’t.

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